SAN ANTONIO – Spring 2018 trend update from the Alamodome: Transfers are in, and one-and-dones are so out of style.
Final Four coaches John Beilein, Porter Moser, Jay Wright and Bill Self all made their way to the Final Four without a one-and-done player, a prospect with his bags half-packed for the NBA. Three of those teams, however, have been transformed by transfer players.
Villanova stands out from the Final Four crowd as a veteran-laden squad that was just at this stage a couple of years ago, winning a national title in 2016. No transfers or one-and-dones needed for Wright’s squad. But Kansas, Michigan and Loyola Chicago made their way through the rounds of this tournament thanks in large part to players who began their college careers elsewhere.
Former five-star recruits Malik Newman and Charles Matthews found stardom in college at their second schools — now leading Kansas and Michigan, respectively, in scoring in the NCAA tournament. Clayton Custer and Marques Townes lived out a dream hitting game-winning shots for Loyola to become this year’s Cinderella story. That would never have happened if they didn’t transfer to the Ramblers.
“People transferring for the wrong reasons are probably a problem in college basketball,” Beilein said. “It’s been incredible how [Matthews] bought in with everything about what the philosophy of our program is.”
Matthews, a 6-6 junior guard, decided to leave Kentucky, a program once considered One-and-Done U. Now Duke has taken over that distinction. Neither team has made it to the Final Four since 2015, when the Blue Devils won it all with three one-and-dones.
This trend of relying on transfers would only gain strength if new proposed transfer rules are set into motion. One proposal would remove the policy that Division I transfers must sit out a season between schools. Some coaches and players at the Final Four have said it’s only a matter of time before players are given the freedom to leave when they want, like coaches.
“I think so,” Matthews said when asked if transfers should be allowed to play right away. “But at the same time, you don’t just want to create haywire going through the NCAA.”
Some already call the current national transfers trend the “wild west.” More than 700 players left programs a year ago, and NCAA President Mark Emmert told reporters Thursday that 40 percent of players leave their original school by the end of their sophomore year. Imagine the chaos that would come — 1,000 or more each year? — if the proposal to give transfers immediate eligibility passes.
That would mean no more Loyolas in the Final Four, Moser said.
“It’s going to be devastating for guys as a trickle-down theory,” he said Thursday. “Can you imagine the Missouri Valley? People look at that league, how good of a league it is, it’s just going to be a farm system. Where does that end? … That’s not the answer, in my opinion.”
On the other hand, Moser benefited from the normal transfer process when Custer and Townes sat out a year after playing for Iowa State and Farleigh Dickinson, respectively. Townes, a redshirt junior guard, is the team’s third-leading scorer. Custer, a redshirt junior guard, led Loyola in scoring and was named Missouri Valley player of the year. Custer had a winning basket against Tennessee, Townes against Nevada.
Moser was thankful, though, senior Donte Ingram decided to stick around. The Ramblers wouldn’t have made it past the NCAA first round without his buzzer-beating three-pointer against Miami (Fla.).
“How do you plan for losing a guy like Donte Ingram at Loyola if that happens in August? You don’t,” the seventh-year Ramblers coach said. “They’re hard temptations for young kids not to take.”
Loyola has four Division I transfers on its roster, including Minnesotan Carson Shanks. Michigan has two, and also Division III transfer Duncan Robinson. Kansas has five transfers, but most notably former Mississippi State guard Newman, who had 32 points in the Elite Eight overtime victory over Duke. Three transfers sitting out this season (Dedric and K.J. Lawson from Memphis, and Charlie Moore from California) are hoping to have a Newman-type influence for KU next season.
Villanova is one of the few elite programs that doesn’t look to transfers. “But I think that’s something we’re all going to have to deal with,” Wright said. “We don’t get involved with it a lot. Even if you’re not taking transfers, people are always putting it into your players’ minds.”
If a new transfer rule is implemented — the college version of NBA free agency — Final Four rosters in 2019 in Minneapolis and beyond might look a lot like this year.
Matthews, who hopes to lead Michigan to its first title since 1989, was torn at first. He wanted to leave Kentucky but didn’t want to feel like he was quitting. He has a message to future transfers who watch him and others playing for a new school at the Final Four.
“You don’t want people transferring because things are hard,” he said. “At the same time, they should be able to have the freedom.”