Sweet 16 rosters stockpiled with thriving transfer portal stars

On3 imageby:Eric Prisbell03/27/24


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If you’re looking for smoking-gun evidence of the rewards of the often-lampooned transfer portal, just tune in to CBS and TBS for Thursday and Friday’s Sweet 16 games – any of them.

Chances are at least some of the stars who shine the brightest this weekend – leading their school to Final Four berths – are starring on their second or even third college team.

The portal’s fingerprints are all over this particular Sweet 16. In fact, 37 of the 80 starters on the Sweet 16 teams are transfers.

As the open portal churns full throttle as we speak, the high impact of transfers on teams still alive in March Madness illustrates that utilizing the portal can ultimately pay huge dividends for both player and coach.

All 5 NC State starters are transfers

An On3 examination of the rosters revealed that the leading scorers for 11 of the 16 remaining teams are transfers. In their second-round starting lineups, four schools – AlabamaArizona NC State and San Diego State – started four transfers apiece. All five starters on NC State are transfers.

Effectively navigating the cutthroat portal world is now critical for every coach worth his seven-figure salary, perhaps even more important these days than finding high school diamonds in the rough at summer league tournaments. 

For most high-major teams – that’s all we’ve got in this Sweet 16 – the portal has become as indispensable as the smartphone is for the rest of us.  

The only Sweet 16 team with no transfers in their starting lineup? Duke, a nationally recognized (loved and loathed) brand that has effectively recruited and retained five-star talent for decades.

In addition, the 37 transfers in the Sweet 16 starting lineups are averaging 13.1 points and 29 minutes this season. From Illinois’ Terrence Shannon and Arizona’s Caleb Love to Tennessee’s Dalton Knecht and Creighton’s Baylor Scheierman, many of the transfers are among the most prominent faces of this year’s tournament.

NC State coach Kevin Keatts transformed his roster through the transfer portal. (Gregory Fisher-USA TODAY Sports)

Transfer portal players take time to develop

And for teams that added impact transfers this season, sometimes it takes more time to gel. 

“It takes a lot longer than people expect for transfers to come together,” said Kevin Keatts, whose NC State team finished 9-11 in the ACC before winning five straight in the league tournament to earn its automatic berth.

Portal success in March Madness also highlights one reason why we uncharacteristically find no mid-majors – please don’t call San Diego State and Gonzaga mid-majors – in this year’s regional semifinals.

The last couple years, several men’s basketball head and assistant coaches told On3 that the days of seeing mid-major tournament threats fielding the same star players in multiple years are now over. That trend is dead now that players can transfer without penalty. 

Upward mobility has never been greater in college basketball. In the portal era, think Steph Curry would have stayed at Davidson after his freshman season?

NC State’s DJ Burns started at Winthrop, Marquette’s Tyler Kolek at George Mason, Gonzaga’s Graham Ike at Wyoming, UConn’s Tristen Newton at East Carolina, Alabama’s Mark Sears at Ohio and Tennessee’s Knecht at Northern Colorado.

The mid-major ranks are now officially a farm system. It grooms high-level talent to ultimately be called up to assume major roles on high-major programs. 

Watch the regional finals this weekend – you’ll see several former mid-major standouts cutting down the nets en route to the Final Four, all as the portal continues to churn.