The transfer culture of college basketball is something that will always be up for debate. With every passing year, coaches, players, media and administrators argue over what the future of players leaving and entering new programs should be. Very rarely are two transfer stories exactly the same because players leave for all sorts of reasons. But regardless of the why, a few players have storylines to be aware of and watch as they begin play with new teams this year.
When looking at sleeper transfers, one of the first names to keep in mind is Arizona’s T.J. McConnell. “Sleeper” means that he’s not a big name outside of serious hoops circles. After two seasons where he was far and away the best player at Duquesne, McConnell was looking for a program that was not only playing on the highest level of the college game, but one that was consistently successful. He found the Wildcats, who are looking for an answer at point guard following the graduation of Mark Lyons. The 6’1″ redshirt junior averaged 11.4 points and 5.5 assists in 2011-12 with the Dukes and should get the ball to start the season. A good year for him should get him a good amount of publicity.
Mike Moser would know about publicity, after a 2011-12 season in which he averaged 14 points and 10.5 rebounds for UNLV. With all the hype entering last season, Moser suffered through injuries and the subsequent sloppy play to the tune of 7.1 points, 6.1 boards and shooting a 36.9 percent clip from the field. He took advantage of the graduate transfer rule and will spend his final season at Oregon, the third major program in Moser’s career. With Arsalan Kazemi gone, the 6-8 Moser can replace Kazemi with his well-rounded game. Moser has essentially been three different players in his three collegiate seasons (minus his redshirt year). An underutilized swingman at UCLA, then with the Rebels, a one-year wonder as a redshirt sophomore and finally an injury-prone disappointment last season. With one season left in college, which player will Moser end his career as?
That’s the same question you could ask Josh Smith at Georgetown, although he was only one type of player throughout his career at UCLA, an underachiever. He has a chance to erase some of that reputation under coach John Thompson III, if he gets his mind right. In two-and-a-half seasons at UCLA, the 6-10 Smith averaged 9.9 points, 5.5 rebounds and shot 56.5 percent from the floor, although he proved he couldn’t stay on it, which was his biggest problem with the Bruins. He clocked just 19 minutes per game in Westwood, bottoming out at 13.7 minutes per in six games last season before deciding to transfer. Smith made the best decision he could’ve for himself, choosing to play for a program that historically cultivates some of the game’s best big men — Patrick Ewing, Alonzo Mourning, Dikembe Mutombo and Roy Hibbert, to name a few — under a coach who has both developed and learned how to develop players from his legendary father. Smith is in a great spot for a second chance.
There might not be a player more deserving of a second chance than Maurice Creek. When healthy early in his career at Indiana, Creek was dominate, averaging 16.4 points in the 12 games he played as a freshman before a dislocated kneecap ended his season. He was never quite the same after that, playing in 42 games over the next three years (including redshirting the 2011-12 season with a ruptured Achilles), mainly due to injuries and not being able to get back into the lineup as the program began bringing in more talent while he recovered. The 6-5 Creek gets that second chance with the Colonials, getting back to being healthy and playing alongside a solid corps of talent. It probably won’t make up for an injury-riddled first four years, but a good senior season could help ease the pain, so to speak.
With the departure of Creek, Indiana had a guard spot to fill. What better way to do so than to bring in a graduate transfer of their own, with the added bonus that this one already had family ties to the Hoosiers. Everyone remembers a certain Gordon, Eric, who left an indelible mark on Bloomington in his one season with the program before going on to NBA success. Now, enter his younger brother Evan Gordon, who has had a bit of a nomadic college career, spending two seasons at Liberty averaging 12, then 14.4 points per before heading to Arizona State for one season on the court, where he averaged 10 points in 32.2 minutes per game with the Sun Devils. The rest of his stats at ASU weren’t eye-popping – 2.9 rebounds, 2.2 assists, a solid 1.3 steals per game and a 74.4 percent clip from the free throw line – but he can score, which, with the loss of Victor Oladipo, Tyler Zeller and Christian Watford, three of the team’s top four scorers last season, is valuable.
As are all the transfers on this list.
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San Diego State and UNLV had players who were awarded preseason player of the year (Jamaal Franklin, SDSU), newcomer of the year (Dwyane Polee II, SDSU; Bryce DeJean-Jones, UNLV), freshman of the year (Anthony Bennett, UNLV) and put three of the five on the all-conference team.
So there we have it, right? Nah, it’s a bit deeper than that.
Early on, it’s a totally reasonable thought to think it’s just two four-letter schools have a shot, but taking a look, this could turn into a three-team affair.
UNLV- Dave Rice just has this team ready. A great leader in Mike Moser. Quality transfers in Bryce DeJean-Jones and Khem Birch. Role players who have been in the system like Quintrell Thomas and Justin Hawkins. A serious freshman haul in Anthony Bennett and Savon Goodman. It’s all coming together on The Strip.
