Top College Basketball Transfers Who Could Have Most Impact on 2020-21 Season
While only a handful of men's college basketball programs have a realistic shot at signing a 5-star recruit in any given year, the transfer portal has become the great equalizer.
Gonzaga was arguably the favorite to win the NCAA tournament last year, in part because it had two graduate transfers (Admon Gilder and Ryan Woolridge) who averaged better than 10 points per game.
Baylor was probably going to be a No. 1 seed, and four of its five leading scorers were former transfers.
Similar story for San Diego State, which had three upperclassmen start in all 32 games—none of whom played for the Aztecs in 2018-19.
There have been more than 1,000 transfers in the past year, per Verbal Commits. The vast majority of them are inconsequential. But there are always a few dozen who end up playing key roles on relevant teams.
Based on a combination of past production and new roster situations, these are the guys most likely to fit that description this year.
Olivier Sarr, Kentucky (from Wake Forest)
2019-20 Stats: 13.7 PPG, 9.0 RPG, 1.2 BPG
Kentucky had to wait until late October to find out that Olivier Sarr would be eligible to play this season.
This big former Demon Deacon will have been worth the wait.
Sarr had a major breakout year in what was otherwise yet another disappointing season for Wake Forest, and he was particularly impressive over the final few games. He went for a then-career-high 25 points in late February in the stunning overtime win over Duke, and then he came out four days later with career highs in both points (30) and rebounds (17) against Notre Dame. He also had 20 points and 13 rebounds in his final game of a 13-18 season.
Now he will become something of a Reid Travis 2.0 for a Kentucky team that was in dire need of any sort of frontcourt experience.
The Wildcats lost Nick Richards, E.J. Montgomery, Nate Sestina, and, well, everyone on the roster except for Keion Brooks Jr., who ranked seventh on the team in both points and rebounds last year. And for the first time since 2008, Kentucky did not sign a single 5-star forward or center.
Big things are expected from high-4-star recruits Isaiah Jackson and Lance Ware, but there's no question that Kentucky's frontcourt situation was a huge red flag up until Sarr was cleared to play. If he's anything close to the dominant force that he was toward the tail end of last season, though, the Wildcats should win the SEC and contend for a national championship.
Carlik Jones, Louisville (from Radford)
2019-20 Stats: 20.0 PPG, 5.5 APG, 5.1 RPG, 1.4 SPG, 40.9% 3PT
A big thing missing from Louisville in recent years has been a dynamic guard presence.
Jordan Nwora is a very talented wing who led the team over the past two seasons. The year before that, Deng Adel filled that role. But the Cardinals haven't had that Donovan Mitchell, Terry Rozier, Russ Smith, etc. type of guy to whom you can just say, "here's the ball, go get us a bucket."
In Carlik Jones, they may have found that starring role player.
Without much of a supporting cast at Radford, Jones put up more than 1,500 points over the past three seasons. The 6'1" lead guard also amassed nearly 500 of both rebounds and assists.
Granted, most of that came against the Big South, which is hardly a suitable litmus test for life in the ACC. But in 10 career games against KenPom Top 80 opponents, Jones averaged 15.6 points, 4.6 rebounds and 4.5 assists. He more than held his own against the likes of Ohio State, Maryland and Clemson, and he should be able to do the same with Louisville.
The fun part will be watching Jones co-exist with David Johnson in this Cardinals backcourt.
Johnson was a late bloomer in his freshman season, averaging 8.9 points and 4.4 assists over his final 15 contests after scarcely playing for the first two months. He's a prime candidate for another big leap this season, which means Louisville should have one heck of a dual-combo-guard backcourt.
Sam Hauser, Virginia (from Marquette)
2018-19 Stats: 14.9 PPG, 7.2 RPG, 2.4 APG, 40.2% 3PT
Sam Hauser is probably going to be the most important transfer in the nation.
For starters, the 6'8" stretch 4 will be a most welcome addition to what was a dreadful offense last season. Virginia started coming around late in the year when Tomas Woldetensae emerged as a reliable three-point threat, but the Cavaliers could not buy a bucket—especially from the perimeter—for the vast majority of the year.
Hauser (and play-making freshman Jabri Abdur-Rahim) will provide a huge boost on that end of the floor. In his three seasons with Marquette, Hauser shot 44.5 percent from three-point range and averaged 2.4 made triples per game.
