The Transfer Effect: What the Statistics Say about Missouri and Iowa State’s Recruiting MethodsPosted by dnspewak on December 27th, 2011
No matter how established the program, every college basketball coach eventually takes a chance on a transfer. Jim Boeheim, for example, plucked Wesley Johnson from Iowa State and turned him into the Big East Player of the Year in 2009-10. Tom Izzo and Mike Krzyzewski’s current rosters both include transfers with Brandon Wood (Valparaiso) and Seth Curry (Liberty), and in 1979, a former Indiana Hoosier named Larry Bird nearly won a title with Indiana State just a few years after quitting basketball (and Bob Knight’s Indiana Hoosiers) altogether.
Normally, coaches take one or two transfers at a time to fill immediate holes, but that’s not everybody’s philosophy. Meet Missouri’s Frank Haith and Iowa State’s Fred Hoiberg, a pair of coaches who have abandoned traditional recruiting methods at their new schools in favor of Division I transfers. Haith, hired in April to replace Mike Anderson, is using three open scholarships in 2011-12 on players who will not appear in a single basketball game this season by signing Keion Bell (Pepperdine), Earnest Ross (Auburn) and Jabari Brown (Oregon). Hoiberg, on the other hand, has four transfers on his roster in his second year with the Cyclones: Chris Allen (Michigan State), Chris Babb (Penn State), Royce White (Minnesota), and Anthony Booker (Southern Illinois). The two coaches have energized their fan bases by signing big names from major schools, but Haith and Hoiberg’s recruiting tactics cannot be accurately judged at this point. Iowa State’s Fab Four will begin Big 12 play next month, and Missouri’s three transfers will not all be eligible until December 2012.
Instead of speculating as to whether the two teams will suffer from dreaded chemistry problems with so many transfers, why not crunch the numbers to see if The Transfer Effect really exists? Although finding aggregate data for Division I transfers is virtually impossible, recent anecdotal evidence shows that the recruiting strategy is an enormous risk for both coaches. Seven teams from both the 2008-09 and 2009-10 seasons welcomed three or more transfers to their programs at the same time, and only two teams (San Diego State and UNLV) finished above .500 in league play. Seton Hall, the only power conference team in the group, missed the NCAA Tournament.
A few factors may explain the seven schools’ relative lack of success. Although there is nothing inherently wrong with transferring schools, some players leave universities because of attitude or character problems. And even when there are no red flags in the behavior department, molding three or four transfers at a time from different schools can also cause on-court problems.
I must urge you not to take these statistics as the absolute truth. To accurately conduct a study of this nature, I would need to dig through transfer statistics for the past 20 seasons to complete some sort of statistically significant model. Since I lack the time, resources and research software to do that, you’ll just have to settle for my unscientific breakdown from the 2008-09 and 2009-10 seasons. However, the seven examples here suggest that stockpiling transfers from Division I schools does not always lead to instant success. In two cases, it contributed to the firings of Rod Barnes (Georgia State) and Bobby Gonzalez (Seton Hall), and the strategy resulted in two sub-.500 seasons for Massachusetts.
First, let’s show you the raw, individual statistics for each transfer upon gaining eligibility:
- Georgia State (5): Joe Dukes, Wake Forest (12.8 PPG, 29 starts), Dante Curry, South Florida (6.9 PPG, 1 start), Xavier Hansbro, Mississippi (4.9 PPG, 12 starts), Trey Hampton, Mississippi (4.4 PPG, 28 starts), Bernard Rimmer, Mississippi State (2.6 PPG, 5 starts)
- Louisiana Tech (3): Magnum Rolle, LSU (12.2 PPG, 30 starts), Kenneth Cooper, Oklahoma State (11.7 PPG, 14 starts, transferred to UAB), Jamel White, Nebraska (dismissed, did not appear)
- Marshall (3): Chris Lutz, Purdue (10.7 PPG, 18 starts), Brandon Powell, Florida (4 games, zero starts, dismissed), Octavuis Spann, Georgetown (2.6 PPG, 2 starts)
- UNLV (3): Derrick Jasper, Kentucky (6.7 ppg, 21 starts), Chance Stanback, UCLA (10.7 PPG, 33 starts), Steve Jones, Arizona State (1.5 PPG, zero starts)
- San Diego State (3): Brian Carlwell, Illinois (3.7 PPG, 3 starts), Tyrone Shelley, Pepperdine (6.1 PPG, 8 starts), Malcolm Thomas, Pepperdine (10.9 PPG, 33 starts)
- Massachusetts (3): Sean Carter, Oregon State (5.1 PPG, 32 starts), Hashim Bailey, Memphis (2.5 PPG, 1 start), Doug Wiggins, Connecticut (dismissed, did not appear)
- Seton Hall (3): Keon Lawrence, Missouri (4.1 PPG, 13 starts), Herb Pope, New Mexico (12.5 PPG, 32 starts), Jeff Robinson, Memphis (12.2 PPG, 15 starts)
If you’re counting, that’s 23 transfers split among seven teams. Here’s how the teams fared after welcoming three or more transfers in the same season:
Record in First Year of Eligibility
- Georgia State: 12-20, 8-10 (2008-09)
- Louisiana Tech: 15-18, 6-10 (2008-09)
- Marshall: 15-17, 7-9 (2008-09)
- UNLV: 25-9, 11-5 (2009-10)
- Massachusetts: 12-20, 5-11 (2009-10)
- San Diego State: 25-9, 11-5 (2009-10)
- Seton Hall: 19-13, 9-9 (2009-10)
San Diego State and UNLV both stand out as winners here, which points to the broader conclusion: it’s all about the coaching staff and the surrounding players. Steve Fisher and Lon Kruger are experienced coaches who had built strong programs at their respective schools, and they did not necessarily need to take transfers out of some sort of desperation. They molded their new faces into one cohesive unit, and The Transfer Effect resulted in NCAA Tournament berths for each team.
