Friday, January 28, 2022

College basketball transfer rankings: Oscar Tshiebwe, James Akinjo lead 20 most impactful at midseason point

With more than 1,700 players on the move as transfers within the Division I ranks this past offseason, men’s college basketball rosters have never looked more different year over year than they do this season. Each of the teams in the top five of this week’s AP Top 25 poll have started at least one transfer from this recruiting cycle in the majority of their games so far — and No. 4 Auburn typically starts three transfers.

Mining the transfer portal for talent has become a necessity for first-year coaches as they deal with mass exoduses now that players are able to leave and be immediately eligible as transfers at new schools. Many veteran coaches have also begun using the portal to their advantage by opting for a blended approach to replace departing talent. Look no further than No. 1 Baylor. The defending national champions use a starting lineup consisting of one returning starter (Flo Thamba), two former reserves (Matthew Mayer and Adam Flagler), one five-star freshman (Kendall Brown) and one transfer (James Akinjo).

So as we surpass the midway point of the college basketball season, who are the transfers that have been most impactful within the sport this season? The formula for “most impactful” is subjective, and this isn’t a projection of what will happen during the heart of conference play. But from what we’ve seen so far, here are the 20 who stand out the most.

Preseason rankings are from the offseason ranking of the top 85 transfers | Statistics are through games played on Jan. 11.

1. Oscar Tshiebwe

Center | West Virginia to Kentucky

17.0 PPG, 15.1 RPG, 1.4 BPG, 62.4% FG

Opponents averaged 11.4 offensive rebounds per game against Kentucky last season, which was 306th nationally. With Tshiebwe now patrolling the paint, opponents are grabbing just 7.4 offensive boards per game, which is 26th nationally. He’s been a monster on the glass and an ultra-efficient interior scorer. Tshiebwe showed flashes of the ability to dominate physically during a season and a half at West Virginia. Now, he’s taken it to another level as a featured member of Kentucky’s lineup. Preseason ranking: 16

2. James Akinjo

Point guard | Arizona to Baylor

14.4 PPG, 6.1 APG, 2.2 SPG, 37.9% 3PT

After stops at Georgetown and Arizona, Akinjo faced the unenviable task of helping the defending national champions replace three elite guards. He has handled it masterfully, guiding the Bears back to No. 1 in the polls. He entered the week as the team’s leading scorer, the Big 12 leader in assists per game and tied for the league lead in steals per game. He’s managed to reach those feats while improving his shooting percentage from his previous college stops. Akinjo has been awesome and can still get better as he cuts down on his turnovers. Preseason ranking: 7

3. Alondes Williams

Shooting guard | Oklahoma to Wake Forest

20.4 PPG, 6.7 RPG, 5.1 APG

Williams has been unbelievable for Wake Forest, reaching double figures in the Demon Deacons’ first 16 games entering Wednesday’s home tilt with No. 8 Duke. The versatile guard is leading Wake in points, rebounds and assists, and is largely responsible for his team’s 13-3 (3-2 ACC) start. It’s been an impressive ascent for the former Oklahoma role player. Preseason ranking: N/A

4. Alfonso Plummer

Shooting guard | Utah to Illinois

15.9 PPG, 40.9% 3PT, 2.4 RPG

Regrettably, Plummer was omitted from the offseason list of top transfers. He was nothing short of spectacular over his last 10 games entering this week. Plummer averaged 20.5 points on 44.8% 3-point shooting over that span while attempting 8.7 treys per game. He and Kofi Cockburn have been one of the nation’s top guard-big combos, and Plummer’s rise to stardom has helped Illinois recover from a slow start. Preseason ranking: N/A

5. Izaiah Brockington

Small forward | Penn State to Iowa State

17.0 PPG, 8.1 RPG, 38.9% 3PT

Brockington was clearly a solid pickup considering he averaged 12.6 points per game as a starter at Penn State last season. But it would have been difficult to forecast this offensive explosion. Some of Brockington’s biggest performances have come in big moments, such as a 30-point outing in a victory over Xavier and a 29-point effort in a win over Iowa. He’s a chief reason why the Cyclones are in the mix for an at-large NCAA Tournament bid under first-year coach T.J. Otzelberger after going 2-22 last season. Preseason ranking: N/A

6. Tari Eason 

Power forward | Cincinnati to LSU

16.2 PPG, 7.6 RPG, 1.4 SPG, 1.4 BPG

Eason’s emergence as a superstar for a top-15 team is probably the most stunning breakout performance by a major conference transfer. The former three-star prospect averaged 7.3 points and 5.9 rebounds in 19.6 minutes per game for Cincinnati last season. Now he’s more than doubled that average while increasing his shooting percentages and cutting down on turnovers for a much better team? Pretty impressive. Preseason ranking: N/A

7. Jamison Battle

Power forward | George Washington to Minnesota

18.2 PPG, 6.2 RPG, 35.2% 3PT

Given Minnesota’s roster exodus following Richard Pitino’s firing, first-year coach Ben Johnson had no choice but to go transfer-heavy with his roster. He unearthed a gem in Battle, who has only built on a standout sophomore season at George Washington. It will be an uphill battle — pun intended — for Minnesota in Big Ten play, but Battle and fellow transfer Payton Willis have made this team more competitive than expected. Preseason ranking: 85

8. K.D. Johnson

Combo guard | Georgia to Auburn

12.8 PPG, 32.9% 3PT, 2.3 SPG

Auburn is deep enough to have a different star every night, but even when that star is not Johnson, he typically makes an impact with tenacious defense or a hustle play. He ranked fourth in the SEC in steals entering this week’s action. Preseason ranking: 43