San Diego State – Jamaal Franklin makes this team go. But don’t sleep on guys like shooter Chase Tapley, who poured in 15.8 points per game in 2011-12 and hit 43.3-percent from three-point range. Xavier Thames returns and his 10.1 points per game returns as well. Dwyane Polee II makes his debut after coming over from St. John’s.
New Mexico – No one is talking about this team. It might come back to bite some people later on down the road. Kendall Williams paces the Lobos and coach Steve Alford. Hugh Greenwood provides depth at the guard spot. In the post, a thin line is anchored by 7-footer Alex Kirk and Tony Snell. Someone is going to have to provide more depth there.
Nevada – The Wolf Pack (yep, two words) will go as far as Deonte Burton will take them. Burton was a preseason all-conference member after averaging 14.8 points last season. Nevada also gets back 6-5 Malik Story and his 14.1 ppg from last season. Someone will have to replace Olek Czyz down low, along with Dario Hunt’s 10.3 points and 9.7 rebounds per. That might be a job for Kevin Panzer.
Colorado State – Larry Eustachy goes from a program that he could be mediocre with and keep his job, to the same kind of team in a bigger, better conference. Fortunately for the Rams, Eustachy doesn’t do mediocre. He resurrected his own career along with the program at Southern Miss. Now he takes a solid roster left by Time Miles and can go as far as he will take them. I do, however, have questions about the contrast in playing styles from last season to this one.
Mike Moser, UNLV – He’s by far the best player in the league with Drew Gordon gone. Moser can score (14.7 points) and rebound (10.5 boards) and can get his teammates involved (80 assists). He also led the Rebels with 68 steals last season. He’s a stat stuffer and should be a first round NBA pick after this season, barring something catastrophic.
Jamaal Franklin, San Diego State – Another recent product of coach Steve Fisher’s uptempo system. He could’ve come out after last season, maybe, and taken his chances in the NBA Draft. He averaged 17.4 points and 7.9 rebounds last season, taking complete control of the team after the graduation of Kwahi Leonard.
Kendall Williams, New Mexico – Probably the best distributor in the MWC. He led the team with 142 assists (4.1 per game) and a lot of that last season was to one or two guys. This season, he’s got a more wide-open system with more free-flowing offensive structure. He should lead the conference in assists and add on to his 12.1 points per game.
Leonard Washington, Wyoming – If he wasn’t so good at getting in trouble, Washington would get more love. I don’t overlook guys like Washington. The former USC transfer averaged 12.9 points and 6.1 boards for the Cowboys in 2011-12, but was recently suspended indefinitely for a violation of team rules. He also led the MWC in blocks at 1.1 per game. He was brought back and the all-MWC second team pick can have the first-team all-conference season he’s capable of if he can keep his nose clean.
Colton Iverson, Colorado State – This guy is a total wild card, but I love his game. He’s a fifth-year senior with this being his only season with the Rams, but he averaged 5.4 points and 5.0 rebounds in the Big Ten (ok, I just want to call it B1G) last season at Minnesota, so I think the 6-10, 261-pounder can do some damage in the Mountain West. I can see an 11-and-10 season from him, enough to give him the nod. Though no one ever accused me of being smart.
MOST UNDERVALUED TEAM
New Mexico – In my writings on the Lobos, I got bombarded by fans of the program that I was foolish to think the team wouldn’t compete with the league’s elite. They have a point. The Lobos have guard depth to spare with Williams and his 12.4 points per game at the point and Hugh Greenwood’s 83 assists last season. Jamal Fenton comes back after a three-game suspension in late November. The only problem might be post depth. With Drew Gordon gone, Tony Snell (10.5 ppg) and company will need to step up.
MOST OVERRATED TEAM
Colorado State – Tim Miles did what not many before him could do: make a football school with limited resources in basketball, relevant. Larry Eustachy taking over gives the Rams great coach to work with, but his and Miles’ styles (rhymes!) are totally different. Miles loves to slow it down, Eustachy loves to shoot and run. Miles thrived on defense, and while Eustachy definitely doesn’t poo-poo the defensive side of the ball, he puts more emphasis on scoring (Southern Miss gave up and average of 65.1 points per game, 111th in Division I last season, while scoring 71.4, 89th in the nation).
PLAYER OF THE YEAR
Mike Moser, UNLV – The former UCLA transfer gets his year. He took a few people by surprise with 14.0 points and 10.5 rebounds last season, but he’s possibly the best wing in the nation and could be spending his final season in college. A 17-and-12 season from him certainly isn’t out of the question.
COACH OF THE YEAR
Dave Rice, UNLV – Lon Kruger left a decent nucleus for the former UNLV role player to work with, but Rice has done a phenomenal job with this team. They’re the favorite to make a deep run in the NCAA Tournament, and with good reason. Expect a lot from this squad now and in the future. Mike Moser, one of the most important transfers in Khem Birch who gets eligible at the semester break, not to mention Bryce DeJean-Jones, this team has been pieced together methodically, and Rice has done it in a way that would make Tark proud.
PHOTOS: GETTY IMAGES/MOUNTAIN WEST CONFERENCE