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The feeding frenzy of the men’s college basketball transfer portal is basically over. Former Memphis wing Emoni Bates was the last remaining player on our best available transfer list before he settled on Eastern Michigan last week; more than 85 top targets are spending the summer adjusting to their new campus homes.
Now that the dust has settled, which teams came out as the biggest winners and losers of the sport’s de facto free agency? On Tuesday, some of our national college basketball experts chose their winners from the portal sweepstakes. Now it’s time to flip the page and see which teams were hurt the most by all this player movement.
Eamonn Brennan: Texas Tech
In the past few seasons, perhaps more than any fandom in college basketball, Texas Tech fans have wrestled with status anxiety. The highs of the 2018-2019 season were heady, filled with elite defense, winning basketball, “Old Town Road” blaring in the locker room. All of a sudden, under rising star coach Chris Beard, the Red Raiders had come one overtime away from a national title. Beard was playing a style of defense masterminded by savant assistant Mark Adams. Tech boosters was building new facilities, literally buying in.
Then Beard went to Texas. Yes: Texas. Rationalize it all you want, understand the decision on its merits if you can, but be real, too: it hurt. It hurt bad. Tech was an ascendant power; Texas fans barely cared about ball. And Beard still chose them over us?
Adams was promoted to head coach, and Texas Tech had a fantastic season, one that featured the nation’s best per-possession defense and two hugely cathartic wins over UT, all of which relieved the nagging status concerns for the time being. Maybe Tech didn’t need Beard after all.
Then this spring happened.
Terrance Shannon Jr.‘s departure was one most people in the game, and certainly folks around the program, saw coming. Shannon is super talented with an NBA frame, but had a tendency to float through games Adams’ balanced rotation and ended up playing just 43.5 percent of the team’s available minutes last season. (Shannon often found himself behind both Davion Warren and fifth-year transfer Adonis Arms.) So it was maybe not super shocking when Shannon entered the portal and eventually ended up at Illinois.
But Kevin McCullar to Kansas?!
Shannon’s classmate, and a de facto leader of Tech’s new culture, McCullar was the perfect Red Raider — multipositional, switchable, locked in defensively. He was a kind of program totem, the player you assume you’ll build around in the event he doesn’t end up in the NBA Draft first. And McCullar didn’t end up in the draft, but when he announced his decision to test the waters he also announced that if he stayed in school, he would be doing so at KU. Huh?
In many ways, it has never been a better time to be a Texas Tech fan. Adams is a genius, a genuine tactical innovator, and he’s coming off a Sweet 16 in his first season (and had a real chance to make the Final Four before Duke put on one of the great shot-making performances of the 2021-22 season). There is a lot to like about the roster Adams and his staff have put together, which includes three top-100 freshmen and plenty of incoming transfers, too: North Carolina guard Kerwin Walton, one of the nation’s best rebounders in Utah Valley transfer Fardaws Aimaq, Oregon guard De’Vion Harmon, interesting former Texas frosh Jaylon Tyson. Those facilities are built.
But this is distinction is more about vibes. How does the transfer portal make a fan base feel about where its program is and where it is going from here? When you lose your coach to the Texas rivals one summer, and then lose one of your best players to a Kansas team you went toe to toe with the next summer, well, it hurts — no matter how excited you are about the new guys coming in.
Brian Hamilton: Murray State
A program that wins on autopilot shouldn’t fret too much about losing a chunk of talent to the portal under normal circumstances. These are not normal circumstances. Murray State joins the Missouri Valley Conference for the 2022-23 season, leveling up in competition and navigating an unfamiliar landscape … after the top half of its roster was effectively lopped off with departures. Tevin Brown, the Racers’ second-leading scorer, turned pro and went undrafted. But that sort of thing happens. What usually doesn’t happen is losing two other starters and a sixth man, all to the same program, in a calculated mass exodus. That’s how K.J. Williams (18 points per game), Justice Hill (13.4 ppg) and Trae Hannibal (9.2 ppg in 21.9 minutes per night) became LSU Tigers.
We can’t totally cast Matt McMahon as a villain here; the LSU roster situation was as grim as imaginable after his arrival. In order to field anything resembling a competitive team or merely survive Year 1 of the rebuild in Baton Rouge — in order to have enough players to play, even — it makes sense that McMahon re-recruited the top talent he left behind. Tough business, this college basketball. Murray State has been reminded of this the hard way.
And speaking of hard ways: The Racers make their MVC debut with one — one! — scholarship player returning from 2021-22. The confluence of realignment and a roster evisceration couldn’t be worse. I’d bet on the program steadying itself eventually. There’s too much winning infrastructure here, and Steve Prohm know how to maximize it, having done it before. But for now? It’s multiple bitter pills to swallow in Murray.
CJ Moore: Wichita State
Wichita State had a disappointing season this past year after making the NCAA Tournament and winning the American Athletic Conference in Isaac Brown’s first season at head coach. With a majority of that core back, the Shockers went just 6-9 in the AAC. They were hard to watch as Tyson Etienne took some of the worst shots imaginable in a season where he was returning to show he could play point guard.
It was probably best for the Shockers that Etienne decided to go pro, but even with him gone, everyone else seemed ready to move on. The Shockers had seven scholarship players transfer, losing nearly 83 percent of their scoring. Even if they’d had a good season, it might not have mattered with some of their top players, as NIL also played a part in roster retention. The athletic department being late to the NIL game is part of the reason athletic director Darron Boatright lost his job. But by the time WSU boosters put together a collective, the damage had already been done.
