Photo by Eric Francis
Nebraska Basketball

No Conference for Grad Transfers

March 28, 2018
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Every year, more than 700 college basketball players announce their intention to transfer to a different program. That number includes graduate transfers, a route that is growing in popularity both for players looking to close their careers somewhere new and teams looking to plug holes in their rosters.

This past year, Big Ten rosters included six graduate transfers: Illinois guard Mark Alstork, Michigan State forward Ben Carter, Ohio State guard Andrew Dakich, Maryland center Sean Obi, Michigan guard Jaaron Simmons and, of course, Nebraska center Duby Okeke.

Carter, who averaged 8.6 points as a junior at UNLV two years ago, took a medical redshirt last year and played in 23 games with one start for Michigan State this year, scoring 15 total points on 7-of-17 shooting and committing 21 fouls. Obi, who transferred to Maryland after an injury-plagued stay at Duke that saw him play just 27 total minutes in 10 games, averaged 6.0 minutes and 1.4 points in 21 games for the Terrapins. 

Okeke played in 28 games including two starts for the Huskers after transferring from Winthrop where he saw his role diminished as a junior. He averaged 7.0 minutes, 0.8 points, 1.8 rebounds, 1.0 blocks and 1.4 fouls per game. 

The guards played bigger roles than the big men, but they weren’t all that much more productive. Alstork started all 32 games for the Illini and led all Big Ten grad transfers with a 5.8 scoring average, but he shot just 33.5 percent from the field. Alstork averaged 19.0 points at Wright State as a junior. Simmons averaged 15.9 points and 6.5 assists at Ohio as a junior but saw just 8.1 minutes per game as a back-up point guard for Michigan this year, averaging 1.5 points and 1.1 assists.

Dakich, a former walk-on at Michigan, was arguably the most successful of the bunch, averaging 19 minutes, 3.0 points and 2.1 assists while shooting 47.4 percent from the field and 38.5 percent from 3 after totaling just 22 points in 49 games as a Wolverine.

Six grad transfers for the Big Ten this year, zero double-digit scorers (or heck, even 6-point-per-game scorers). You’d have to go back to the 2015-16 season to find a Big Ten graduate transfer who scored more than 10 points per game; Maryland’s Rasheed Sulaimon did it after transferring from Duke. 

For comparison’s sake, the Big East (a 10-team league), had four grad transfers this year and two of them were double-digit scorers — centers Marin Maric (13.6 points per game at DePaul) and Kerem Kanter (10.9 points per game at Xavier). 

The Big 12 (again, 10 teams) had five grad transfers but just one double-digit scorer — Oklahoma State’s Kendall Smith (13.1 points per game after averaging 16.7 at Call-Northridge). Princeton transfer Hans Brasen, who chose Iowa State over Nebraska, scored 2.4 points per game and shot 29.6 percent from the field this year.

The ACC (14 teams) featured nine graduate transfers, three of whom were double-digit scorers. Cameron Johnson, who graduated from Pittsburgh with two years of eligibility remaining and chose to finish his career at North Carolina, bumped his scoring average up half a point from 11.9 to 12.4. Ali Freeman upped his average almost seven points to 16.1 after averaging 9.4 as a junior at Baylor, although his 2-point percentage and overall efficiency declined quite a bit. Illinois State transfer Deontae Hawkins averaged 12.4 points through eight games for Boston College before suffering a season-ending injury against the Huskers in late November.

The SEC (14 teams) matched the ACC with nine transfers and three double-digit scorers. Egor Koulechov chose Florida after leaving Rice and put up 13.8 points per game. Kassius Robertson led Missouri in scoring at 16.3 points per game after transferring from Canisius. Frank Booker was second in scoring at South Carolina this year at 12.7 points per game after putting up just 5.7 points per game at Florida Atlantic. 

Finally, the Pac-12 (a 14-team league) had five graduate transfers and two of them were double-digit scorers. Justin Bibbins led Utah in scoring at 14.7 points per game after averaging 13.1 at Long Beach State. MiKyle Macintosh put up 11.8 points per game this year after averaging 12.5 at Illinois State.

Of the 38 grad transfers in the top six leagues I looked at, 20 of them were double-digit scorers at low- to mid-major schools. Only nine of them even cracked 10 points per game at the high-major school they transferred to. Only eight of the 38 improved their scoring average. 

Nebraska still has two open scholarships for 2018, and at this late stage most of the talented high school projects are either committed or have cut down their lists. Nebraska is mostly focused on the transfer market to fill those roster spots. The Huskers have had great success with traditional sit-out transfers like Terran Petteway, Walter Pitchford, Andrew White II, James Palmer Jr. and Isaac Copeland. Nebraska will likely return to that well if they can find the right player who reciprocates the Huskers' interest.

Nebraska could also try the grad transfer route for the second straight year and hope for a better return than it got with Okeke (or would have gotten from Brase). If they do go that route, it is going to be difficult to find a true difference-maker based on the recent history of grad transfers, especially in the Big Ten. Fans should expect more of a role player unless Nebraska can find a hidden gem. Projecting production and ability from low- or mid-major leagues to the highest levels of college basketball is a difficult thing, especially when the player only has one year to play, but those that can do it could set their programs up for great success.

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