Sunday, July 3, 2022

Ranking top 20 transfers for 2022: Chattanooga star Malachi Smith, SoCon Player of the Year, enters portal

After winning Southern Conference Player of the Year this season, Chattanooga guard Malachi Smith entered the transfer portal on Wednesday, according to multiple reports. Smith, a 6-foot-4 guard, led the SoCon in scoring with 19.9 points per game while also collecting 6.7 rebounds, 3.0 assists and 1.7 steals per game for the SoCon regular season and tournament champions.

Smith is also testing the NBA Draft waters. His decision to enter the portal comes amid a coaching transition for Chattanooga after former coach Lamont Paris accepted the South Carolina job and was replaced with former VMI coach Dan Earl. The Mocs have already added VMI’s leading scorer, Jake Stephens, to what figures to be an overhauled roster in Earl’s first season.

Given the strength of Smith’s redshirt sophomore season with Chattanooga, he is likely to generate extensive interest from a high-major programs. In addition to his chops as a scorer and 38% career 3-point shooter, Smith is also a quality defender with a physical frame. Though he struggled in Chattanooga’s first round NCAA Tournament loss to No. 4 seed Illinois in March, he proved his ability against quality competition earlier in the season. In a two-game stretch against OVC powers Belmont and Murray State, Smith combined to score 63 points on 24-of-36 shooting from the field. 

College basketball’s transfer portal has been hopping since early March, when seasons ended en masse for teams eliminated from their conference tournaments. Now that the season is officially over, though, the sport’s collective attention has turned to the 2022-23 season, and that means monitoring the transfer market.

Here is a look at the top 20 potential impact transfers this offseason.

1. Kendric Davis

Old school: SMU | New school: Memphis

The 5-foot-11 guard played a key role in helping SMU to three straight winning seasons and is the reigning AAC Player of the Year. In 2021-22, he finished second in the AAC in scoring behind a 37.2% 3-point mark on 6.5 attempts per game. Davis is more than just an outside shooter, though, and has the profile of a starting point guard for a big-time program. During the 2020-21 season, he ranked fourth nationally with 7.6 assists per game while still scoring 19 points per contest. He is also skilled at scoring inside the arc as a career 49.8% shooter on 2-point attempts. He’ll be an instant impact player for the Tigers, who are more than familiar with his capabilities. 

2. Nijel Pack

Old school: Kansas State | New school: Miami

Pack earned All-Big 12 First Team honors as a sophomore and finished third in the league in scoring at 17.4 points per game. His 43.6% 3-point shooting percentage this past season was particularly strong. Considering that he also shot 40.5% from deep as a freshman and is averaging 6.9 attempts from deep for his career, Pack might be the best shooter in the portal who has consistently proven it against elite defenses. He can do more than just shoot, though, and he should be able to play a key role for the Hurricanes next season.

3. Terrence Shannon Jr.

Old school: Texas Tech

The 6-6 shooting guard upped his 3-point shooting mark to 38.4% this season while averaging 10.4 points for a Texas Tech team that took Duke down to the wire in the Sweet 16. Given the program he’s coming from, you know he can play defense. Offensively, he could likely be a 15-points-per-game type of player if given 30 or more minutes per game in the right system.

4. Tyrese Hunter

Old school: Iowa State

Hunter won Big 12 Freshman of the Year honors while averaging 11 points and 4.9 assists for Iowa State. The former four-star prospect played a key role in helping the Cyclones reach the Sweet 16 in their first season under coach T.J. Otzelberger following a 2-22 season in 2020-21. Though his 27.4% 3-point shooting percentage and 3.2 turnovers per game leave plenty to improve on moving forward, Hunter showed considerable promise as a freshman, finishing second in the Big 12 in assists per game and tied for second in steals per game.

5. Brandon Murray

Old school: LSU | New school: Georgetown

Amid the transition from Will Wade to Matt McMahon at LSU, there is a deep group of players from both LSU and Murray State — McMahon’s old school — on the move. Several of them are good enough to wind up as impact players on NCAA Tournament teams. Of the group, Murray stands out for his size as a well-built 6-5 guard with two-way chops. Though he played off the ball as a freshman, he flashed distribution prowess with nine assists in an SEC Tournament win over Missouri. Ultimately, he is a versatile guard who averaged double-digits as a true freshman for an NCAA Tournament team known for defense. That’s a winning formula in portal season. Georgetown’s hiring of ex-LSU assistant Kevin Nickelberry appears to have given it a huge leg up in landing Murray after the Hoyas struggled to a 6-25 record this past season.