The major losses were Ricky Council IV (who transferred to Arkansas), Dexter Dennis (Texas A&M) and Morris Udeze (New Mexico). All three made our top transfer list. None of the seven transfers the Shockers brought in were on that list. Maybe Brown and his coaches found some hidden gems with their incoming class, but it’s not healthy for any program to have to bring in that many transfers. The Shockers have only two rotation players returning in Craig Porter and Kenny Pohto, and they nearly lost Porter to the portal. That’s the one the Wichita State collective was able to save.
The biggest loss is Council. One AAC coach told me he was the best NBA prospect in the league last year. Had Etienne left a year earlier, he’d probably gotten his shot to be a star and maybe he sticks around.
Brown was able to thrive after the major exodus that forced Gregg Marshall out and gave Brown his shot, but one key then was holding onto some important members of that core like Dennis, Udeze, Etienne and Trey Wade. This is a total rebuild.
Dana O’Neil: St. Bonaventure
It didn’t go the way anyone wanted, preseason hopes and dreams slowly ebbing into reality. The high of a No. 16 ranking in the country quickly unspooled to an 8-3 record and a humbling three-point loss to Virginia Tech. Then came an injury to the starting point guard, followed by a 25-day COVID-19 pause and, eventually, a respectable, but not NCAA Tournament worthy, 23-10 record. Despite the disappointment, St. Bonaventure rallied for a run to the NIT final, and ended the season with a dose of optimism, what with all five starters having the chance to return as super seniors.
That was then. This is now: Justin Ndjock-Tadjore ranks as the top returning scorer. He played in 12 games and took three shots. Decimated probably doesn’t do the Bonnies’ roster justice; extinguished is more like it. All five starters have moved on, as well as six other players. Ndjock-Tadjore is not only the top returner; he’s one of only three holdovers from last year’s roster (the other two, Anouar Mellouk and Brett Rumpel, both redshirted).
St. Bonaventure’s blues might not garner the attention of some of the other big-name roster realignments, but the Bonnies’ unwanted reconstruction is exactly what mid-major programs feared once the portal came into play: once their teams developed talented players, another more high-profile team would come and pluck them. Four of St. Bonaventure’s five starters are now at power conference teams (the fifth opted to go pro), and no one wanted any of them four years ago.
Osun Osunniyi was considered a late bloomer and a raw talent. At St. Bonaventure, he blossomed into a two-time Atlantic 10 defensive player of the year. He’s now at Iowa State. Coming out of high school, Kyle Lofton received zero Division I offers. After a year of prep school, UMass, Quinnipiac, Robert Morris and St. Bonaventure showed interest. Four years and three first-team All-A10 selections for the Bonnies later, he’s now at Florida. Mark Schmidt beat out Buffalo for Dominick Welch four years ago. In April former Buffalo coach Nate Oats got revenge, bringing Welch to Alabama. Jaren Holmes first went to junior college before landing at St. Bonaventure. Last season he earned first-team league honors. Now he joins Osunniyi in Ames.
It is all downright dizzying. In the span of three weeks, everything Schmidt built crumbled. On April 6, a week after the Bonnies lost to Xavier in the NIT, little-used Joryam Saizonou announced via Twitter that he was in the portal (he wound up at UNC Greensboro). A day later, Abdoul Karim Coulibaly, who started his career at Pitt, joined him (he wound up at UMass-Lowell). On April 8, Jalen Adaway, the team’s leading scorer and rebounder and one of the five guys who played the bulk of the minutes, opted to go pro. He’s now on the Heat’s summer league team.
Two weeks later, it got bananas. Holmes, who averaged 13.5 points, five rebounds and 3.6 assists, and Linton Brown (now at Coastal Carolina) put their names in the portal. On April 25, Quadry Adams, who came to St. Bonaventure from Wake Forest, joined the exiting crowd (he’s at Dodge City Community College). A day later, Pedro Rossi and Oluswasegun Durosinimi opted out (they’re at Minnesota-Crookston and Northern Illinois, respectively). On April 27, it was Welch’s turn, and on April 28th, within 17 minutes of each other, Lofton and Osunniyi announced their intentions on Twitter.
The portal, of course, giveth as well as taketh, and left with no recourse Schmidt has essentially done what was done to him, finding guys a half-step below the A10 to replenish his roster. Darryl Banks dropped 27 points on Kentucky and averaged 13.5 points during Saint Peter’s magical NCAA Tournament run. He joined two of his teammates in the portal after Shaheen Holloway left for Seton Hall. Anquan Hill left Fairleigh Dickinson after his coach was fired. Hill was the Northeast Conference rookie of the year, despite playing on a team that won four games. Similarly, Kyrell Luc won Patriot League rookie of the year, even though his Holy Cross team finished 7-11 in league play. Moses Flowers had the best season of his career at Hartford — 14.7 points, 6.4 rebounds 49.5 percent shooting — but that program is dropping to Division III. Chad Venning played two seasons at Morgan State, averaging 7.2 points, and Max Amadasun played sparingly at Pitt. Both are New York natives.
The big question: can the six added transfers replace the five starters lost?
(Top photo of Kevin McCullar: Amy Kontras / USA Today)
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