If Fred Hoiberg can mix Babb, Allen, White and Booker with Scott Christopherson, Melvin Ejim and the rest of the roster this winter, Iowa State has a team capable of producing an NCAA Tournament berth. At 9-3, the Cyclones have turned in a few inconsistent and ugly performances so far, but they have a bunch of shooters and athletes that have the potential to get hot at the right time. And if Haith next season can lean on his reliable point guards Phil Pressey and Michael Dixon — as well as fifth-year senior forward Laurence Bowers — then perhaps Bell, Brown and Ross will thrive as smaller parts of a larger goal in 2012-13.
However, the cautious example for Missouri and Iowa State to take note of here is Seton Hall. Bobby Gonzalez’s recruitment of Keon Lawrence and Herb Pope may have indirectly cost him his job. Already a controversial figure in the Northeast for his fiery demeanor, his administration pulled the plug on his career after Pope punched a Texas Tech player in the crotch during a 2010 NIT contest (among other things). As for Lawrence, he never panned out as a player and got entangled in a few off-court incidents as well. He was eventually dismissed before completing his career, and new coach Kevin Willard won just 13 games in the season following the arrival of Lawrence, Pope and Robinson.
In some cases, however, teams improved the year after bringing in transfers. Louisiana Tech, for example, won 24 games with Magnum Rolle as the second-leading scorer. Marshall also finished with 24 wins in 2009-10 with Purdue’s Chriz Lutz still remaining on the roster. That team, of course, also had the help of freshman pro prospect Hassan Whiteside.
Following Year Record
- Georgia State: 12-20, 5-13 (2009-10)
- Louisiana Tech: 24-11, 9-7 (2009-10)
- Marshall: 24-10, 11-5 (2009-10)
- UNLV: 24-9, 11-5 (2010-11)
- Massachusetts: 15-15, 7-9 (2010-11)
- San Diego State: 34-3, 14-2 (2010-11)
- Seton Hall: 13-18, 7-11 (2010-11)
Keon Lawrence wasn’t the only player in these seven examples that did not finish his career with his respective team. Of the 23 transfers documented here, eight players (34.8%) transferred, were dismissed, or did not play their senior seasons. For comparison, the transfer rate for the NCAA as a whole in 2008-09 stood at 10.6%. Again, keep in mind that seven teams and 23 players are hardly enough of a sample size to make any sort of long-term judgment, but it’s still an interesting figure to consider.
It’s also important to recognize that Haith and Hoiberg are building their teams in much different manners. Hoiberg’s three leading scorers this season, for instance, are White (14.2 PPG), Allen (12.9 PPG) and Babb (10.5 PPG). Allen and Babb have started every game so far; White has started all but one. In Missouri’s case, Haith will have a little more experience to work with in 2012-13. With Laurence Bowers, Phil Pressey, Michael Dixon, Kadeem Green and a large freshman class, his three transfer guards will have to fight for minutes. True, Hoiberg has Scott Christopherson and Melvin Ejim in the starting lineup, but it’s clear that the Cyclones’ Division I transfers are leading the way.
In terms of this relationship between wins, points per game from transfers and starts by transfers, the seven examples from 2008-09 and 2009-10 were all over the place. Georgia State’s transfers started a combined 75 games, resulting in 12 victories. Louisiana Tech finished with 15 wins despite 44 starts and nearly 24 points per game from transfers, and Seton Hall missed the NCAAs with 60 starts and 28.8 points per game from its transfer players. UNLV and San Diego State, on the other hand, started transfers on 54 and 44 times respectively, and each team won 25 games.
It’s easy to see why the two coaches would opt for this recruiting strategy. When Mike Anderson accepted the Arkansas job in March, he left Missouri with zero commitments from prospects in the 2011 and 2012 recruiting classes. Instead of settling for last resort players to help the 2011-12 team, Haith built for the future. Considering his early success, it’s hard to criticize Haith’s decision to use three scholarships on players who will not appear in a game this year. Anderson left behind a mature, well-coached group of players, and they clearly do not need a whole lot of help. As for Hoiberg, he needed to revive his Iowa State program from the dead. After former coach Greg McDermott lost hometown hero Harrison Barnes to North Carolina, it was time for Hoiberg to inject some life into the Cyclones.
Haith and Hoiberg aren’t finished bringing in transfers either. Pete Thamel of the New York Times reports that Missouri may be in the mix for Khem Birch, a former blue-chipper who left Pittsburgh earlier this month, and Iowa State welcomes two additional transfers in Korie Lucious (Michigan State) and Will Clyburn (Utah) next season. At this point in their careers, neither coach has established himself as a consistent winner yet. There’s no telling whether The Transfer Effect will burn them or reward them. Frank Haith and Fred Hoiberg will need to model their programs more like San Diego State and UNLV — and less like Gonzalez at Seton Hall — or they could find themselves on the hot seat in a few years.