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The biggest winners of college basketball's transfer portal so far

Credit: Arkansas athletics

The college basketball has taken on a whole new meeting in the new era featured around the transfer portal and NIL. As soon as teams were getting eliminated from their conference tournaments, before the NCAA Tournament even kicked off, players were entering the portal. Meaning, for coaching staffs across the country, if you were not paying attention then you were getting left behind.

Approximately a month and a half later, rosters for the 2023-2024 season are being put together rapidly and that is before a handful of NBA Draft Decisions that still have to be made. Here are the biggest winners of the transfer portal so far.

North Carolina Tar Heels

There was no team that had a more disappointing 2023 season than the North Carolina Tar Heels. After Hubert Davis’s squad made a shocking Final Four run in 2022 that ended in the national title game, the Tar Heels became the first team ever to go from preseason No. 1 to missing the NCAA Tournament.

North Carolina’s struggles on the floor didn’t have anything to do with a lack of talent however, and they will be bringing back two of the prominent members of last season’s squad in R.J. Davis and Armando Bacot. These two players combined to average 32 points and 15.5 rebounds per game last season, but with the loss of the other three starters and a handful of players off the bench, Hubert Davis needed to do something big in the portal.

North Carolina added the core of Cormac Ryan from Notre Dame, Harrison Ingram from Stanford, Jae’Lyn Withers from Louisville, and Paxson Wojcik from Brown.

Ryan is familiar with the ACC and has been one of the premier shooters in the conference, throughout his career, hitting 35.5 percent from beyond the arc. That included 29 points in the Irish’s first round NCAA Tournament victory over Alabama in 2022. In addition, Ingram is a former Top 40 recruit, who has averaged double digit scoring over the course of the last two seasons on the Farm. With guys like Withers and Wojcik to provide depth, North Carolina should enter next season as one of the top teams in the ACC.

While it might not be fair after getting the Tar Heels to the national championship game in his first season, there was some pressure on Hubert Davis to have a big offseason after just how disappointing this past regular season was.

Getting Davis and Bacot back, combined with a big portal haul is definitely something that should get Tar Heels fans excited about next season.

Arkansas Razorbacks

There has been no one better in the portal through the years than Eric Musselman, and that's even dating back to the days before transfers were immediately eligible. The rule changes however have taken it to a whole new level and Arkansas is reaping the benefits.

Arkansas started off their portal cycle hot, by adding Washington transfer Keyon Menfield. Menifeld was one of the lone bright spots for Washington last season, and was selected as a member of the Pac 12’s All Conference Freshman Team. In addition, Arkansas added Houston transfer Tramon Mark, who has had a featured role in each of Houston’s deep NCAA Tournament runs over the course of the last three seasons. Just when you thought that was good enough, Arkansas also added Temple transfer Khalif Battle, who has scored over 800 points in his college career and Jeremiah Davenport from Cincinnati, who will provide depth and experience.

Considering Arkansas had already received word that Trevion Brazile would be returning after his devastating ACL injury and Devo Davis and Jordan Walsh could be coming back as well, Arkansas roster looked to be set. That is until Louisville transfer El Ellis shockingly committed to the Razorbacks last week, which sets up Arkansas to be in a very good position heading into next season.

Ellis was Louisville’s only source of consistent offense last season, averaging 17.7 points and 4.4 assists per game. This is while shooting an efficient 41% from the field, and Ellis will get even better with significantly more talent around him. Arkansas’ Transfer Class was already really good before Ellis, but this move makes Arkansas a realistic national title contender next season and gives Eric Musselman his best team on paper since arriving in Fayetteville.

Gonzaga Bulldogs

Quite frankly, the vibes weren’t too high around Gonzaga, following their blowout loss to UConn in the Elite Eight. The Drew Timme era was officially coming to an end in Spokane, and the pieces left over didn't look good enough to keep the Zags operating at an elite level.

That all changed over the last couple weeks.

