Graduate Transfers Who Will Have the Biggest Impact on the 2017-18 CBB Season
Elijah Brown played one season of college hoops at Butler, averaged 20.3 points per game over the last two seasons at New Mexico and is now a graduate transfer who could make or break Oregon's 2017-18 season. He's just one of the many veteran players who will be putting up big numbers for new major-conference programs this season.
As has become an annual rite of passage over the past several years, much of the summer has been spent debating whether college basketball is dealing with a transfer epidemic. Eli Boettger recently conducted a deep dive into the data for AthleticDirectorU.com, concluding that the landscape of the sport isn't nearly as close to the brink of free agency as some would have you believe.
Based on research I did last summer, I would counter that 9.4 percent of all D-I transfers from 2013-16—56 players per year—averaged at least 10 points per game in the season before they transferred. Yes, most of the players on the yearly list of 700-900 transfers end up leaving D-I altogether, but 56 double-digit scorers per year is kind of a big deal, considering the ACC only had 51 guys average at least 10 points per game in 2016-17.
Regardless of which side of that debate you're on, we can all agree that transfers are becoming a bigger part of college basketball, and that there are quite a few graduate transfers who figure to make a significant impact on the 2017-18 season.
Players on the following slides are ranked in ascending order of projected national impact with team success counting for a bit more than individual stats. A 20-point scorer for a Final Four team would be the ideal graduate transfer. Beyond that, though, someone who might put up 10 points per game for a 20-win team team ranks higher than someone who might put up 20 points per game for a 10-win team.
Cameron Johnson, North Carolina (from Pittsburgh)
Easily the most controversial graduate transfer of 2017, Pittsburgh originally tried to block Johnson's transfer request before he ended up moving within the conference to North Carolina. How much the career 40.0 percent three-point shooter will play for the Tar Heels remains to be seen, but you better believe he'll be motivated for the Feb. 3 game against the Panthers.
Cullen Neal, Saint Mary's (from Ole Miss)
Neal has more than 1,000 career points, but he never quite put it all together. The start of his sophomore year at New Mexico was promising, but he got injured after three games. He shot well last year with Ole Miss, but he bounced in and out of the starting lineup. Saint Mary's should be getting a pretty solid combo guard, though, to replace graduated former Boston College transfer Joe Rahon.
Nigel Johnson, Virginia (from Rutgers)
Most multi-transfer guys bounce around minor-conference programs before finally getting a chance with the big boys. But Johnson started at Kansas State, went to Rutgers and is now at Virginia. (Please keep your jokes about Rutgers being a minor-conference program to yourself.) Virginia needs some serious help on the wing after losing London Perrantes, Marial Shayok, Darius Thompson and Jarred Reuter.
James Daniel, Tennessee (from Howard)
This one could be huge, as Daniel averaged 21.5 points per game in his career at Howard. However, Daniel typically either didn't play well or didn't play at all against the best competition the Bison faced, and he missed almost all of last season with an ankle injury. But the Volunteers lost four shooting guards from last year's roster, so the opportunity is there if he's healthy and effective.
MiKyle McIntosh, Oregon (from Illinois State)
McIntosh averaged 12.5 points and 5.6 rebounds last season with the Redbirds and should be a significant piece in Oregon's frontcourt rotation. He might not start, though, and he almost certainly won't be the most noteworthy graduate transfer for the Ducks, as Elijah Brown has that title locked down.
Kerem Kanter, Xavier (from Green Bay)
The younger brother of NBA big man Enes Kanter, Kerem Kanter had a breakout season with Green Bay. He still only played 19.1 minutes per game, but he averaged 23.7 points and 13.2 rebounds per 40 minutes. For the Musketeers, Kanter should be a more-than-adequate replacement at center for RaShid Gaston.
Khris Lane, VCU (from Longwood)
With 510 points, 218 rebounds and at least 20 assists, steals and blocks, Lane did a little bit of everything last year with Longwood. But the Rams have a similar incoming transfer from Maine in Issac Vann. Even with all the turnover on this roster, it's too early to say whether Lane will have a featured role on this team.
10. Geno Thorpe, Syracuse
2016-17 Stats: 15.1 PPG, 4.6 APG, 2.9 RPG, 1.6 SPG, 37.5% 3PT
After two lackluster seasons at Penn State, Geno Thorpe left Happy Valley for South Florida. Per NCAA rules, he sat out the 2015-16 season and evidently used that time off to become a scoring machine. It didn't do much good for the 7-23 Bulls, but it did turn him into a hot commodity on the graduate-transfer market.