6. Andre Curbelo

Old school: Illinois | New school: St. John’s

Curbelo’s sophomore season never got off the ground after a concussion-related issue kept him from building on a standout freshman season. Still, St. John’s coach Mike Anderson should be thrilled to have a chance at helping Curbelo reach his full potential. The former top-50 prospect from the 2020 class averaged 4.2 assists in just 21.5 minutes per game as a freshman, and he showed deftness at beating defenders off the dribble and finishing inside the arc. Turnover issues, a lack of 3-point shooting and his sophomore season as a whole are all legitimate red flags. But the potential reward outweighs the risks for a St. John’s program looking to break through and reach the NCAA Tournament

7. Manny Bates

Old school: NC State

A shoulder injury in NC State’s season opener knocked Bates out for the year. However, if he can return to the form he showed as a sophomore, he could be a starting big for an NCAA Tournament-caliber team. The 6-11 menace led the ACC in blocks during the 2020-21 season and swatted a ridiculous 4.9 shots per 40 minutes over his two seasons of play with the Wolfpack. He’s shown no 3-point shot in his career, but he is a reliable finisher around the rim who should be one of the nation’s best shot blockers next season, regardless of where he’s playing.

8. Tanner Holden

Old school: Wright State | New school: Ohio State

Those who watched Holden go 3 for 11 and finish with 12 points in Wright State’s first round NCAA Tournament loss to No. 1 seed Arizona were likely not blown away. His three-year body of work for the Raiders is phenomenal, though, and his junior season made it clear he can handle big-time college basketball. The 6-6 guard averaged 20.1 points per game and finished second in Division I with 280 free-throw attempts. He’s not much of a 3-point shooter, but Holden is skilled at finding his spots inside the arc and attacking, which leads to points at the charity stripe.

9. Courtney Ramey

Old school: Texas

After four seasons at Texas, 128 games and 106 starts, Ramey is in the portal. It will be weird seeing him in another uniform, particularly if he ends up playing in a more guard-friendly, up-tempo system. The 6-3 guard is a proven shooter and secondary ball-handler who scored 1,275 points during his time with the Longhorns. His best season was during the 2020-21 campaign, Shaka Smart’s last as Texas’ coach. Ramey averaged 12.2 point per game on 41.4% 3-point shooting before struggling in the postseason that season. 

10. Fardaws Aimaq

Old school: Utah Valley

Aimaq averaged 18.9 points and 13.6 rebounds for a 20-12 Utah Valley team in 2021-22, and he began flashing his outside shot by hitting 43.5% of his 46 attempts from 3-point range. He averaged just 1.2 blocks per game against WAC foes, which translates to only decent rim protection from a player of his size. But Aimaq is a legitimate stretch five who looks capable of helping a quality big-time program with points and rebounding as a starter next season.

11. KJ Williams 

Old school: Murray State

Williams upped his production each season during a stellar four-year run at Murray State. This past season, he averaged 18 points and 8.4 rebounds for a team that finished 31-3 and earned a No. 7 seed in the NCAA Tournament. He’s not much of a shot blocker for a 6-10 player, but he makes up for it with a career 3-point shooting percentage of 35.5%. Offensively, Williams certainly appears to have the chops of a high-major starting center.

12. Johni Broome

Old school: Morehead State

Broome is a monster shot blocker who finished third nationally with 131 blocked shots this season, putting him ahead of players like Gonzaga’s Chet Holmgren, Duke’s Mark Williams, Arizona’s Christian Koloko and KC Ndefo of Saint Peter’s. But he’s also a skilled player in the post who came up with monster offensive games in the OVC Tournament title games over the past two seasons.

