Yesterday we looked at the names you’ll want to watch in the 2024 recruiting class, and I’m sure there were at least a few who saw the post and thought, “Does this even matter?” After all, high school recruiting has been grossly overshadowed by the transfer portal. It is, quite simply, College Basketball’s new version of free agency.
High school recruiting is a marathon. There’s the scouting, the relationship building, the setting up of visits, all over the course of years in most cases. The transfer portal is a sprint. Players and programs have a round of speed dating, find the best suitor and get married. I also realize how many metaphors that is, but I’m sticking with it.
I, for one, enjoy #PortalSZN from the moment the portal opens in late March to the moment it closes on May 11th. Those six weeks or so are some of the most entertaining weeks of sports where games aren’t involved. The names who enter the portal, the coaches and programs who contact a huge number of players, and the memes that have come out of it. It’s all fun.
But along the way, the landscape for College Basketball has completely changed. Recent successful program turnarounds like Kansas State, Arkansas, and yes, even Missouri have shown there’s a quicker path towards resurrection than previously thought.
UConn won a National Championship by utilizing specific portal additions like Tristan Newton, Joey Calcaterra, and Nahiem Allenye to fill out and bolster an already good lineup. Three of San Diego State’s top four scorers were transfers and they made the title game. Three of Miami’s top four scorers were transfers and they made the Final Four.
Now on the flip side, how many of those programs utilized freshmen? UConn had two freshmen in the rotation in 4-star center Donovan Clingan and 4-star combo forward Alex Karaban. San Diego State and Miami both had zero freshmen in the regular rotation.
Which is all why this next tweet from Evan Miyakawa, owner of EvanMiya.com, seems prescient:
Is transfer recruiting now more important than high school? For the first time ever in 2023-24, more points are predicted to be scored by transfers than by HS recruits.— Evan Miyakawa (@EvanMiya) May 4, 2023
Here's a graph showing the year-by-year increase in production from players recruited through the portal ⤵️ pic.twitter.com/DzuWKgKO3c
Miyakawa is one of the newer analytics sites out there, and he’s doing some really interesting stuff with the transfer portal, and trying to quantify player impact. He uses a rating called BPR, or Bayesian Performance Rating as a way to try and best quantify that impact. You can go to his site and click ‘How It Works’ to get the details, but it amounts to MATHS. The BPR being predictive means that it could potentially account for injuries when it comes to predictive metrics for team performance, something KenPom doesn’t currently do.
Missouri has three transfers coming in already. Miyakawa’s projections have each at the following BPR:
- Caleb Grill — 2.59
- Tamar Bates — 2.20
- John Tonje — 1.58
- Jesus Carralero — 1.48
Unless you’re a top 30 level player, you aren’t hitting those kinds of marks. I checked against last year’s numbers with a few freshmen. Nick Smith, a consensus top 5 recruit, had a BPR of 2.66. Amari Bailey was a top 10 level recruit who had a 3.08. But Seth Trimble, the 30th best recruit per 247sports.com, had a 0.77 BPR. Tarris Reed, #40 at 247sports, had a 1.22 BPR. Good production from freshmen exists, it’s just more rare.
Here are Missouri’s transfers last season:
- D’Moi Hodge — 4.01
- Noah Carter — 3.21
- Isiaih Mosley — 2.68
- Nick Honor — 2.03
- Sean East — 2.02
- Tre Gomillion — 1.68
- DeAndre Gholston — 1.18
Kobe Brown had a 3.99. For some additional context with these numbers, there were just 10 freshmen nationwide who had a better BPR than D’Moi Hodge. And none of them had a better offensive BPR than Hodge did.
Basically, you can get good production from a freshman, but it’s much harder to project than a transfer who has been there already. Dennis Gates knows what he can expect from his three transfers, and he doesn’t really know what he’s going to get from his three freshmen. Aidan Shaw last season, a recruit many (including us) were very high on managed a 1.01.
Things only get marginally better as sophomores. 7 players had a better BPR than Hodge. But juniors? 27. There were 37 seniors with a better BPR than Hodge.
BPR isn’t the be all-end all. But it’s a good indicator of value when a player is on the floor.
So you can see why teams have pivoted hard towards the transfer portal as a solution. Gates and Missouri recruited well in the 2023 class and still they are unlikely to have a freshman with more impact than any of the three transfers. And just for clarity sake, I’m not including Curt Lewis in the “transfer class” since he was a Junior College signing. I still consider that more of a traditional recruiting cycle addition. But with Anthony Robinson, Jordan Butler and Trent Pierce, Missouri has three players they can be excited about... you just hope they stick around long enough to develop.
Which is another whole part of this transfer portal thing. If you’re recruiting freshmen, and you’re adding players via the portal, those freshmen better understand your development plan.
Lastly, I want to talk about the portal misses
Most people are probably going to bring up coming in second for Caleb Love, and reportedly for Matthew Cleveland (who is set to announce today). But the biggest miss is Kadin Shedrick, with a projected BPR of 4.05. Meanwhile, Love has a 2.45 projection, and Cleveland just a 2.03. Neither is far off from what Tamar Bates is projected to land, and both are behind Caleb Grill. Guard play is easier to locate and identify, and Missouri has good guard play ready to go.
Later today, Matthew Cleveland is expected to announce a commitment for Miami. Things looked bleak early, then they got much better, before looking bleak again. That’s the nature of recruiting, especially in the portal.
After Love spurned Mizzou for a second time, I had some things to say about what players think the NBA wants to see from them, and what the NBA wants to see from them. Much of that you can apply to Cleveland today. He’ll get the ball more in Miami, and if I’m being honest, Jim Larrañaga is a terrific coach who plays a fun system with pace and athleticism. But what’s held Cleveland back from being an NBA draft pick isn’t having the ball in his hands. It’s his efficiency when he has the ball. Gates seems to have a knack for fixing that, at least so far.
I think Caleb Love needed Dennis Gates more than Gates needed Love. I think Gates would have liked to have Cleveland as much as anyone. But I also think he’s gotten what he needed out of the transfer portal, at least at the guard position. Grill, Bates, and Tonje should be able to help this team a lot. There are more question marks about Carralero, and then if Mizzou adds someone like Jimmy Bell. But Cleveland or Love weren’t going to solve that problem.
Shedrick would have answered those questions.
And not to say a combo of Carralero and Bell couldn’t, but the question is still to be answered going into next season.