Transfers Making Biggest Early Impact on 2019-20 Men's College Basketball Season
Getting acquainted with old faces in new places has become a rite of passage for the first month of each men's college basketball season.
Per Verbal Commits, there were over 1,000 Division I transfers this offseason, not to mention the more than 200 players who transferred the previous offseason and had to sit out the entire 2018-19 campaign. Even with a finely tuned spreadsheet and a year-round commitment to this sport, it's hard to keep track of it all and harder still to know what to expect from players on the move.
A large percentage of those changing teams just go from the end of one bench to a similar spot on another. Plenty of others "downshift" from major conference to minor conference or from minor conference to D-II hoops.
But there's also a significant number of transfers who end up playing key roles for high-profile teams. Just among those that entered Monday ranked in the KenPom top 25, there are 18 teams with a combined total of 26 new or former D-I transfers who have already started multiple games this season.
Texas Tech almost won the national championship last season with three transfers among its five leading scorers.
Suffice it to say, it has become an important avenue for constructing a roster, and there are already quite a few players who are crushing it in their new threads.
Both immediately eligible transfers (Kerry Blackshear Jr., Isaiah Moss, etc.) and the guys who sat out last season (T.J. Holyfield, Omer Yurtseven, etc.) are allowed on the list, which is presented in alphabetical order by school.
MaCio Teague, Baylor (from UNC Asheville)
Season Stats (three games): 12.7 PPG, 5.7 RPG, 4.3 APG, 1.7 SPG
If UNC Asheville could somehow hang on to its best players, it would be a mid-major powerhouse at this point.
Keith Hornsby averaged 15 points per game in 2012-13 before transferring to LSU. Andrew Rowsey put up just under 20 points per game over the subsequent two seasons before heading to Marquette. The year after Rowsey left, Dylan Smith and Dwayne Sutton led the Bulldogs in scoring as freshmen before leaving for Arizona and Louisville, respectively. Once they left, MaCio Teague racked up more than 1,000 points over the course of two seasons and then took his talents to Baylor.
Bummer for Asheville, but it has been great news for the Bears.
The combo guard has made a seamless transition into the starting lineup, partnering with Jared Butler as the Ryan Boatright to his Shabazz Napier. Teague had 18 points and 10 rebounds in his debut with Baylor, and he was one of the Bears who was at least moderately competent in the close loss to Washington.
Teague is leading the Bears in assists and ranks second in points, rebounds and steals. He's also shooting 38.9 percent from three on 6.0 attempts per game.
With Teague playing this well, Baylor is going to give Kansas a spirited push for the Big 12 crown if and when big man Tristan Clark regains his dominant form from before the knee injury that cut short his 2018-19 season.
Kerry Blackshear Jr., Florida (from Virginia Tech)
Season Stats (four games): 14.5 PPG, 11.0 RPG, 1.5 APG, 1.3 SPG
Florida looks nothing like the title contender we were promised in the preseason, but that certainly isn't Kerry Blackshear Jr.'s fault.
Rather, he has been just about the only reason to have faith in the Gators turning this thing around in due time.
Blackshear recorded a double-double in each of his first three games and almost extended that streak to four games before fouling out of Sunday's loss to Connecticut with 15 points and eight rebounds. He has twice as many boards as his closest teammate, and it often seems like this young roster is just sitting around waiting on him to lead the way.
As was the case during his last two seasons with Virginia Tech, Blackshear is usually on the floor without a single teammate taller than 6'6".
Keyontae Johnson is no slouch of a 6'5" power forward, and while stud 6'5" freshman Scottie Lewis isn't shooting well thus far, he sure can elevate to block shots. Blackshear will occasionally share the paint with 6'10" freshman Omar Payne. But there's no question who the primary big man is on this roster, or who will be tasked with slowing down the opposing team's frontcourt phenoms.
While most of these transfers have been valuable as second fiddles or role players, Blackshear is the clear go-to guy for the Gators. Gonzaga has had a handful of transfers become consensus second-team All-Americans, but the last transfer to make this big of a splash with a major-conference team was probably Syracuse's Wes Johnson, who earned first-team honors in 2009-10.
That year, Johnson led the 30-win Orange in both points and rebounds and ranked second in steals and blocks. There were plenty of other quality players on that roster, but everything ran through their new star. Aside from the "30-win" part of that, the same is going to be said about Blackshear throughout this season.
Omer Yurtseven, Georgetown (from NC State)
Season Stats (four games): 17.0 PPG, 12.5 RPG, 1.8 BPG
When Omer Yurtseven left NC State, we all assumed it would be for the NBA.
The Turkey native was one of the most highly touted international recruits in recent history, and he was relatively unstoppable over the latter half of his sophomore season. When the 7-foot center put up 29 points with five three-pointers and four blocks in that January win over Clemson, I had to talk myself out of seriously inquiring about NC State's national championship odds.
But instead of going pro, Yurtseven tested those waters, transferred to Georgetown, sat for a season and is now doing one heck of a Patrick Ewing impersonation for the Hoyas.