Jim Boeheim scored big with grad-transfers last summer, landing Andrew White III (Nebraska) and John Gillon (Colorado State). That duo led the Orange in three-point shooting while averaging a combined 29.0 points per game. But with losses to the likes of Georgetown, St. John's and Boston College, it wasn't quite enough to get Syracuse into the NCAA tournament.
Could things be different with Thorpe running the show?
In addition to White and Gillon, Syracuse lost Tyler Lydon, Tyler Roberson, DaJuan Coleman and Taurean Thompson. The Orange only bring back two players who scored more than a dozen points last season, and neither Tyus Battle nor Franklin Howard averaged better than 2.1 rebounds per game. Without so much as a single top-100 recruit to plug all those gaps, this could be Syracuse's first sub-.500 season since the 1960s.
Because of that, though, Thorpe figures to put up some ridiculous numbers. Depending on how much of a green light he is given, perhaps he could match Erick Green's feat from the 2012-13 season, averaging 25.0 points per game and winning ACC Player of the Year on a Virginia Tech team that went 4-14 in conference play.
9. Wesley Myers, South Carolina
2016-17 Stats: 16.9 PPG, 4.5 RPG, 1.1 SPG
For Wesley Myers, it's a story eerily similar to Geno Thorpe's. Played two so-so seasons before transferring away from his first school (Niagara). Sat out a year and became the leading scorer for a team that won seven games (Maine). Became a graduate transfer for a team trying to replace a ton of last year's production (South Carolina).
At least the Gamecocks have a better stable of returning players to work with, particularly in the frontcourt. They still have big men Chris Silva and Maik Kotsar, as well as guards Rakym Felder and Hassani Gravett. There's also already-sat-a-year transfer Kory Holden (17.7 PPG for Delaware in 2015-16) and graduate transfer Frank Booker, who played for both Oklahoma and Florida Atlantic.
If you're just dismissing South Carolina this year because it lost Sindarius Thornwell, PJ Dozier and Duane Notice, rest assured there is still some talent on this roster. And that's even truer if Myers can make the transition from the America East to the Southeastern Conference.
Myers topped 30 points four times last season, and he was more than adequate in Maine's three games against major-conference foes. He had 18 points and eight rebounds against Virginia Tech, 15 points and three assists against Duke and 13 points, two blocks and two steals against Providence.
Even if the points don't translate, those blocks and steals could make him Frank Martin's favorite player.
8. Randy Onwuasor, LSU
2016-17 Stats: 23.6 PPG, 6.6 RPG, 3.2 APG, 1.5 SPG
Randy Onwuasor's numbers at Southern Utah must be taken with several grains of salt.
He played for a team that had the third-worst defensive efficiency and that played at the 36th-highest adjusted tempo in the country, per KenPom. The Thunderbirds went 6-27 and allowed more than 85 points per game. Meanwhile, Onwuasor ranked 63rd in the nation in percentage of minutes played and was top 10 in both percentage of possessions used and percentage of shots taken.
Long story short, his numbers are the product of a system where he was not only encouraged to shoot as often as he wanted, but also required to shoot as much as possible to make up for all of the points the team was giving up on defense.
Still, one doesn't top 30 points eight times in a season just because of the system. Onwuasor is a capable shooter who gets to the free-throw line a ton. And for a 6'3" guard, he's a darn good rebounder who had five double-doubles last year. He should be a key piece of LSU's primary rotation.
But there's almost no chance he becomes the go-to guy at LSU. The Tigers bring back five of last year's seven leading scorers and have an incoming recruiting class with four 4-star players. Even if Onwuasor takes over Antonio Blakeney's spot as starting shooting guard, there are far too many mouths to feed for him to be jacking up 36.3 percent of the team's shots. With any luck, though, the decrease in volume will produce an increase in efficiency, which the Tigers have lacked in recent seasons.
7. Jeff Beverly, Iowa State
2016-17 Stats: 15.8 PPG, 5.9 RPG
Save for 2015-16, Iowa State has banked heavily on at least one graduate transfer in six of the last seven seasons. This year, though, the Cyclones are pushing the limits of that market with three incoming guys who should feature prominently in the seven-man rotation.
Zoran Talley Jr. (Old Dominion) and Hans Brase (Princeton) will likely battle each other for one starting job, while Jeff Beverly (UTSA) gets another.
And if there's one player in the country who knows a thing or two about transferring, it's Beverly. He started every game as a freshman at Texas A&M Corpus-Christi, averaging 8.2 points before going to McLennan Community College for a year. He then transferred to UTSA, sat out a year, put up the averages listed above and decided he needed to play for a fourth school.
