Conneticut transfer Alex Oriakhi is one player that will make a big impact this season.
College basketball coaches love transfers and for good reason too. Unlike high school recruits, transfers offer both talent and experience. That combination is tough for any coach to pass up.
Some college transfers amount to nothing. But there are some cases in which a player finds the right fit and is able to lead his new team to bigger and better things.
The players listed here fall under the latter category. These guys have the potential to lead their new teams to the top of their conferences and maybe even to a national championship.
Harrow (left) will be suiting up for Kentucky this season.
Old Team: North Carolina State
Harrow had an up-and-down freshman year at North Carolina State, but he has the potential to flourish under Calipari's watchful eye.
Harrow, a former ESPN top-40 recruit, is a lightning-quick point guard who can score in a hurry.
Calipari has played coy with the media concerning his starting line-up, but Harrow shouldn't have much competition at the point guard position.
He doesn't possess the size of predecessors Marquis Teague and Brandon Knight, but Harrow is still an exceptional athlete. He also is the first of Calipari's guards to have a chance to learn the offensive system before playing major minutes. In the Wildcats' media guide (via the team's official athletic site), Calipari said:
“Ryan should be in the best position of any point guard I have ever coached because he's got a year to be tutored without the pressure of having to play. Ryan has major college experience, quickness and an ability to score that you can't teach, but he needs to use this season to take his game to another level physically. If he does that, he should be in a great position when he's eligible next year.”
His numbers at North Carolina State weren't stellar (just 9.3 points and 3.3 assists per game), but Harrow is more than capable of producing in Calipari's system. He has the talent to make a real impact at Kentucky this season and could help lead the Wildcats to another championship.
Oriakhi will be a strong inside presence for the Tigers
Old Team: Connecticut
The Tigers' NCAA tournament run ended abruptly last season after a shocking loss to the fifteenth-seeded Norfolk State Spartans.
Norfolk State center Kyle O'Quinn pounded the Tigers down low and Missouri head coach Frank Haith was unable to find an answer.
Luckily, that answer has arrived in the form of former Connecticut big man Alex Oriakhi.
Oriakhi was a key contributor to the Huskies' 2011 national championship team but was unhappy playing a smaller role on last year's squad. He'll have no problem finding minutes for the Tigers, who are desperate for some type of inside presence.
Head Coach Frank Haith told the Columbia Daily Tribune's Steve Walentik that Oriakhi's transfer was like “a Christmas present" and it's easy to see why.
Oriakhi isn't a go-to offensive player by any means, but big men who can defend and rebound at his level are hard to come by. He's an excellent athlete and is capable of dominating the offensive glass against smaller opponents.
This year's Missouri squad is younger and less experienced than last season, but the Tigers still have plenty of talent. With Oriakhi's help, they can compete with Kentucky in the SEC.
Clarke is expected to bring some much-needed offense to the Bulldogs.
Old Team: Arkansas
The one thing that Butler lacked last season was a big scoring threat. That's where Arkansas transfer Rotnei Clarke comes in.
Clarke, a senior, is a shooter who can score in bunches. He led the Razorbacks in scoring as a junior with 15.2 points and made headlines with his 51-point barrage against Alcorn State as a sophomore.
Clarke will provide the Bulldogs with the steady perimeter presence they need, particularly from behind the arc. Butler shot just 28.1 percent last year from the three-point line. Clarke is a career 42.2 percent three-point shooter and will help enormously in spreading the floor.
It appears that Clarke is going to start at point guard for the Bulldogs and will be expected to act as a facilitator as well as a scorer. Head coach Brad Stevens told CBS New York's Jon Rothstein:
“I don’t just think Rotnei can play point guard, I think he’s a really good point guard. He makes plays for other people and he can obviously make plays for himself. He’s a difficult guy to guard when it’s all said and done.”
Clarke isn't known as much of a playmaker, but Stevens seems confident that he's up to the task. It may be their first year in the Atlantic-10, but with Clarke's contributions, the Bulldogs are more than ready to make a run at the conference title.
Mark Lyons is looking to bring his scoring touch to Arizona this fall.
Old Team: Xavier
After four seasons years Xavier, Mark Lyons is back with head coach Sean Miller—the man who originally recruited him to the Musketeers.
Lyons' season was marred by last year's infamous Xavier-Cincinnati brawl, but overall he had a very productive year (he scored 15.1 points per game last season).
He's a big get for the Wildcats, who were dangerously thin in the backcourt outside of sophomore guard Nick Johnson.
Lyons is a scoring guard who can be expected to bring leadership and toughness to the Arizona roster. He'll be especially valuable on the defensive end. According to the Arizona Daily Star's Bruce Pascoe, Miller recently said:
“I got away from recognizing that maybe the best thing he does is how quick he is on defense. He’s very old by today’s standards of college basketball. He’s been through a ton of practices and games so not only does he have ability on defense but he has the know-how and when you add a new player to your team they usually don’t have one or the other.”
Despite some extremely shaky point guard play last season, the Wildcats still won 23 games en route to an NIT appearance. With Lyons now at the helm, they have a chance to make a much bigger splash on the college basketball scene.
Old Team: Pittsburgh
Khem Birch won't be eligible to play until UNLV's fall semester ends, so he'll have plenty of time to acclimate to the Rebels' system.
Birch, ESPN's No. 12 overall recruit in the class of 2011, transferred from Pittsburgh after just 10 games because he was unhappy with the way he was being used.
It was nothing but good news for UNLV head coach Dave Rice, who told the Las Vegas Review-Journal (per Sporting News' Mike DeCourcy):
“We are excited to have him in the program. After getting to know him, it's obvious he is committed to working hard and developing his game. One of the things he is most excited about is our up-tempo style of play.”
Birch is unpolished, but he has the potential to be a dominant big man for the Rebels. He's a superb athlete and is already a game-changer on the defensive end of the floor.
He put up modest numbers at Pittsburgh (4.4 points and 5.0 rebounds per game), but he was clearly unhappy and didn't receive many minutes. He'll thrive in UNLV's up-tempo game and could be the best player on what is quickly becoming a loaded Rebels squad.
It's been quite some time since UNLV has made serious noise in the basketball world, but with the addition of Birch, the Rebels are set to do just that.