13. Mark Sears

Old school: Ohio | New school: Alabama

After earning first-team All-MAC honors during a breakout sophomore season, Sears is returning to his home state of Alabama to help the Crimson Tide reclaim their 3-point shooting prowess. Alabama ranked first among the 14 SEC teams in 3-point attempts, makes and percentage in the 2020-21, but slipped to 12th in percentage this past season. Sears hit 40.8% of his 3-point attempts for a 25-10 Ohio team and led the Bobcats with 19.7 points per game.

14. Norchad Omier

Old school: Arkansas State | New school: Miami

The Sun Belt Player of the Year is on the move after averaging 17.9 points and 12.2 rebounds for Arkansas State as a sophomore while shooting 63.2% from the floor. He doubled as the league’s defensive player of the year while blocking 1.9 shots and snagging 1.6 steals per game. The only question is, at just 6-7 and with no 3-point shot, how will Omier fit with his new team? It will take a thoughtful coach to maximize Omier’s unique game at a higher level of competition. 

15. Antoine Davis

Old school: Detroit-Mercy

College basketball’s leading active scorer is on the move and should surpass 3,000 career points at his next stop after four seasons playing for his father, Mike Davis, at Detroit. The reigning Horizon League Player of the Year is undersized at 6-1, but he’s proven the ability to fill it up against quality non conference opponents during the course of his career and should be able to make an impact on an NCAA Tournament contender. If he can successfully adapt a facilitator role for a high-major team after being a bucket-getter for four seasons, he could wind up being a godsend for a team in need of quality veteran guard play.

16. Makhel Mitchell

Old school: Rhode Island | New school: Arkansas

Makhel Mitchell is an excellent shot-blocker at 6-10, and if the skill translates to the SEC, he could wind up being the best rim protector of Musselman’s time so far at Arkansas. Mitchell can also get buckets in the paint as a roll guy and rim runner. While he lacks a track record with 3-point shooting, he is versatile enough to put the ball on the floor offensively if operating out of the high post. Defensively, he is athletic enough to handle a switch in the pick and roll.

17. Makhi Mitchell

Old school: Rhode Island | New school: Arkansas

Makhi Mitchell is a 6-9 forward who began his career at Maryland alongside brother Makhel Mitchell. Both are transferring to Arkansas and should flourish in coach Eric Musselman’s system, which has a proven track record of getting the best out of transfers. Makhi is the more versatile player of the two and averaged 9.9 points, 7.3 rebounds and 1.4 blocks in just 24.1 minutes per game last season while shooting 52.2% from the floor. Makhi began to shoot 3-pointers last season, converting on 7 of 23 attempts. If he can add a consistent outside shot to his versatile, defense-first identity, then he can be impact player on an SEC title contender.

18. Tristen Newton

Old school: East Carolina | New school: UConn

With R.J. Cole moving on following a nice two-year run as UConn’s starting point guard after transferring in from Howard, coach Dan Hurley is banking on another transfer guard to help the Huskies next season. Newton averaged 17.7 points, 5.0 assists and 4.8 rebounds while shooting 43.5% from the floor for ECU in the 2021-22 season. At 6-5, he’s got nice positional size and should be able to improve his offensive efficiency while playing in a system with more weapons.

19. Malachi Smith

Old school: Chattanooga

Smith won SoCon Player of the Year as he led the conference in scoring while guiding Chattanooga to a regular season title and conference tournament championship. Though Smith struggled in the Mocs’ NCAA Tournament loss against Illinois, he demonstrated a strong all-around game during the course of his redshirt sophomore season. At 6-foot-4, he can play on or off the ball and is a quality rebounder and defender. His 38% career 3-point shooting mark and ability to score at multiple levels could make him an immediate starter at the high-major level.

20. Kenneth Lofton

Old school: Louisiana Tech

At just 6-7, it’s hard to fully trust that Lofton’s game as a bully-ball big man will translate to a higher level of competition. But by that same token, there was no reason to expect he’d become one of Conference USA’s most dominant players in two seasons at Louisiana Tech. In nonconference or NIT games against teams like LSU, Ole Miss, Mississippi State, Alabama and NC State, Lofton has been efficient and effective offensively. If there’s a concern, perhaps it’s that eventually teams can exploit him defensively. But he’s good enough offensively to be a net positive for high-major team.

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