Friday, May 27, 2022

Ranking top 25 transfers for 2022: LSU lands Murray State center KJ Williams as Matt McMahon keeps building

First-year LSU coach Matt McMahon’s construction of a roster from scratch continued with a big addition on Thursday, when Murray State transfer KJ Williams committed to the Tigers. Williams was the Ohio Valley Conference Player of the Year in the 2021-22 season and ranks No. 10 on CBS Sports’ list of college basketball’s top transfers this offseason.

At LSU, Williams will reunite with McMahon, who coached him for four seasons as he blossomed into a star at Murray State by showing steady improvement each season. The 6-10 center is a true stretch big man with a career 35.5% 3-point shooting mark. He led Murray State in rebounding with 8.4 boards per game last season as the Racers finished 31-3 (18-0 OVC) and advanced to the second round of the NCAA Tournament.

By committing to the Tigers, Williams becomes the third former Murray State player to follow McMahon to LSU, joining guards Trae Hannibal and Justice Hill. Collectively, the trio are helping McMahon fill out a roster that was decimated following the firing of former coach Will Wade. At one point, the Tigers were down to no scholarship players on the roster this offseason. But with Mwani Wilkinson and Justice Williams set to return and NC State transfer Cam Hayes entering, the nucleus of McMahon’s first team appears to be forming. The Tigers also scored a commitment from four-star Class of 2022 small forward Tyrell Ward last weekend.

May 1 marked the deadline for college basketball players to provide their current schools with written requests to enter the NCAA’s transfer portal if they want to be eligible for the 2022-23 season. However, there is no NCAA deadline for when a player must choose a new school, which means the coming weeks will still be filled with transfer news as schools try and fill out their 2022-23 rosters via the portal.

Who could be the transfers who impact the sport in a big way next season? Here is a look at the top 25.

1. Kendric Davis

Old school: SMU | New school: Memphis

The 5-foot-11 guard played a key role in helping SMU to three straight winning seasons and is the reigning AAC Player of the Year. In 2021-22, he finished second in the AAC in scoring behind a 37.2% 3-point mark on 6.5 attempts per game. Davis is more than just an outside shooter, though, and has the profile of a starting point guard for a big-time program. During the 2020-21 season, he ranked fourth nationally with 7.6 assists per game while still scoring 19 points per contest. He is also skilled at scoring inside the arc as a career 49.8% shooter on 2-point attempts. He’ll be an instant impact player for the Tigers, who are more than familiar with his capabilities. 

2. Nijel Pack

Old school: Kansas State | New school: Miami

Pack earned All-Big 12 First Team honors as a sophomore and finished third in the league in scoring at 17.4 points per game. His 43.6% 3-point shooting percentage this past season was particularly strong. Considering that he also shot 40.5% from deep as a freshman and is averaging 6.9 attempts from deep for his career, Pack might be the best shooter in the portal who has consistently proven it against elite defenses. He can do more than just shoot, though, and he should be able to play a key role for the Hurricanes next season.

3. Tyrese Hunter

Old school: Iowa State

Hunter won Big 12 Freshman of the Year honors while averaging 11 points and 4.9 assists for Iowa State. The former four-star prospect played a key role in helping the Cyclones reach the Sweet 16 in their first season under coach T.J. Otzelberger following a 2-22 season in 2020-21. Though his 27.4% 3-point shooting percentage and 3.2 turnovers per game leave plenty to improve on moving forward, Hunter showed considerable promise as a freshman, finishing second in the Big 12 in assists per game and tied for second in steals per game.

4. Isiaih Mosley

Old school: Missouri State

Mosley helped coach Dana Ford turn Missouri State into a force in the Missouri Valley during his three seasons with the program. The 6-5 shooting guard led the league in scoring at 20.4 points per game in the 2021-22 season and did it while shooting an efficient 50.4% from the floor. He turned in 40-point outings against MVC powers Northern Iowa and Loyola-Chicago during the regular season and also flashed his offensive prowess against high-major opposition with an 11 of 20 showing against Oklahoma in the NIT.

5. Fardaws Aimaq

Old school: Utah ValleyNew school: Texas Tech

Aimaq averaged 18.9 points and 13.6 rebounds for a 20-12 Utah Valley team in 2021-22, and he began flashing his outside shot by hitting 43.5% of his 46 attempts from 3-point range. He was also a two-time WAC Defensive Player of the Year, which makes him a perfect fit for Texas Tech’s gritty defensive system under coach Mark Adams. His all-around game should make him an impact player for one of the Big 12’s top programs.

6. Terrence Shannon Jr.

Old school: Texas Tech | New school: Illinois

The 6-6 shooting guard upped his 3-point shooting mark to 38.4% this season while averaging 10.4 points for a Texas Tech team that took Duke down to the wire in the Sweet 16. Given the program he’s coming from, you know he can play defense. Offensively, he could likely be a 15-points-per-game type of player if given 30 or more minutes per game in the Illinois system.