Gonzaga added Creighton transfer Ryan Nembhard, who when he surprisingly left the program, it was a done deal to many that Arizona would be his next destination. Instead, Mark Few took Nembhard from his former Assistant Tommy Lloyd, and the Creighton transfer will be following a similar route to his brother Andrew, who transferred to Gonzaga from Florida and is now playing in the NBA. This gives the Bulldogs a major upgrade at the point guard position and someone who can really raise this team’s ceiling.

In addition, Gonzaga also added Wyoming transfer Graham Ike, who didn’t play last season due to a lower leg injury. The last time Ike was on the floor however, he averaged 19.5 points and 9.5 rebounds for a Wyoming team in 2022 that made the NCAA Tournament.

With Gonzaga also bringing in Eastern Washington Transfer and Reigning Big Sky Player of the Year Steele Venters, this is another really nice transfer Class brought to Spokane that should thrive under Mark Few.

California Golden Bears

Cal is looking to get to their first NCAA Tournament since 2016, and it hasn’t been pretty in the years since that trip to the Big Dance seven years ago. The Golden Bears have only finished better than 10th place in the Pac-12 once during this span, and things hit an all-time low this season. California went a Power 6 worst, 3-29 in 2023, with only two of those wins coming in Pac-12 Conference play. This was the worst season of basketball in program history, and a sign that something needed to be changed quickly.

That's when Cal brought in former Utah Valley Head Coach and Stanford Basketball aum, Mark Madsen, who has already made a major impact in the transfer portal. California added Texas Tech Transfer Fardaws Aimaq, who just experienced an injury riddled season in Lubbock. Fortunately, Aimaq played for Madsen at Utah Valley, when Aimaq won the WAC Conference Player of the Year Award in 2022 and became one of the most sought out players in the portal this time last season. The California program hasn’t landed this highly regarded of a recruit since Jaylen Brown and Ivan Rabb in 2016.

California has also added former Northern Arizona Guard Jalen Cone, who was a third team All-Big Sky member this past season. Cone also started his career off at Virginia Tech, where he came in as a Top-100 Recruit and contributed significant playing time, as a freshman. Cone has scored over 1500 points in his college career and led Northern Arizona in scoring over the course of the last two seasons.

Also, Amiaq’s former teammate at Texas Tech and former Top 100 Recruit, Jaylon Tyson visited Cal earlier this week and the Bears seem to be in a good position for his services.

Simply put, California will be in their best position entering a season since 2017, and Mark Madsen hasn’t even coached a game yet. These moves could be a turning point for the Cal program, and should give Bears fans hope that the future is really bright under Madsen’s watch.

Florida Gators

While it wasn’t a great first year for Todd Golden in Gainesville, he didn’t let that affect his recruiting in the portal at all. Florida has added a really nice group of players including Walter Clayton Jr. from Iona, Tyrese Samuel from Seton Hall, E.J Jarvis from Yale and Micah Handlogton from Marshall.

The thing that really appeals to me about the group is the fact that none of these players are really going to have to be relied upon in order for the Gators to be successful.

Florida returns the duo of Riley Kugel and Will Richard, who both provide shooting from the outside and will be capable of leading the way for Florida. Kugel especially was a question considering he could have entered the NBA Draft and Florida’s hopes of returning a possible All SEC Player, relied on his decision. Building the team around a star player in Kugel plus Richard, who showed nice flashes last season, works well with the transfers this Florida team brought in. Clayton was the 2023 MAAC Player of the Year for an Iona team that won both the conference regular season and tournament title and played UConn tough for a half in the NCAA Tournament.

With an experienced big in Samuel, who will help fill the void at Center without Castleton plus guys like Jarvis and Handlogton as depth, this roster fits together nicely. With a ton of teams in the SEC losing talent from last season, Florida is in a very good position for a bounce back season and their first NCAA Tournament appearance under Golden.

(Also, shameless plug: Jarvis appeared on "The College Hoops Daily" podcast - which you can listen to here)

Follow Zac on Twitter - @ZacKrull_

Download the "College Hoops Daily" podcast wherever podcasts are found


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