The 21-year-old has recorded a double-double in all four contests, including racking up 17 points, 15 rebounds and three blocks in just 19 minutes against Central Arkansas. The big man was also the only guy to show up in Georgetown's loss to Penn State, finishing that night with 16 points, 10 rebounds, three blocks and three steals—leading the Hoyas in all four categories.
In Sunday's win over Georgia State, he had 11 offensive rebounds. He's now averaging more than six of those per game.
The aforementioned perimeter prowess has yet to resurface in the nation's capital. Yurtseven missed his only three-point attempt of the season. But it's not because Ewing has any philosophical issue with letting his big man venture beyond the arc. Center Jessie Govan was the Hoyas' best perimeter weapon last year, so perhaps Yurtseven eventually flashes that part of his arsenal again.
Until then, the Hoyas will be more than content with letting this double-double machine hone his skills in the paint.
Gonzaga: Ryan Woolridge (from North Texas) and Admon Gilder (from Texas A&M)
Ryan Woolridge (four games): 11.0 PPG, 5.5 RPG, 5.3 APG, 1.3 SPG, 5-5 3PT
Admon Gilder (four games): 13.3 PPG, 3.5 RPG, 1.5 APG, 10-23 3PT
Kyle Wiltjer. Byron Wesley. Eric McClellan. Nigel Williams-Goss. Johnathan Williams III. Jordan Mathews. Brandon Clarke.
Over the past five years, Mark Few has taken Gonzaga over the hump from "Cute Cinderella Story" to "Serious National Contender" with transfers leading the charge. And after losing four of last year's five starters and two key reserves, the Zags needed exactly that type of influx of veteran talent in order to remain a Top 10 team.
Admon Gilder was the obvious name near the top of all the preseason transfer rankings. He was a solid defender and a career 37.4 percent three-point shooter with Texas A&M, and it doesn't appear that he acquired any rust while missing last season with an injury. Gilder has scored in double figures and has made multiple three-pointers in each of Gonzaga's four games.
The much more surprising star in Gonzaga's starting five has been Ryan Woolridge, who is putting up numbers near identical to those he posted in relative obscurity with North Texas.
The 6'3" point guard averaged 12.2 points, 5.5 rebounds, 5.4 assists and 1.6 steals over the past two seasons, and the transition to Gonzaga hasn't slowed him down a bit. In fact, he was the KenPom.com MVP against Gonzaga's only noteworthy opponent thus far (Texas A&M), finishing with 16 points, seven rebounds, two assists and two steals in the 79-49 shellacking of the Aggies.
PG was the big question mark for Gonzaga when the offseason began, as it looked like it was going to be Joel Ayayi and his 128 career minutes or bust. While Ayayi has been mighty impressive off the bench—7.5 PPG, 7.8 RPG, 4.8 APG, 1.8 SPG—Woolridge has been a revelation for one of the few teams consistently blowing out opponents.
Isaiah Moss, Kansas (from Iowa)
Season Stats (two games): 14.5 PPG, 2.0 RPG, 1.0 APG, 7-12 3PT
In mid-May, Isaiah Moss originally planned on transferring from Iowa to Arkansas. Less than a month later, he changed his mind, dropped the "Ar-" and decided on Kansas instead. And it's already clear he is the best three-point shooter on the Jayhawks roster.
Moss was unable to play in the season-opening loss to Duke because of a hamstring injury, and Kansas was limited on the perimeter because of it. Only nine of the Jayhawks' 50 field-goal attempts came from beyond the arc. That's 18 percent, which is less than half of what the national rate has been over the past four seasons, ranging from 36.4-38.7 percent.
With the career 40 percent three-point shooter available, though, the Jayhawks have averaged 28 three-point attempts and feel like a more balanced, cohesive team.
Through two games, Moss has done quite the Ethan Wragge impression, taking 12 of his 13 field-goal attempts from beyond the arc (761 of Wragge's 816 shots with Creighton were threes). During Moss' three seasons with Iowa, 59 percent of his shots were two-pointers, so it stands to reason he'll eventually make some deuces. But he's the three-point specialist this year.
Moss probably isn't going to become a star for Kansas. As long as Marcus Garrett and Ochai Agbaji stay healthy, he might not even start a game in Lawrence. Still, he's going to be an indispensable reserve who steps up in key moments, and he is a strong early candidate for the Big 12's Sixth Man of the Year Award.
Justin Pierce, North Carolina (from William & Mary)
Season Stats (three games): 10.3 PPG, 8.7 RPG, 5-12 3PT
For North Carolina to be successful this season, it needed at least one of its two graduate transfers to pan out in a big way.
We knew in the preseason the Tar Heels had a potential generational talent at point guard in Cole Anthony, and we knew they had a pair of more-than-capable big men in freshman Armando Bacot and junior Garrison Brooks. Everything beyond that was a colossal unknown, making it next to impossible to evaluate this team's potential.