But Hauser will be even more critical on defense in the Cavaliers' quest to replace both Mamadi Diakite and Braxton Key in the heart of the pack-line D.
They do still have a large shot-blocking presence in 7'1" Jay Huff (2.0 blocks per game last year), but Diakite and Key were arguably the two most important defenders on the roster over the past two seasons. Replacing one would be hard enough. Replacing both will be a significant challenge. And if Hauser is unable to make a major impact on that end of the floor, Virginia might have its worst defense since before Tony Bennett arrived in Charlottesville.
Hauser had all of last season to get acclimated to this defensive scheme, though, and Bennett sure has had a knack for getting the most out of his power forwards over the years. Expect a massive senior year from this former Golden Eagle.
Joey Hauser, Michigan State (from Marquette)
2018-19 Stats: 9.7 PPG, 5.3 RPG, 2.4 APG, 42.5% 3PT
Virginia got the deadlier, more experienced Hauser brother, but Joey was still quite the acquisition for Tom Izzo and his staff.
This younger Hauser made a nice splash in his freshman year at Marquette. With his older brother and ball-dominant guard Markus Howard already well-established as the team's top two scoring options, Hauser didn't get as many scoring opportunities as he arguably deserved. But he shot well when he did get chances, and he impacted the game as both a rebounder and a passer.
Just between Cassius Winston and Xavier Tillman, the Spartans lost 32.3 points, 12.8 rebounds and 8.9 assists per game from last season. Obviously, Hauser can't pick up all of that slack, but the point is there's plenty of production up for grabs that he can inherit.
Hauser should settle nicely into an Adreian Payne type of role for Michigan State.
Except where Payne was a stretch 5 who let Branden Dawson do a lot of the hard work in the paint, Hauser is a stretch 4 who will let some combination of Marcus Bingham Jr., Thomas Kithier and Julius Marble do most of the heavy lifting. That isn't to say he won't crash the boards. He will. But this 6'9" sharpshooter figures to spend most of his offensive possessions along the perimeter.
It's just a shame they couldn't get him eligible last year, because the Spartans could have desperately used his sweet stroke as a complement to Winston's. Perhaps he and Josh Langford can make up for lost time.
Seth Towns, Ohio State (from Harvard)
2017-18 Stats: 16.0 PPG, 5.7 RPG, 1.8 APG, 44.1% 3PT
Over the past four seasons, I was able to find eight players who averaged at least 10 points per game before transferring from the Ivy League to a major conference: Quinton Adlesh, Evan Boudreaux, Hans Brase, Kyle Castlin, Stone Gettings, Tony Hicks, Makai Mason and Grant Mullins.
Mason panned out quite nicely for Baylor, and Grant Mullins was probably about 80 percent as effective at Cal as he was at Columbia. For the most part, though, that transition to a tougher conference has not gone well at all. So, even for a player with a clean bill of health, there would be question marks about the ability to jump from Harvard to Ohio State.
That's especially true for Seth Towns, who hasn't played in a game since March 2018 due to knee injuries.
Three seasons ago, Towns looked like a guy who might have a future in the NBA. The 6'7" wing-forward was one of Harvard's top rebounders and one of the nation's best perimeter shooters, draining 44.1 percent of his 143 attempts. And while most of his career games were played against teams well outside the KenPom Top 100, Towns did put up 25 points (on 6-of-7 three-point shooting) and six rebounds in a nine-point loss at Kentucky in December 2017.
One game is a minuscule sample size, but it was evidence that, when healthy, he could hold his own against a great opponent in a difficult environment. If he's able to tap into that skill set in Columbus, Ohio State might be a Final Four team.
(The Buckeyes also have Cal transfer Justice Sueing at their disposal, who could fill that same role at small forward if Towns falls short of expectations.)
Bryce Aiken, Seton Hall (from Harvard)
2018-19 Stats: 22.2 PPG, 2.9 RPG, 2.6 APG, 1.2 SPG, 39.8% 3PT
Oh look. Another Harvard player with immense talent and major injury concerns who could be the savior for a major-conference program.
(Imagine if Seth Towns and Bryce Aiken had been able to stay healthy for Tommy Amaker. He had some great teams in the early 2010s, but a full-strength Harvard could have been a real Final Four contender in 2018 and 2019.)