No matter how windy the journey was for him to get to Ames, the Cyclones must be thrilled to have landed Beverly. They lost all four of last year's leading scorers and their top five rebounders. Though Beverly isn't a particularly efficient scorer (15.8 PPG on 14.0 FGA; 23.2% 3PT), they simply need players who know how to put the ball in the hoop.
Look for Donovan Jackson and Nick Weiler-Babb to lead Iowa State in scoring as the two primary holdovers from last season, but Beverly shouldn't be far behind in third place. At any rate, Iowa State's chances of making the tournament probably hinge on whether he's one of the three most valuable players on the roster.
6. Kendall Smith, Oklahoma State
2016-17 Stats: 16.7 PPG, 4.8 APG, 4.0 RPG, 1.3 SPG, 37.5% 3PT
Kendall Smith started at point guard for 13 of his first 16 games as a freshman at UNLV, but he wasn't ready for that job. His woeful inefficiency got him pulled from the starting lineup. After the first two games of his sophomore season didn't get any better, he transferred to Cal State Northridge and became a nearly unstoppable scorer.
Smith's highest single-game point total at UNLV was 13, but he averaged 16.1 over the last two seasons with the Matadors, scoring at least 20 points 17 times in 51 games.
With Jawun Evans out of the picture, Oklahoma State had a glaring need for this exact type of lead guard.
I'm not going to say Smith is the second coming of Evans, but I will tell you he is one of just five returning players in the country who averaged at least 16, 4.5 and 4.0 last year. He's a capable defender who has become a better-than-average three-point shooter.
Given the sheer number of points, rebounds, assists, steals and three-pointers the Cowboys need to replace, Smith is the best all-in-one package they could have hoped for. Along with Jeffrey Carroll and Lindy Waters, Smith should give Oklahoma State a respectable backcourt.
5. Mark Alstork, Illinois
2016-17 Stats: 19.0 PPG, 4.7 RPG, 3.5 APG, 38.7% 3PT
Mark Alstork transferred from Ball State and watched from the bench as Wright State limped its way to an 11-20 record in 2014-15—the program's most disappointing season in more than a decade. The Raiders quickly turned things around once Alstork was eligible to play, though. He led the team in total points, steals and blocks and wasn't far off the lead in rebounds while pacing it to a 22-13 record.
Despite losing four of the six leading scorers from that team, Alstork kept Wright State afloat last year, averaging 19 points per game for a 20-win team—albeit while also ranking fourth in the nation in total turnovers committed.
What can he bring to the table for Illinois?
Hopefully, it's better than what he has done against major-conference opponents thus far in his career. In last year's 72-50 loss to Penn State, Alstork shot 3-of-18 from the field and committed seven turnovers. The previous season, he scored 12 points on 14 combined field-goal attempts in losses to Kentucky and Xavier.
But Illinois and new head coach Brad Underwood need all the help they can get. The Illini lost all four of last year's leading scorers from a team that missed the NCAA tournament for a fourth consecutive year. Though they did add a pair of top-100 recruits at point guard and shooting guard, Alstork should immediately become the go-to weapon in this backcourt.
4. Kassius Robertson, Missouri
2016-17 Stats: 16.1 PPG, 3.1 RPG, 2.4 APG, 41.0% 3PT
So, here's an interesting note: Kassius Robertson is the only player in our top 10 who isn't playing for at least his third different school. For whatever reason, the vast majority of this year's top graduate transfers started slow at one school, broke out at a second school and then seized the opportunity to play significantly more nationally televised games in their final season of eligibility.
Not Robertson, though. This sharpshooter stuck with Canisius for three full seasons and 1,236 points before deciding to find out if any big-name schools could use a career 40.3 percent three-point shooter with 213 made triples.
When Missouri found out Robertson was available, do you suppose it waited two or three nanoseconds to pick up the phone?
Outside of Texas (29.2 percent) and Rutgers (30.3), Missouri (30.4) was the worst three-point shooting major-conference team in the nation last year. Point guard Terrence Phillips was the only guy on the roster to shoot better than 33.3 percent, and he wasn't exactly Mr. Automatic at 35.6 percent.
But now the Tigers appear to be in great shape. Phillips can be a secondary three-point shooter while Robertson starts at shooting guard and they both defer to freshman phenoms Michael Porter Jr. and Jontay Porter on a regular basis. Who knows if this team will play any defense, but Missouri's jump in offensive production should be massive.
3. Jaaron Simmons, Michigan
2016-17 Stats: 15.9 PPG, 6.5 APG, 3.5 RPG
Jaaron Simmons has quietly been one of the best point guards in the country. He didn't even play in 2014-15, and he's still one of just six players to amass at least 1,025 points and 475 assists over the course of the last three seasons.