One of the grad transfers (Christian Keeling from Charleston Southern) has been a bust thus far. He had five points and five turnovers in the opener against Notre Dame, and subsequent games against UNC Wilmington and Gardner-Webb weren't much better. It's early, but according to KenPom.com, Keeling has a 63.7 O Rating, which ranks worst on the roster by a wide margin.
Fortunately for the Tar Heels, Justin Pierce has been a much better acquisition, and it's only a matter of time before he replaces Keeling in the starting lineup.
Pierce averaged 17.4 points and 10.2 rebounds per 40 minutes during his three years with William & Mary, and he is sitting at 16.8 and 14.1, respectively, through three games with Carolina.
He has been particularly dominant on the offensive glass, which has always been one of UNC's biggest strengths under Roy Williams. Pierce is leading the team with 11 offensive boards, four of which immediately resulted in putback buckets.
Pierce has also been Carolina's second-best three-point option. Anthony (13 of 29) has made more triples than the rest of the team combined, but Pierce—a 41.6 percent shooter in 2017-18—ranks second in both makes and attempts.
As long as Pierce keeps this up, North Carolina could be the best team in the country.
Oregon's Trifecta of Transfers
Anthony Mathis (from New Mexico): 14.3 PPG, 2.5 RPG, 68.2 3P%
Shakur Juiston (from UNLV): 10.8 PPG, 5.5 RPG, 3.3 APG, 1.0 SPG
Chris Duarte (from Northwest Florida State): 9.3 PPG, 5.3 RPG, 2.3 APG, 1.0 SPG
Oregon's three new veterans have taken turns sharing the spotlight with Payton Pritchard this season.
In the opener against Fresno State, Duarte finished with 16 points, seven rebounds and three steals. It wasn't an efficient shooting night, which is something to monitor moving forward. It took him 16 shots to get those 16 points, and he's now at 37 points on 35 field-goal attempts. But at least he has doesn't commit turnovers (two on the season) and is contributing well elsewhere in the box score.
In Game No. 2 against Boise State, it was Mathis' turn to shine. The former Lobo exploded for 30 points, draining nine of his 11 three-point attempts. Through four games, he's 15-of-22 from downtown.
That's his game, though. He was quietly one of the best three-point specialists in the nation over the past two seasons, making 44.2 percent of his 7.0 long-range attempts per game. The Ducks had to replace a combined total of about 4.3 triples per game after losing Louis King, Victor Bailey and Paul White, and Mathis might do that by himself.
And in the marquee win over Memphis, Juiston was the biggest star. Not only did he finish with 17 points, 10 rebounds, three assists and a pair of steals, but he was pivotal in keeping frontcourt freshman phenoms James Wiseman and Precious Achiuwa from getting into any sort of rhythm in the paint.
Freshmen Chandler Lawson and Addison Patterson have also been quality assets off the bench, so Dana Altman couldn't ask for much more from this year's crop of new players. Arizona has also gotten out to an impressive start, destroying everything in its path, but early returns are that this could be a repeat of 2016-17 when both the Ducks and Wildcats went 16-2 in Pac-12 play.
T.J. Holyfield, Texas Tech (From Stephen F. Austin)
Season Stats (three games): 18.7 PPG, 4.7 RPG, 1.7 BPG, 1.0 SPG, 82.8 FG%
Eventually, Texas Tech is going to have a respectable nonconference strength of schedule. The Red Raiders will face Iowa and either Creighton or San Diego State in the Las Vegas Invitational. Immediately after that event, they play at DePaul and have a neutral-site game against Louisville. And in the late-January SEC/B12 Challenge, Texas Tech will host Kentucky.
Thus far, however, the Red Raiders' schedule has been weaker than a watered-down cup of day-old coffee. They hosted Eastern Illinois and Bethune-Cookman and played a neutral-site game against Houston Baptist. Upcoming home games against Tennessee State and Long Island won't help matters, either. Thus, their early stats need to be taken with an even bigger grain of salt than most.
That said, T.J. Holyfield has gotten out to a ridiculous start.
The 6'8" center has made 22 of his 25 two-point attempts, as well as a pair of threes in four tries. Holyfield scored 15 in his debut, followed by 20 and 21 in the next two games, despite not yet logging 25 minutes in a game. Regardless of the level of competition, 56 points in 67 minutes is remarkable stuff.
Just as important on a Chris Beard-coached team, Holyfield has done a fine job on the defensive end as well. No big surprise there, though, considering he went for 11 points, 11 rebounds, eight blocks and three steals in one of his last games with Stephen F. Austin. He should be every bit the defensive anchor that Tariq Owens was for Texas Tech last year.
Also worth noting on this team: Virginia Tech transfer Chris Clarke is off to a good start off the bench. He isn't scoring much (2.7 PPG), but that's never been his forte. The 6.3 rebounds, 5.0 assists and overall impact on defense—though it doesn't often manifest in steals or blocks—will make him a key part of the rotation, particularly given the minimal supply of frontcourt options on this roster.
Kerry Miller covers men's college basketball and college football for Bleacher Report. You can follow him on Twitter: @kerrancejames.