Aiken missed the final 12 games of his sophomore season and the first 13 games of his junior year because of a knee injury. And after missing the first four games of last season, he played in seven games before a foot injury derailed the rest of his senior year.
Aside from some turnover woes, though, he has been excellent when he has played. And he was able to take a medical redshirt and transfer, much to the delight of Seton Hall.
The Pirates lost Myles Powell, who averaged well north of 20 points per game in both his junior and senior seasons. But if he can stay healthy for a change, Aiken could slide right into that role. The former Harvard lead guard scored at least 21 points in 22 of his 65 career games, including seven outings with at least 30 points. He had a career-high 44 in just his fifth game back from the aforementioned knee surgery, and two of those 30-point games came within the seven he played last year.
If he's able to live up to the hype, Seton Hall should remain in the top half of the Big East.
A Trio at Arizona
James Akinjo (Past two seasons at Georgetown): 13.4 PPG, 5.1 APG, 2.9 RPG, 1.3 SPG, 36.1% 3PT
Terrell Brown (2019-20 at Seattle): 20.8 PPG, 6.2 RPG, 4.8 APG, 1.6 SPG
Jordan Brown (2018-19 at Nevada): 3.0 PPG, 2.1 RPG
Let's start at the bottom of the list with Jordan Brown.
His numbers as a freshman at Nevada were rather pathetic, but the big man was a McDonald's All-American on a roster with five impact seniors who were 6'7" or taller. It's hard to believe that a mid-major school couldn't make better use of his immense potential, but it was somewhat of a "why mess with a good thing?" situation for Eric Musselman. With more than a year to develop in Arizona's program, he could be the breakout star of the year.
The other Brown, Terrell, was a high-volume scorer at Seattle, averaging nearly 17 two-point attempts per game. Can't imagine he'll be given that much of a green light in Tucson, though Arizona could certainly utilize a guy with that sort of scorer's mentality after losing seven of its top eight scorers from last season.
Sean Miller also snagged the 2018-19 Big East Freshman of the Year in James Akinjo.
Akinjo got out to a promising start for the Hoyas last year, too. He had 14 points and 19 points in back-to-back nights against Texas and Duke in the 2K Empire Classic before abruptly leaving the team on Dec. 1. He will likely be Arizona's primary point guard and the biggest impact addition of this group.
A Quartet at Texas Tech
Mac McClung (2019-20 at Georgetown): 15.7 PPG, 3.1 RPG, 2.4 APG, 1.4 SPG, 32.3% 3PT
Marcus Santos-Silva (2019-20 at VCU): 12.8 PPG, 8.9 RPG, 1.3 BPG, 1.1 SPG
Joel Ntambwe (2018-19 at UNLV): 11.8 PPG, 5.5 RPG, 38.6% 3PT
Jamarius Burton (2019-20 at Wichita State): 10.3 PPG, 3.5 RPG, 3.4 APG, 38.1% 3PT
Texas Tech has had a steady diet of two key transfers in every season under Chris Beard.
His first season (2016-17), it was Anthony Livingston and Niem Stevenson. Then it was Tommy Hamilton and Brandone Francis. The year the Red Raiders made the Final Four, Matt Mooney and Tariq Owens were massive additions. Last year, T.J. Holyfield and Chris Clarke were the much-needed veteran imports on an otherwise young roster.
But if two has consistently worked out nicely, why not double the pleasure, double the fun?
Texas Tech lost four of the guys from last year's primary seven-man rotation, but in addition to signing two of the top 50 players in the 2020 recruiting class (Nimari Burnett and Micah Peavy), Beard got four guys who averaged double figures in scoring in their most recent season.
Mac McClung is the most highlight-heavy of the acquisitions with his propensity for dunks, but Marcus Santos-Silva will probably make the biggest impact. He was a hard-nosed force of nature in the paint for VCU, and his physical, defensive style of play could not be more perfect for Beard's coaching philosophy. Moreover, the Red Raiders needed help in the frontcourt with Clarke and Holyfield out of the picture.
Joel Ntambwe will also help out in the frontcourt, though the 6'8" former Rebel is more of a stretch 4 than a "true" big man. But with neither Jahmi'us Ramsey nor Davide Moretti returning, Texas Tech could certainly use his presence on the perimeter.