9. Wendell Green

Point guard | Eastern Kentucky to Auburn

13.1 PPG, 4.6 APG, 36.0% 3PT

Green was a first-team all Ohio Valley Conference performer as a true freshman last season, and he’s proven that his game translates to college basketball’s highest level. Though undersized, he’s a fearless two-way guard who should only become more productive in the future once some of the NBA prospects on Auburn’s roster have moved on. Preseason ranking: 79

10. Walker Kessler

Center | North Carolina to Auburn

9.4 PPG, 7.3 RPG, 3.9 BPG, 58.3% FG

Kessler showed flashes of brilliance in a limited role for North Carolina last season as a freshman. Transferring to Auburn has merely accelerated his path to stardom. The 7-1 former five-star prospect is among the nation’s leaders in blocks per game, and is a major reason why this defense is the best of Bruce Pearl’s eight-year tenure. Offensively, his numbers have risen along with his minutes. He’s tried unsuccessfully to stretch his shot to the 3-point line, but if he ever gets going from deep, he’ll be impossible to guard. Preseason ranking: 2

walker-kessler.jpg

Walker Kessler has been an integral part of Auburn’s improvement on defense this season.  USATSI

11. Matt Bradley

Small forward | Cal to San Diego State

15.8 PPG, 4.9 RPG, 1.2 SPG, 32.1% 3PT

After scoring 1,289 points on 40.2% from 3-point range during three seasons at Cal, Bradley struggled from beyond the arc early this season. But he exploded for 26 points on a 10-of-17 shooting on Saturday in the Aztecs’ 79-49 win over previously unbeaten Colorado State. Bradley is fitting well with SDSU’s defense-first mantra, and the Aztecs will only improve as he continues to find his stroke. Preseason ranking: 5

12. Jayden Gardner

Power forward | East Carolina to Virginia

15.0 PPG, 7.5 RPG, 57.4% FG

After averaging 18 points per game in three seasons at ECU, Gardner is leading Virginia in scoring while shooting a career-best 57.4% from the floor. Gardner rarely shoots 3-pointers, and his ability to find his spots and convert has been huge for a shaky UVA squad. Preseason ranking: 13

13. Sahvir Wheeler

Point guard | Georgia to Kentucky

9.6 PPG, 7.3 APG, 1.4 SPG

Wheeler ranked third nationally in assists per game entering the week. He’s brought Kentucky the point guard play it was missing last season, and is a big reason why the Wildcats appear to be turning a corner offensively. The only game in which Wheeler has played and finished with fewer than four assists was the LSU game when he was knocked out of after crashing into a screen early in the first half. Preseason ranking: 78

14. Tanner Groves

Center | Eastern Washington to Oklahoma

13.5 PPG, 5.7 RPG, 40.4% 3PT

Groves burst onto the national scene with a 35-point outing in Eastern Washington’s loss to Kansas in the first round of last season’s NCAA Tournament. Still, it was fair to wonder if that performance was an aberration or if he really had the tools to shine at the major conference level. It turns out he’s legit. Groves is leading Oklahoma in scoring, and is a big reason why the Sooners are in the mix for an NCAA Tournament bid during Porter Moser’s first season as coach. Preseason ranking: 71

15. Payton Willis

Point guard | Charleston to Minnesota

15.8 PPG, 4.7 RPG, 3.8 APG, 42.1% 3PT

Willis has cooled off a bit against Big Ten competition. But the sixth-year senior who began his career at Vanderbilt and is now on his second stop at Minnesota was a huge part of the Gophers’ unexpected 10-1 start under first-year coach Ben Johnson. Preseason ranking: N/A

16. Darryl Morsell

Shooting guard | Maryland to Marquette 

13.1 PPG, 3.4 RPG, 36.4% 3PT

The former Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year has returned to Earth after averaging 22.5 points in Marquette’s first four games. But Morsell is playing a major role for Shaka Smart’s first Marquette squad, which appears to have a shot at making the NCAA Tournament. Preseason ranking: No. 52

17. Jack Nunge

Center | Iowa to Xavier

12.1 PPG, 7.1 RPG, 1.5 BPG

Nunge is still coming off the bench like he was at Iowa, but he is playing a larger role than he was for the Hawkeyes and thriving. The veteran center is providing major contributions on both ends, and has helped the No. 17 Musketeers to an excellent start. Preseason ranking: N/A

18. Charlie Moore

Point guard | DePaul to Miami

12.8 PPG, 3.9 APG, 41.6% 3PT, 2.1 SPG

Moore has been on a serious tear as of late, and was huge in Miami’s win as a double-digit underdog at Duke on Jan. 8. The undersized sixth-year senior with prior stops at Cal, Kansas and DePaul is a big factor in Miami’s early-season success. Preseason ranking: N/A

19. Kellan Grady

Small forward | Davidson to Kentucky

11.6 PPG, 45.4% 3PT, 1.1 SPG

After surpassing the 2,000-point mark during a four-year career at Davidson, Grady has transitioned into an outside specialist role for Kentucky and is handling it well. He’s hit three or more 3-pointers in half of Kentucky’s games so far. Preseason ranking: 14

20. Jake LaRavia

Forward | Indiana State to Wake Forest

14.9 PPG, 6.2 RPG, 39.4% 3PT

If you claim to have seen this one coming and you aren’t a member of the Wake Forest basketball staff, you are a liar. LaRavia has significantly improved his shooting percentages so far with Wake Forest while playing more than he did at Indiana State. The former unranked high school prospect is second on the team in scoring behind Oklahoma transfer Alondes Williams. Preseason ranking: N/A

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