The share of minutes played by transfers at major-conference men’s basketball programs jumped in 2021-22 over the previous season, as both the extra season of eligibility granted due to the pandemic and the NCAA’s adoption of a one-time transfer rule for revenue sports altered the landscape of the game.
Transfers accounted for fully 40% of the minutes played at major-conference programs last season, up from 25% the year before. Even the 25% figure from 2020-21 represented a significant increase over the level of minutes earned by transfers prior to the pandemic. The change has been both profound and rapid.
No team better epitomized this trend in 2021-22 than Florida. The Gators gave a whopping 89% of the available minutes to transfers. Colin Castleton (who arrived at UF by way of Michigan), Phlandrous Fleming (Charleston Southern), Tyree Appleby (Cleveland State), Anthony Duruji (Louisiana Tech), Myreon Jones (Penn State), Brandon McKissic (Kansas City) and CJ Felder (Boston College) ranked as seven of Florida’s top nine scorers.
It’s likely the Gators will again show a transfer-heavy look in 2022-23 under first-year head coach Todd Golden. Castleton, Jones and Felder are expected to return, and UF will add incoming transfers Trey Bonham (from VMI), Kyle Lofton (St. Bonaventure), Will Richard (Belmont) and Alex Fudge (LSU).
While Florida was an outlier in 2021-22, the trend across college basketball was unmistakable. Last season, no fewer than 24 major-conference teams, nearly a third of the total number of schools, gave more minutes to transfers than to players who had originally signed with the program out of high school.
A look at the highest percentages of minutes played by transfers at major-conference programs during the 2021-22 season:
1. Florida: 89%
2. Minnesota: 84%
3. Wake Forest: 73%
4. Oklahoma: 71%
5. Arkansas: 70%
6. Nebraska: 68%
7. Providence: 67%
8. Washington: 66%
9. Kentucky: 65%
Texas Tech: 65%
11. TCU: 63%
12. Arizona State: 61%
Mississippi State: 61%
Seton Hall: 61%
15. Boston College: 59%
16. Texas: 58%
17. Oregon: 57%
18. Iowa State: 56%
19. DePaul: 55%
20. Georgia: 54%
21. USC: 53%
22. Auburn: 51%
Ole Miss: 51%
Coach Chris Beard generated a fair amount of publicity prior to the start of last season by signing a number of high-profile transfers at Texas. Once the final numbers had been recorded, however, the Longhorns turned out to be the least transfer-dependent Big 12 program in the state of Texas, ranking behind both Texas Tech and TCU.
As recently as the 2019-20 season, there were still 13 major-conference programs that gave no minutes to transfers: Duke, Georgia, Kansas State, LSU, Maryland, Michigan, Michigan State, Stanford, Tennessee, Texas, UCLA, Utah and Villanova.
In the space of just two years, that number has dwindled to three.
Here are the lowest percentages of minutes played by transfers at major-conference programs for 2021-22:
1. Colorado: 0%
4. Duke: 7%
5. Rutgers: 10%
7. Iowa: 11%
9. Villanova: 13%
10. Michigan: 15%
Stanford, in particular, has constituted a striking exception to the rule of greater reliance on transfers. As noted earlier in this series, the last person to take the floor for the Cardinal after earning minutes for a different four-year program was onetime Santa Clara player Andrew Zimmermann in 2011-12.
For the past decade spanning the tenures of both Johnny Dawkins and Jerod Haase, Stanford has instead relied entirely on players that it originally signed. This singular run appears to be coming to an end, however.
In May, the school announced it had signed the first graduate transfer in the history of Stanford men’s basketball, former Davidson starter Michael Jones. It seems that even the Cardinal can no longer resist the shift towards transfers.
If there’s an equivalent to Stanford’s avoidance of transfers on the conference level, it would be the Big Ten. In three of the past four seasons, the league has posted the lowest number of any major conference for share of minutes given to transfers. Indeed, as recently as the 2018-19 season, transfers accounted for just 8% of the minutes played in the Big Ten.
Nevertheless, as seen above, Minnesota and Nebraska ranked Nos. 2 and 6, respectively, among major-conference programs for share of minutes played by transfers in 2021-22. In fact, both the Golden Gophers and the Cornhuskers have consistently relied on transfers in recent years.
Smoothing out the data by looking at the past four seasons reveals that Nebraska is the only major-conference program that has given more minutes to transfers (51%) since 2018-19 than to players originally signed by the Cornhuskers (49%). Iowa State ranks No. 2 with an even 50-50 split between transfers’ minutes and those recorded by players who originally signed with the Cyclones. Minnesota clocks in at No. 3 with transfers playing 46% of the available minutes since 2018-19.
Naturally any ranking of programs giving big minutes to transfers over the past few seasons will correlate pretty well with a list of teams that have made recent coaching changes. (Pretty well but not perfectly. In 2019, Michigan hired Juwan Howard, who has given the lion’s share of minutes to players who were originally signed by the Wolverines.)
Looking only at coaches who held the same positions for at least five seasons, on the other hand, reveals which programs have been more inclined towards transfers as a choice and not merely as an expedient.
The highest percentages of minutes played by transfers at major-conference programs without a coaching change, 2018-19 to 2021-22:
1. Oregon: 39%
2. USC: 38%
3. Clemson: 37%
4. Baylor: 36%
Georgia Tech: 36%
6. TCU: 33%
7. NC State: 32%
8. Arizona State: 31%
Seton Hall: 31% (under Kevin Willard)
Dana Altman (Oregon), Andy Enfield (USC), Brad Brownell (Clemson), Scott Drew (Baylor) and Josh Pastner (Georgia Tech) have all exhibited similarly high levels of discretionary activity on the transfer front over the past four seasons. Drew, of course, did so while also winning the 2021 national title.
Transfers Davion Mitchell, MaCio Teague, Adam Flagler and Jonathan Tchamwa Tchatchoua together accounted for 52% of the minutes recorded by Baylor players that season. (Jared Butler originally committed to Alabama but never suited up for the Crimson Tide. As a result, Butler doesn’t meet the definition of transfer used here.)
If the Bears’ 2021 national title heralded a new era of transfer-heavy teams, the ensuing 2021-22 season made it clear that this new era has arrived in full force. The numbers for playing time indicate that at the major-conference level, transferring truly is the new normal.
Coming next in this series: Presenting the data on out-transfers and a look at which programs export (churn through? donate?) the most talent.