College basketball’s “down transfers” who are benefitting the most this season

From Oakland’s Jamal Cain to Davidson’s Foster Loyer, college basketball’s “down transfers” are having a huge year.

In college basketball, players often transfer between the sport’s levels. More often than not, athletes who enter the portal may be headed to a high-major destination from a mid-major one or vice versa, largely depending on the player’s talent and production.

However, players who “transfer up” — leaving a mid- or low-major school for a high-major — typically receive the bulk of the nation’s headlines.

With transfers as rampant as ever in college hoops, mid-major teams have never had such accessibility to high-major-caliber talents. After a nonconference season that saw several high-major teams lose “buy games” to lesser opponents, “down transfers” have never commanded so much respect across the country.

The crux of the “down transfer” is players who leave high-major programs may actually land on teams with better or similar NCAA Tournament chops as their previous home. When combined with a larger on-court role, a “down transfer” can be a hugely benefical move for some.

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Let’s check out the “down transfers” who have benefitted the most this season.

NCAA Tournament percentages via BartTorvik.com.

Trey Phipps, Oral Roberts

Previous: Oklahoma
NCAA Tournament likelihood: 30.6 percent
Minutes per game: Up 15.6 minutes
Usage rate: Up 0.7 percent

ORU became a bit of a trendy destination this offseason following the program’s stunning Sweet 16 run. Phipps, a Tulsa native, returned home after a year as a role player with the Sooners. Alongside superstar Max Abmas, Phipps — as well as Vanderbilt transfer Issac McBride — has served as a sharpshooting sidekick to keep the Golden Eagles offense humming to impressive levels.

Isaiah Wilkins, Longwood

Previous: Wake Forest
NCAA Tournament likelihood: 25.5 percent
Minutes per game: Up 12.5 minutes
Usage rate: Up 13.0 percent

A Virginia Tech Hokie his first two seasons, Wilkins held a modest role with Wake Forest before leaving the ACC for good. Wilkins is now the leader of a Longwood program that has its sights set on its first-ever NCAA Tournament appearance. The burly guard has more than doubled his playing time, his efficiency has exploded, and his scoring average is up to 12.9 points per game.

Holland Woods II, Grand Canyon

Previous: Arizona State
NCAA Tournament likelihood: 29.1 percent
Minutes per game: Up 4.4 minutes
Usage rate: Up 8.7 percent

A two-time Big Sky honoree with Portland State, Woods left ASU for Grand Canyon and dramatically improved his NCAA Tournament odds in the process. While the Sun Devils (6-9) limp through the Pac-12, Grand Canyon’s 14-2 record is one of the nation’s best. Woods is starting every night and playing over 30 minutes per game for a Lopes squad capable of a March upset.

Aaron Estrada, Hofstra

Previous: Oregon
NCAA Tournament likelihood: 26.6 percent
Minutes per game: Up 21.2 minutes
Usage rate: Up 9.3 percent

The ’19-20 MAAC Rookie of the Year with St. Peter’s, Estrada transferred up to Oregon but saw his role and impact decline. Now at Hofstra, the everyday starter forms a talented backcourt trio with Jalen Ray and Zach Cooks on a legitimate CAA contender. Estrada’s new role is massive, ranking 80th nationally in percentage of minutes played while leading the team in usage rate and assist rate.

Trae Hannibal, Murray State

Previous: South Carolina
NCAA Tournament likelihood: 99.2 percent
Minutes per game: Up 3.7 minutes
Usage rate: Up 3.6 percent

A legitimate at-large contender after dismantling Belmont on the road, Murray State has hugely benefitted from Hannibal’s high-major departure. While he isn’t a starter, Hannibal is fourth in scoring for the Racers and is one of the nation’s top defenders with the 18th-best steal rate. As it currently stands, Matt McMahon‘s group is even better this season than the 2019 Ja Morant team, according to KenPom efficiency margin.

Quinn Slazinski, Iona

Previous: Louisville
NCAA Tournament likelihood: 47.9 percent
Minutes per game: Up 1.4 minutes
Usage rate: Up 9.7 percent

How about Slazinski increasing his NCAA Tournament odds by leaving an ACC program for the Metro Atlantic? Slazinski is now a starter averaging 9.6 points per game for a Gaels team that is 79th in KenPom, 14-3 on the year and a runaway autobid favorite. Louisville, meanwhile, has fallen to century-lows in a variety of ways this season.

Silvio De Sousa, Chattanooga

Previous: Kansas
NCAA Tournament likelihood: 40 percent
Minutes per game: Up 12.7 minutes
Usage rate: Up 8.0 percent

Having redshirted last season, De Sousa appears to have found a great fit in the SoCon with the Mocs. The former Jayhawk has more than doubled his playing time as a full-time starter. More importantly, the 6-9 forward ranks top 100 nationally in offensive rebounding rate, defensive rebounding rate and block rate. Lamont Paris’ teams have significantly improved in offensive efficiency (161st to 32nd) and rebounding (241st to 119th) as a result.

Foster Loyer, Davidson

Previous: Michigan State
NCAA Tournament likelihood: 94.5 percent
Minutes per game: Up 11.4 minutes
Usage rate: Up 11.6 percent

Not many could have guessed that Loyer — an inconsistent shooting threat at Michigan State — would be so effective for a dominant Davidson team. After a 1-2 start, the Wildcats have ripped off 13 consecutive wins and are firmly in the at-large conversation. Loyer has been a lethal shooter all season long, shooting 47.4 percent from deep to lead one of the nation’s best offensive units. With an assist-to-turnover ratio of exactly 3.0 and a massive scoring bump (4.2 ppg to 15.9 ppg), Loyer found a perfect landing spot that suits his game.

Matt Bradley, San Diego State

Previous: California
NCAA Tournament likelihood: 90.3 percent
Minutes per game: Up 0.6 minutes
Usage rate: Down 3.1 percent

A “down transfer” only through the lens of conference affiliation, the former Cal star stayed out West and kept a substantial role with a much better team. SDSU has a long history of successful high-major transfer additions, making Bradley’s success this season no surprise. Bradley exploded for 26 points against Colorado State, ending the Rams’ perfect start to the season. Don’t be surprised if Bradley takes some big shots in the month of March.

Jamal Cain, Oakland

Previous: Marquette
NCAA Tournament likelihood: 56.0 percent
Minutes per game: Up 3.9 minutes
Usage rate: Up 10.9 percent

Taking advantage of the NCAA’s extra eligibility waiver, Cain left his starting role at Marquette amid an offseason coaching change. Nearly averaging 20 points and 10 rebounds a night, Cain has been a star for an Oakland team that remains unbeaten in the Horizon League. The Grizzlies will be favored in every remaining game and should be a dangerous out if they reach March Madness. Oakland already has more wins than all of last season, and Cain is a major reason why.

Header image courtesy of Oakland Athletics.



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