Basically Oregon's Entire Roster
Eric Williams Jr. (2018-19 at Duquesne): 14.0 PPG, 7.6 RPG, 1.4 APG, 1.1 SPG, 37.1% 3PT
Eugene Omoruyi (2018-19 at Rutgers): 13.8 PPG, 7.2 RPG, 2.4 APG
Amauri Hardy (2019-20 at UNLV): 14.5 PPG, 3.3 APG, 3.3 RPG, 33.3% 3PT
LJ Figueroa* (2019-20 at St. John's): 14.5 PPG, 4.5 RPG, 2.1 APG, 1.9 SPG, 36.5% 3P%
Aaron Estrada* (2019-20 at Saint Peter's): 8.1 PPG, 2.5 RPG, 1.9 APG, 34.0% 3PT
*Still awaiting ruling on waiver requests to play this season.
Dana Altman is no stranger to the transfer portal. Last year's primary six-man rotation included JUCO transfer Chris Duarte, New Mexico transfer Anthony Mathis and UNLV transfer Shakur Juiston. The year before that, Georgetown transfer Paul White and Texas A&M-CC transfer Ehab Amin both played critical roles. In 2017-18, Elijah Brown (from New Mexico) and MiKyle McIntosh (from Illinois State) ranked among Oregon's three leading scorers as graduate transfers.
You get the idea.
And with do-it-all senior guard Payton Pritchard graduating this past summer, Altman went above and beyond his usual supply of imports.
He already had both Eric Williams Jr. and Eugene Omoruyi on the bench last season, and those two forwards should play a huge role following the departures of Juiston, Francis Okoro and CJ Walker. Rising sophomore N'Faly Dante should be the star of the frontcourt, but don't be surprised if Williams and Omoruyi each average around 10 points and five rebounds.
To help with the loss of Pritchard, Altman went back to his Mountain West Conference well to pluck Amauri Hardy from UNLV. The veteran combo guard averaged 13.8 points, 3.4 assists and 5.1 three-point attempts per game over the past two seasons at a place that hasn't had much of a winning culture over the past seven years. He could make a major impact on a Pac-12 title contender surrounded by talent.
LJ Figueroa and Aaron Estrada might not be available to play this season, but they have undoubtedly been making an impact in practices. The former led the Big East in steals last season, while the latter was named MAAC Rookie of the Year. If they end up being ruled eligible, the Ducks are going to have a ridiculously deep rotation—which, frankly, would be a huge advantage during a pandemic almost certain to impact depth charts across the country all year.
A Few Others to Monitor
Jahvon Quinerly, Alabama
This former 5-star recruit wasn't a good fit at Villanova, but Quinerly could immediately make a Collin Sexton type of impact at Alabama.
Matt Haarms, BYU
The shot-blocking, hair-flipping wonder will be playing his final season at BYU instead of Purdue. When he entered the transfer portal, Haarms seemed like the top guy who could push a good team over the top to greatness. However, he chose a school replacing five of its six best players and might not even make the NCAA tournament.
Shareef O'Neal, LSU
Shaq's son had open heart surgery in December 2018 and played sparingly for UCLA as a freshman in 2019-20. Now, he'll be suiting up at his dad's alma mater, hoping to jump-start a career that had a ton of promise coming out of high school.
D.J. Carton, Marquette
Koby McEwen will probably be Marquette's leading scorer, but there are plenty of points to go around following the graduations of Markus Howard and Sacar Anim. Carton averaged 10.4 points and 3.0 assists as a freshman at Ohio State.
Landers Nolley II, Memphis
Nolley led a young Virginia Tech team in scoring as a freshman, but decided he'd rather play for Penny Hardaway at Memphis. Now instead of being the No. 1 focus of opposing defenses, he'll be one of many serious scoring threats.
Romello White, Ole Miss
White is an old-school big man who should immediately become the primary frontcourt presence for the Rebels. He averaged 8.8 rebounds per game last season and creates a lot of his own scoring opportunities on the offensive glass.
Johnny Juzang, UCLA
Juzang was a highly touted recruit who was little more than an afterthought on Kentucky's star-studded roster. He initially turned down UCLA but is hoping to now find more playing time in his hometown. His three-point stroke should be a welcome addition for a team that averaged just 6.0 makes per game last year.
Cartier Diarra, Virginia Tech
VT needed someone to replace Nolley, and Diarra fits the bill. He had a breakout year for Kansas State last season, averaging 13.3 points, 4.2 assists, 3.8 rebounds and 1.8 steals.