Because I write part of it, I’m obviously biased, but the best college basketball preview in the country, College Basketball Prospectus 2012-13, came out today. It’s also probably one of the best bargains in the country as the PDF is only $9.94. Inside you’ll find awesome tempo-free analysis of every team in the country. There’s also an essay section where people like Dan Hanner and John Gasaway (and me!) talk about important statistical topics. To give you a taste of the content you’ll see, here’s the beginning of my essay on transfers in college basketball.
When Horizon League First Team member Brandon Wood selected Michigan State over Purdue and Tennessee in March 2011, he changed the face of the Big Ten race. Expectations were high, but Valparaiso’s former 1,000-point scorer flourished against major conference foes. As Wood poured in 21 points during a 68-64 victory over Ohio State in the Big Ten Tournament finale, it was obvious that Tom Izzo’s one-season gamble had paid off.
While programs such as Michigan State are finding key contributors for one season, other institutions are using transfers to build programs. Between 450 and 500 players transfer each season, because of coaching changes, over-recruiting, academics or a bad fit. That hasn’t changed in years.
Moving On Up
What has changed, as Luke Winn astutely pointed out this summer, is that more players are transferring “up.” The past two seasons have seen a definitive upward trend in the number of players leaving the mid-major ranks and heading to BCS conferences. The notable examples are players such as Wood, Seth Curry (Liberty to Duke), and Arnett Moultrie (UTEP to Mississippi St.). All of those transfers made an impact on conference and national title races last season.
Wood is part of a related trend – transfers receiving waivers from the NCAA and not having to take a year off before joining their new team. In Wood’s case, it was because he had finished his studies at Valparaiso. Five other players jumped from the mid-major to BCS ranks through waivers last season, and nine more will do it this season. That includes guys like Mark Lyons (Xavier to Arizona), Julius Mays (Wright State to Kentucky) and Logan Aronhalt (Albany to Maryland). And while nine might not seem like a significant number in the grand scheme of things, in 2007-08 there were just six players total transferring up from a mid-major to a BCS school.
The bigger question though is what impact are these players making? Are they worth taking on? Do their skills translate when moving up a level?
The short answer is, “It depends.” If you’re desperately searching for a go-to superstar, the mid-major ranks probably aren’t the right place to look. But if you need a solid contributor, you’ve come to the right place.
Only about a quarter of up-transfers during this time period saw their offensive rating decrease. It’s not because playing BCS conference basketball is easier, it’s because those players were consistently asked to do less in their new setting. Just one player out of 50, Bryce Cartwright, who went from Fresno State to Iowa with a stop at junior college in between, saw his possession percentage increase by more than four percent. Cartwright and Moultrie are the two biggest outliers in the entire data set. Both saw their minutes, possessions and offensive rating increase while playing against tougher competition. It’s also worth noting that in general there’s no tangible difference in performance at the BCS level between an up-transfer that takes a year off or one on a waiver that is eligible to play immediately.
Get the book if you want a nifty chart about up transfers and also some insight into down transfers as well. Also, I wrote the Independents, MAAC and NEC sections along with my work in the front.