“The Portal” is a term more commonly used to describe the massive list of college football players looking to transfer to another program, a hot topic this time of the year before spring practice.
In college basketball, though, transfer portals have made an even bigger impact on the sport’s landscape because all it takes is one or two hits to make a team’s season outlook brighter.
Looking back on the rosters from all six major conferences entering the 2018-19 season, there were 54 of 75 teams adding transfers. By conference, here’s the number of teams that brought in transfers: ACC (13), Big Ten (10), Big East and SEC (nine), Big 12 (eight) and Pac 12 (five). Notice that the Pac 12 had the fewest number of programs that brought in transfers this season. Is it a coincidence that the conference is also the worst it has been in years? Maybe, maybe not.
What transfers can do is bring instant experience to teams getting too young after losing players to graduation or attrition.
Typically, a player who has already competed in college is more ready to contribute than your average incoming freshmen. Top high school prospects excluded, of course.
Duke didn’t necessarily need transfers after landing its best recruiting class ever, but blue-blood programs such as Kansas, Kentucky, North Carolina and Villanova and No. 1-ranked Gonzaga, benefited from Division I transfers this season.
Forward Dedric Lawson left Memphis for Kansas. Former DeLaSalle star forward Reid Travis arrived at Kentucky via Stanford. Gonzaga forward Brandon Clarke started at San Jose State. They all joined programs hoping to pursue a national championship in Minneapolis next month.
There are other cases such as guard Marial Shayok, who left a national title contender to pursue more playing time when he transferred from Virginia to Iowa State. The move paid off: Shayok is a candidate with Lawson for Big 12 player of the year — and Shayok could still make a deep run in the NCAA tournament with the Cyclones.
Sometimes it’s not about chasing titles or playing time. Makai Mason left Yale as one of the top players in the Ivy League to become an all-Big 12 guard at Baylor this season. His former team could make the NCAAs without him; his current squad is on the bubble. Two of Baylor’s top three scorers are D-I transfers, including guard/forward Mario Kegler from Mississippi State. The Bears even added a rare D-III transfer with Carleton College’s Freddie Gillespie, a forward from St. Paul.
Many transfers don’t work out, though. The Gophers, who played Thursday against Northwestern — who has two transfers, guard Ryan Taylor (Evansville) and forward A.J. Taylor (Boston College) — are an example of seeing it go both ways.
Richard Pitino struck gold with center Reggie Lynch (before his suspension) and guard Akeem Springs during the NCAA tournament season in 2017, but the Gophers coach seemingly struck out with guard Brock Stull and center Matz Stockman this season. Stull and Stockman — seniors from the University of Milwaukee and Louisville, respectively — average only a combined 2.7 points and 17.1 minutes in Big Ten play.
Pitino has two transfer guards, Vanderbilt’s Payton Willis and Pittsburgh’s Marcus Carr, sitting out. He banked on Carr getting a waiver to run point guard this season, but his team is suffering because the NCAA denied Carr from being eligible this year.
“Marcus Carr, we were hopeful [he] would play this year and would’ve really helped us drastically,” Pitino said. “You add him to this team this year, I thought we could really, really be good. That’s neither here or there.”
Marcus Fuller covers college basketball for the Star Tribune. Twitter: @Marcus_R_Fuller