As we do every year, we’re wrapping up the Mizzou basketball season with Q&As on every one of Missouri’s major contributors. To catch up on our first few posts in this series, see the link below:
Today, we’re heading into the weeds to talk about Torrence Watson’s turbulent sophomore year. After a promising end to his freshman campaign, the St. Louis wing’s production and confidence cratered. Is there a way for him to recover — what does it look like?
There’s no way to address Torrence Watson’s season without acknowledging the hard truth — 2019-2020 was a major step back. What went so wrong for the wing who was so hot at the end of his freshman campaign?
Sam Snelling, Site Manager: I think it’s a little unfair to say it was a major step back. I don’t think I’m fooling anyone by saying Torrence was only slightly better than a disaster on offense, but he made tremendous strides defensively. He was little more than a sieve on defense as a freshman, but Cuonzo Martin trusted Torrence to defend the opponent’s best player on multiple occasions. Watson was shaping into a potential breakout year following the way he finished last season, but that turned into more of a blip than anything. Torrence seems like an earnest program kid, so perhaps he’ll accept taking on a lesser role... but I still contend it’s better for Mizzou is Watson becomes the guy everyone thought they were getting when he committed.
Matt Harris, Lead Basketball Writer: No one can reasonably spin a case that last year wasn’t a regression offensively. When Watson arrived, we thought his sound mechanics would make spot-up jumpers an entry point for him would be balanced out with plays off the dribble. Instead, catch-and-shoots have become the source of his shot attempts. At Whitfield, Watson worked his way into quality mid-range pull-ups and rim attacks against poor closeouts. That diversity is gone. Whether that’s the structure of the offense or Watson’s comfort, a shakeup seems overdue.
Shooting woes crowded out development in almost every other facet of his game, too. It’s not a stretch to say Watson could be a mess off the ball defensively as a freshman. Now? He’s a guy you can trust to lock-and-trail shooters. He understands his weak-side positioning to stunt and recover. He became more active on the defensive glass and scrappier for 50-50 balls outside his area. The paucity of production offensively was already frustrating, but it’s magnified by the fact Watson took another step toward becoming a stopper.
Josh Matejka, Deputy Manager: There’s a lot you can point to, unfortunately, but Torrence Watson’s struggles begin and end with his jump shot. It’s not like Watson was an elite shooter in his freshman year (his TS% was only 51.7), but he did hit 36 percent from deep. I think we all figured he’d take a small step forward in efficiency while staying respectable-to-good from deep. But that didn’t happen, and things seemed to go down hill quickly. Watson seemed to lose confidence early, especially when he had the ball, and he was never able to recover.
Ryan Herrera, Lead Basketball Beat Writer: Considering the growth he seemed to have had at the end of his freshman year, it’s hard to really narrow down exactly what went wrong for him as a sophomore. His numbers went down almost across the board, and it was just hard to see much positivity out of his game. His defense did improve a lot as the season went on, which is why Cuonzo Martin kept him out there, but he was recruited as a scorer and that just wasn’t what he was this season. His FG% dropped to 28.6% and his 3FG% to 28.1% (overshadowing what he did defensively), and that second number feels even more disappointing considering over 78% of his shots came from deep. It seemed like the confidence wasn’t there for him offensively, which could be all the explanation we need.
In a season full of disappointing numbers for Watson, one thing seemed to jump out as a positive — his improvement on defense. Does Watson have a future as a lock-down defender in Missouri?
Sam Snelling: Certainly a reliable defender. If Watson continues to struggle to shoot the ball from the field, he’ll have to find a way to get on the court one way or another. Defense is something Martin and his staff pride themselves on and you can never have enough guys who are bought in on that end. But defensive stopper or not, you can’t be a negative offensively.
Matt Harris: I mentioned it already, but he became a reliable cog in Martin’s system. Analytics tell you he was stellar at closing down shooters and sturdy enough in switches. That consistency also allows Dru Smith and Kobe Brown to take some gambles and create turnovers. It’s just hard to parcel out minutes to a guy whose not able to supply an already inconsistent offense with steady output.
Josh Matejka: That depends on your definition of a, “lock-down,” defender. But it would appear Watson may have a future as a three-and-D type of guy, if he can figure out the former. Watson may have struggled in execution, but he’s a smart player and understands what Martin expects of him on both ends of the floor. He’s not an elite athlete, but has enough quickness and length to cover. If he commits to bulking up more during the summer, Watson could potentially be a really strong defender on the wing, something that would give him value even if he never realizes his offensive potential.
Ryan Herrera: Like I said before, his defense was definitely a positive that can be taken from his play this year. Martin trusted him on that end for long stretches of time. I certainly don’t think that was a fluke, and he should be able to remain a reliable defender among the likes of Mark Smith and Javon Pickett. Would it be great for him to be a lock-down defender? Sure. Does he need to be? Not really. Martin just needs his guys to buy in defensively, and as long as he can keep progressing on that end, Watson could be one of those players leading the charge defensively
A lot of faith was lost in the sophomore from Whitfield this year, and his junior year will be pivotal if he wants to realize his potential. Do you still believe in Watson’s ceiling, or should we temper our expectations?
Sam Snelling: I think I’ve soured a bit on his overall ceiling. I still think Watson can be a solid piece on a good team but I don’t think he’s a guy you pin as the accelerant for the program. The recipe for his success is a blend what he was down the stretch for the Tigers last year and what he was this year, a guy who can provide a touch of scoring and defend well. So merge the last 8-10 games from his freshman year with the strides he made defensively as a sophomore and you’ve got a really solid piece.
Matt Harris: The fact Martin and the staff are doggedly pursuing Justin Turner answers the question. The pressing need is boosting production from the wing position. Javon Pickett is probably near his ceiling. And once you strip a torrid eight-game stretch to end his freshman campaign, Watson has shot a chilly 29.8 percent from behind the arc in his career. It’s a pivotal year in Martin’s rebuild, and can he really rely on everything clicking into place for Watson?
Like Sam, I was high on Watson when he arrived. I thought he would diversify his offense over time and become a steady enough defender. Maybe he could become an All-SEC pick, but the median would be a reliable two-way wing in a balanced attack. Now? If the Tigers reel in Turner, the logical role for Watson is as a 3-and-D option off the bench. And if Turner doesn’t come to Columbia, the hope has to be Watson becomes a reliable enough floor-spacer to keep driving lanes open and punish his defender for digging down to harass Jeremiah Tilmon.
Josh Matejka: I suppose I still believe that Watson could become a really valuable player, mostly because of how strange this season was. It’s not often you see a guy of his pedigree, who played well in his freshman season, absolutely crater like he did in year two. I’d like to think it’s solely because of mechanical things he can fix, but the mental part of the game is in play now as well. Watson has to prove to himself that he’s the player Missouri fans thought him capable of becoming, and that’s going to take some serious mental fortitude on his part. There a number of ways he could do it — recover his shooting stroke, adjust his approach on offense, embrace his role as a defender.
But that’s all asking a lot of a guy who struggled mightily over the course of a full season. It would be wise to take a wait-and-see approach before we look to Watson as the answer to Missouri’s woes.
Ryan Herrera: It’s just hard to put faith in Watson to be some kind of offensive savior for Missouri. It was so weird to see him fall back from how he played the last month or so of his freshman season. So it’s hard to say that his ceiling is as high as the Tigers thought it would be. However, I still don’t think the Watson that went scoreless in 11 of 31 games and scored no more than three points in another five is the same one we’ll get moving forward. Hopefully another offseason of work will do him some good, because if he can find a more consistent jump shot, he can still provide a big boost for this offense.