September 22, 2021

College basketball’s offseason winners and losers: Texas, Memphis clean up while Iowa, Wisconsin face rebuilds

The 2021 college basketball offseason kept the sport in the news cycle long after Baylor…

The 2021 college basketball offseason kept the sport in the news cycle long after Baylor cut down the nets at Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis, Indiana as champions of the NCAA Tournament. With players allowed to wait up until July 1 to enter the transfer portal and still be immediately eligible for the 2021-22 season, coaches were forced to withstand a period of roster management lasting several months after their last games.

In the future, the deadline for prospects to enter the portal and gain immediate eligibility at their new schools will be May 1, which should allow coaches a bit more time to relax and gear up for the summer recruiting circuit. But the with the one-time transfer rule just going into place in late April of this year, the NCAA set the 2021 deadline at July 1 to give players ample time to make decisions in response to the new rule. 

Now that most schools are back in session, the dust has finally settled on the transfer market and the last high school prospects have made their collegiate arrangements for the upcoming season, it’s time to reflect. With September arriving, training camps for college programs will be here in a matter of weeks — not months — and the offseason is basically in the books. So who were the biggest winners and losers of college basketball’s offseason? Let’s take a look at some of them here.

Chris Beard brought in talented transfers to Texas this summer.
USATSI

Winner: Transfers flock to Texas 

Chris Beard set an unfairly high bar for first-year college basketball coaches in the one-time transfer era this offseason with his overhaul of the Texas roster. The Longhorns landed five of the top 35 transfers and three of the top 10 among a haul of seven total transfers. That he managed to upgrade the Big 12 Tournament champions in mere months before ever coaching a game suggests his rapid rise to coaching royalty may only just be beginning. Don’t be surprised if what Beard accomplished this offseason by adding the likes of Marcus Carr (Minnesota), Timmy Allen (Utah) and Tre Mitchell (UMass), just to name a few, fuels the Longhorns to their first Sweet 16 since 2008 in his first year on the sideline.

Winner: Indiana’s Mike Woodson winning early

After Beard, the other first-year coach who most deserves a tip of the cap for early roster work is Indiana’s Mike Woodson. In the immediate aftermath of his hiring, the 63-year-old former Hoosiers star, NBA player and longtime NBA coach felt like a fallback option meant to conjure nostalgia among a frustrated fan base. But the early returns are promising after he convinced superstar forward Trayce Jackson-Davis to return for his junior season. There may be schematic struggles on the court for someone who hasn’t been in the college game for decades, but Woodson’s NBA pedigree is helping him land talent. Signing four-star guard Tamar Bates, the No. 30 overall player in the 2021 class according to the 247Sports Composite, and a solid class of incoming transfers should help the Hoosiers see early dividends from the choice to move on from Archie Miller.

Loser: First-year coaches face big challenges

There is ample evidence showing what Beard did with Texas this offseason is the exception for first-year coaches in the newfound era of players being able to transfer once without sitting out a season. Several other first-year coaches face tough rebuilds following roster exoduses, with Boston College, Minnesota, Utah serving as prime examples. Boston College is replacing five of its top six scorers under Earl Grant, Minnesota is replacing basically every proven producer under Ben Johnson and Utah returns only a couple of rotation players after its transition from Larry Krystkowiak to Craig Smith. The uphill climbs those first-year coaches face are clearly exacerbated by the new transfer rules, and other programs considering coaching changes in the future should expect similar circumstances. Athletic directors should not fool themselves into believing the magic that Beard pulled off at Texas will be easily replicable.

Winner: Memphis loads up

Memphis lost a few players to the transfer portal and gained a few back in a bit of spring roster turnover that suggested the program would build from the momentum of an NIT title while still remaining outside of most preseason polls. Then came coach Penny Hardaway’s earth-shattering late success in the 2021 recruiting cycle. The Tigers landed Jalen Duren and Emoni Bates, the top players in the 2022 class, and both are reclassifying to play this season. They are joining an incoming freshmen class that was already going to be solid and pairing with leading returning scorers Landers Nolley and Deandre Williams to send expectations through the roof. Memphis hasn’t made an NCAA Tournament appearance yet under Hardaway, but merely reaching the Big Dance is the bare minimum for the Tigers in his fourth season as they will field the most talented roster in the AAC. No program in the country did more to bolster its 2021-22 outlook over the summer months than Memphis.

Loser: The Big Ten West

The Big Ten doesn’t have divisions in basketball, but three schools from the West side of the conference’s football makeup have rebuilding seasons ahead on the hardwood. Minnesota’s roster upheaval, covered above, might mean the Gophers dip further down under a new coach before they make strides. But they won’t be alone, as Wisconsin and Iowa should also be down in 2021-22 after mass departures from last season’s NCAA Tournament teams. The Hawkeyes lose Naismith Award winner Luka Garza and 3-point marksmen Joe Wieskamp and CJ Frederick. That means a program based for the last two seasons on having the best interior player in college basketball and some of the best outside shooting in the sport will be relying on new sources of offensive production. Unless the Hawkeyes manage to make considerable defensive strides, they could be in for some long nights in the Big Ten.

Similarly, Wisconsin is losing the bulk of its production from a team that spent seven weeks in the top 10 of the AP Top 25 last season before a disappointing finish. The departing talent combined with a well-documented disconnect between coach Greg Gard that became public in June could spell trouble for the Badgers in the 2021-22 season.

Winner: Continuity for Bruins, Boilers and Bonnies

In the age of mass transfers, roster continuity is one sign of a strong program, and no one did a better job this offseason of keeping their teams together than Purdue, St. Bonaventure and UCLA. The three programs each return every player who started for them in their first round NCAA Tournament games. In the case of Purdue and UCLA, most of the key reserves are back as well, while St. Bonaventure appears to have improved its depth with a couple of power conference transfers. Landing high-profile signees and big-name transfers draws headlines in the offseason, but keeping a good team together might be harder. Purdue, St. Bonaventure and UCLA are poised for special seasons because they were able to do it.

The Cardinals are college basketball’s preeminent soap opera, and the latest episode involves head coach Chris Mack getting suspended for the first six games of the 2021-22 season in the wake of an extortion attempt by former assistant Dino Gaudio. If you’re not up to speed on the details of the saga, catch up here. But the gist of it is that Mack won’t be on the bench for the first three weeks of the season because the Louisville program continues to be a magnet for dysfunction even in the post-Rick Pitino era. The Cardinals narrowly missed the 2021 NCAA Tournament, and if Mack gets to the end of his fourth season without a victory in the Big Dance, it’s fair to wonder how much leash he’ll have left in the wake of the Gaudio scandal and with the program under NCAA investigation yet again.

Winner: Kansas brings in newcomers

Kansas lacked the depth befitting of a national power last season as coach Bill Self trimmed his rotation to just seven players in the postseason. He fixed that issue this offseason by bolstering the Jahyawks’ 2021 class with the late addition of top-100 point guard Bobby Pettiford and by picking up four transfers. In summation, Kansas has four signees entering in a class ranked No. 11 nationally by 247Sports and four incoming transfers, including three guards ranked among the top 75 transfers by CBS Sports. The group is headlined by ex-Arizona State star Remy Martin, who is our No. 4 transfer of the offseason. Collectively, the eight newcomers will combine with four returning starters and key reserves Mitch Lightfoot and Dajuan Harris Jr. to ensure the Jayhawks have ample depth in the 2021-22 season. Self might be able to field a “B” team that is better than the best product many programs put on the court next season.