7. Johni Broome

Old school: Morehead StateNew school: Auburn

Broome is a monster shot blocker who finished third nationally with 131 blocked shots this season, putting him ahead of players like Gonzaga’s Chet Holmgren, Duke’s Mark Williams, Arizona’s Christian Koloko and KC Ndefo of Saint Peter’s. But he’s also a skilled player in the post who came up with big offensive performances in the OVC Tournament title games over the past two seasons. He will be big in helping Auburn replace Jabari Smith and Walker Kessler.

8. Mark Sears

Old school: OhioNew school: Alabama

After earning first-team All-MAC honors during a breakout sophomore season, Sears is returning to his home state of Alabama to help the Crimson Tide reclaim their 3-point shooting prowess. Alabama ranked first among the 14 SEC teams in 3-point attempts, makes and percentage in the 2020-21 season, but he slipped to 12th in percentage this past season. Sears hit 40.8% of his 3-point attempts for a 25-10 Ohio team and led the Bobcats with 19.7 points per game. He looks like a perfect fit at the perfect time for Alabama.

9. Brandon Murray

Old school: LSU | New school: Georgetown

Amid the transition from Will Wade to Matt McMahon at LSU, there is a deep group of players from both LSU and Murray State — McMahon’s old school — on the move. Several of them are good enough to wind up as impact players on NCAA Tournament teams. Of the group, Murray stands out for his size as a well-built 6-5 guard with two-way chops. Though he played off the ball as a freshman, he flashed distribution prowess with nine assists in an SEC Tournament win over Missouri. Ultimately, he is a versatile guard who averaged double-digits as a true freshman for an NCAA Tournament team known for defense. That’s a winning formula in portal season. Georgetown’s hiring of ex-LSU assistant Kevin Nickelberry appears to have given it a huge leg up in landing Murray after the Hoyas struggled to a 6-25 record this past season.

10. KJ Williams 

Old school: Murray State | New school: LSU

Williams upped his production each season during a stellar four-year run at Murray State. This past season, he averaged 18 points and 8.4 rebounds for a team that finished 31-3 and earned a No. 7 seed in the NCAA Tournament. He’s not much of a shot blocker for a 6-10 player, but he makes up for it with a career 3-point shooting percentage of 35.5%. He is reuniting with Matt McMahon, his former coach at Murray State, to play a key role on an LSU roster that will be almost unrecognizable compared to the one that former coach Will Wade fielded during the 2021-22 season.

11. Malachi Smith

Old school: Chattanooga

Smith was the SoCon Player of the Year as he led the conference in scoring while guiding Chattanooga to a regular season title and conference tournament championship. Though Smith struggled in the Mocs’ NCAA Tournament loss against Illinois, he demonstrated a strong all-around game during the course of his redshirt sophomore season. At 6-foot-4, he can play on or off the ball and is a quality rebounder and defender. His 38% career 3-point shooting mark and ability to score at multiple levels could make him an immediate factor at the high-major level.

12. Andre Curbelo

Old school: Illinois | New school: St. John’s

Curbelo’s sophomore season never got off the ground after a concussion-related issue kept him from building on a standout freshman season. Still, St. John’s coach Mike Anderson should be thrilled to have a chance at helping Curbelo reach his full potential. The former top-50 prospect from the 2020 class averaged 4.2 assists in just 21.5 minutes per game as a freshman, and he showed deftness at beating defenders off the dribble and finishing inside the arc. Turnover issues, a lack of 3-point shooting and his sophomore season as a whole are all legitimate red flags. But the potential reward outweighs the risks for a St. John’s program looking to break through and reach the NCAA Tournament

13. Manny Bates

Old school: NC State | New school: Butler

A shoulder injury in NC State’s season opener knocked Bates out for the year. However, if he can return to the form he showed as a sophomore, he could be a huge boost for Thad Matta’s hopes of a quick turnaround at Butler. The 6-11 menace led the ACC in blocks during the 2020-21 season and swatted a ridiculous 4.9 shots per 40 minutes over his two seasons of play with the Wolfpack. He’s shown no 3-point shot in his career, but he is a reliable finisher around the rim who may be the Big East’s top shot blocker next season.

14. Tanner Holden

Old school: Wright State | New school: Ohio State

Those who watched Holden go 3 for 11 and finish with 12 points in Wright State’s first round NCAA Tournament loss to No. 1 seed Arizona were likely not blown away. His three-year body of work for the Raiders is phenomenal, though, and his junior season made it clear he can handle big-time college basketball. The 6-6 guard averaged 20.1 points per game and finished second in Division I with 280 free-throw attempts. He’s not much of a 3-point shooter, but Holden is skilled at finding his spots inside the arc and attacking, which leads to points at the charity stripe.

15. Matthew Mayer

Old school: Baylor

Mayer’s shooting percentages dropped in the 2021-22 season as he entered the starting lineup for the first time in his career and played an increased offensive role amid a crushing streak of injuries for the Bears. But in the 2020-21 season, he demonstrated exactly what would make him so valuable as a transfer when he played a key role off the bench for a team that won the national title. At 6-9 and 225 pounds, Mayer’s positional versatility, shot-creation ability and experience on the sport’s biggest stage make him an elite college role player.