In his last two seasons at Ohio, Simmons put up numbers on offense (15.7 PPG, 7.2 APG, 3.9 TO, 37.3% 3PT) nearly identical to what Kris Dunn did in his final two seasons at Providence (16.0 PPG, 6.9 APG, 3.8 TO, 36.3% 3PT). Granted, a lot of Dunn's value was derived from his relentless ball pressure, and there's no comparison between these two point guards on defense. Michigan is getting one heck of an offensive weapon, though.
It's one the Wolverines need, too, after losing both Derrick Walton and Zak Irvin from their backcourt. Those two seniors combined for 28.5 points, 9.3 rebounds and 7.9 assists per game. They led the team in both points and assists and each ranked top three in rebounds—No. 1 in rebounds (D.J. Wilson) is also gone.
Assists should come easily in this offense, particularly for a guy like Simmons with proven distribution skills. With the possible exception of Simmons—who is much more of a slasher than a shooter—all five starters for Michigan will likely attempt at least 100 three-pointers this season. Muhammad-Ali Abdur-Rahkman, Duncan Robinson and Moritz Wagner all hit that mark with room to spare last year, and incoming Kentucky transfer Charles Matthews (shooting guard) figures to put up threes in bunches.
Expect Simmons to average a dozen points and close to eight assists per game for a team that is going to need to score a ton to make up for its disappointing defense.
2. Egor Koulechov, Florida
2016-17 Stats: 18.1 PPG, 8.9 RPG, 2.1 APG, 47.4% 3PT
The wild thing about Egor Koulechov ranking this high on the list is one could easily envision a scenario where Florida wins 27 or more games without him even playing. The five-man frontcourt of John Egbunu, Kevarrius Hayes, Keith Stone, Gorjok Gak and Chase Johnson will be strong, and a backcourt with KeVaughn Allen, Chris Chiozza, Jalen Hudson and Deaundrae Ballard could do some serious damage.
Koulechov is just a luxury who may well be the team's second-leading scorer.
Losing Devin Robinson, Justin Leon and Canyon Barry (134 combined made three-pointers) left the Gators in a bit of a quandary on the perimeter. Allen can shoot, and both Stone and Chiozza have some range, but Mike White wanted another legitimate long-range weapon.
He sure as heck got one.
Koulechov shot 81-of-171 from three-point range last season. Over the course of the past decade, there have been an average of 3.0 players per year who have shot at least 47 percent while making at least 80 triples, putting Koulechov in some rarefied air.
Save for Frank Mason and a couple others, the vast majority of those guys were shooting guards who didn't provide much value outside of the three-pointers. But Koulechov is also a relentless rebounder who had at least nine points and nine boards in 19 games last season.
If that accuracy and tenacity translates to the SEC—he averaged 18.3 points and 5.5 rebounds in four games against major-conference foes over the last two years, so there's no good reason to assume it won't—the Gators are going to be a legitimate contender for the SEC title and an NCAA tournament No. 1 seed.
1. Elijah Brown, Oregon
2016-17 Stats: 18.8 PPG, 5.2 RPG, 3.1 APG, 1.3 SPG
Over the last two seasons—despite playing in seven fewer games—Elijah Brown has scored five more points than Grayson Allen. He is one of just 15 players that has scored at least 1,275 points since the beginning of the 2015-16 season.
Brown was the most noteworthy free agent available this summer, and the Oregon Ducks nabbed him.
Considering they lost all five of last year's leading scorers and only have one returning player with any experience as a starter, it was a much-needed move for the Ducks. But it was far from the only one. Dana Altman also added transfers MiKyle McIntosh and Paul White, as well as a strong recruiting class headlined by Troy Brown.
The most important pickup to keep Oregon in the hunt for a sixth straight NCAA tournament appearance, though, was Elijah Brown.
He should immediately become Oregon's starting shooting guard and probably its leading scorer. He won't be asked to carry as much of the offensive load as he had been for the last two years, but he's a playmaker who can score at all three levels and knows how to get to the free-throw line on a regular basis. And by pairing him with Payton Pritchard, Brown will spend a lot of time off the ball, which should help both his three-point percentage (33.0 last year) and his turnover rate (3.1 per game).
They say the third time's the charm, and it's looking like the third school could be where Brown shines the brightest.
Kerry Miller covers college basketball and college football for Bleacher Report. You can follow him on Twitter @kerrancejames. Recruiting information courtesy of Scout.com. Advanced stats courtesy of Sports Reference and KenPom.com.