16. Norchad Omier

Old school: Arkansas State | New school: Miami

The Sun Belt Player of the Year is on the move after averaging 17.9 points and 12.2 rebounds for Arkansas State as a sophomore while shooting 63.2% from the floor. He doubled as the league’s defensive player of the year while blocking 1.9 shots and snagging 1.6 steals per game. The only question is, at just 6-7 and with no 3-point shot, how will Omier fit with the Hurricanes? It will take some thoughtful strategizing from Jim Larranaga to maximize Omier’s unique game at a higher level of competition. 

17. Antoine Davis

Old school: Detroit-Mercy

College basketball’s leading active scorer is on the move and should surpass 3,000 career points at his next stop after four seasons playing for his father, Mike Davis, at Detroit. The reigning Horizon League Player of the Year is undersized at 6-1, but he’s proven the ability to fill it up against quality non conference opponents during the course of his career and should be able to make an impact on an NCAA Tournament contender. If he can successfully adapt a facilitator role for a high-major team after being a bucket-getter for four seasons, he could wind up being a godsend for a team in need of quality veteran guard play.

18. Teddy Allen

Old school: New Mexico State

Allen won WAC Player of the Year while averaging 19.6 points and leading the Aggies to the second round of the NCAA Tournament. His 37-point performance in a first-round upset victory over No. 5 seed UConn was legendary. At 6-6 and 223 pounds, Allen can score at all three levels and would make a huge addition for a first-year coach or coach on the hot seat who is in search of some instant offense.

19. A.J. Green

Old school: Northern Iowa

The two-time Missouri Valley Conference Player of the Year bounced back to form as a redshirt junior in the 2021-22 season after playing in just three games during the 2020-21 campaign due to a hip injury. Green is a lethal 3-point shooter and looks capable of slotting in as an elite role player for a great team. His defensive acumen is a question, but Green would thrive as a 3-point specialist in the right system.

20. Tristen Newton

Old school: East CarolinaNew school: UConn

With R.J. Cole moving on following a nice two-year run as UConn’s starting point guard after transferring in from Howard, coach Dan Hurley is banking on another transfer guard to help the Huskies next season. Newton averaged 17.7 points, 5.0 assists and 4.8 rebounds while shooting 43.5% from the floor for ECU in the 2021-22 season. At 6-5, he’s got nice positional size and should be able to improve his offensive efficiency while playing in a system with more weapons.

21. Baylor Scheierman

Old school: South Dakota State | New school: Creighton

Scheierman won Summit League Player of the Year while averaging 16.2 points for a Jackrabbits squad that finished 30-5 (18-0 Summit) with a first-round NCAA Tournament loss to Providence. The 6-6 guard is a lefty with a smooth stroke who shot 50.8% from the floor, including 46.9% from 3-point range on 5.1 attempts this past season. He’s a slippery ball-handler with the ability to create space for his shot. It will be fascinating to see if he can translate that offensive prowess to the Big East and help lift the Bluejays to new heights.

22. Courtney Ramey

Old school: Texas

After four seasons at Texas, 128 games and 106 starts, Ramey is in the portal. It will be weird seeing him in another uniform, particularly if he ends up playing in a more guard-friendly, up-tempo system. The 6-3 guard is a proven shooter and secondary ball-handler who scored 1,275 points during his time with the Longhorns. His best season was during the 2020-21 campaign, Shaka Smart’s last as Texas’ coach. Ramey averaged 12.2 point per game on 41.4% 3-point shooting before struggling in the postseason that year.

23. Makhel Mitchell

Old school: Rhode IslandNew school: Arkansas

Makhel Mitchell is an excellent shot-blocker at 6-10, and if the skill translates to the SEC, he could wind up being the best rim protector of Musselman’s time so far at Arkansas. Mitchell can also get buckets in the paint as a roll guy and rim runner. While he lacks a track record with 3-point shooting, he is versatile enough to put the ball on the floor offensively if operating out of the high post. Defensively, he is athletic enough to handle a switch in the pick and roll.

24. Makhi Mitchell

Old school: Rhode Island | New school: Arkansas

Makhi Mitchell is a 6-9 forward who began his career at Maryland alongside brother Makhel Mitchell. Both are transferring to Arkansas and should flourish in coach Eric Musselman’s system, which has a proven track record of getting the best out of transfers. Makhi is the more versatile player of the two and averaged 9.9 points, 7.3 rebounds and 1.4 blocks in just 24.1 minutes per game last season while shooting 52.2% from the floor. Makhi began to shoot 3-pointers last season, converting on 7 of 23 attempts. If he can add a consistent outside shot to his versatile, defense-first identity, then he can be impact player on an SEC title contender.

25. Kenneth Lofton

Old school: Louisiana Tech

At just 6-7, it’s hard to fully trust that Lofton’s game as a bully-ball big man will translate to a higher level of competition. But by that same token, there was no reason to expect he’d become one of Conference USA’s most dominant players in two seasons at Louisiana Tech. In non conference or NIT games against teams like LSU, Ole Miss, Mississippi State, Alabama and NC State, Lofton has been efficient and effective offensively. If there’s a concern, perhaps it’s that eventually teams can exploit him defensively. But he’s good enough offensively to be a net positive for high-major team.

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