Hoop Vision Weekly: 5/10/19

#TransferSZN Part 2: Program Strength

Note: This was originally sent to Hoop Vision Weekly subscribers on May 10th, 2019.

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What Offseason?

Welcome back to the Hoop Vision Weekly!

We're back with another OFFSEASON edition of the Hoop Vision Weekly.

Today we'll go deeper in our series on TRANSFERS that we debuted last week, this week focusing more on specific programs that have seen the most transfer activity in recent years.  Plus - we're bringing back our "Spring Reading" section for another week, featuring some should-read material from the the world of basketball and beyond.

(Note: Yet again, a big shout to Nathan LeClair of Verbal Commits and his meticulous, admirable work in creating and updating the VC Transfer Database every year).

Here we go...


Last week, we detailed how the transfer trend isn’t exactly new — the total number of transfers has remained fairly steady within the past decade. But anecdotally, at least, it feels there is growth is at the highest level of college basketball. Last season, Villanova (the reigning national champs at the time) took Albany’s Joe Cremo, while Kentucky took Stanford’s Reid Travis. Arguably two of Texas Tech’s top three players — Tariq Owens (St. John’s) and Matt Mooney (South Dakota) — were also grad transfers, and North Carolina relied heavily on graduate transfer Cam Johnson in the past two seasons (Johnson was a special two-year case).

So today, let’s continue to dive in, this time looking at the correlation between transfers and program strength.

In other words, are college basketball’s perennial contenders affected by transfers at the same rate as low-major programs? And which successful programs make transfers a core part of building out their rosters?

As a reminder, this data is from Verbal Commits going back to 2012. Accurately tracking transfers is actually a pretty daunting task — Should you count a player who never actually plays a game for that school? Should you count walk-ons? — so no source will be perfect, but Verbal Commits has set the standard; the entire college basketball world is plugged into the site, and if you are a player looking to transfer, your name almost needs to come across VC to get the proper exposure. While the NCAA introduced its own “Transfer Portal” this year, Verbal Commits has effectively acted as the unofficial portal since 2012.


Which programs have LOST the most transfers since 2012?

The x-axis on the graph above is simply a proxy for how strong the program is (using KenPom AdjEM). The y-axis is the number of transfers out.

You can see that Mississippi Valley State has seen 37 transfers exit their program since 2012. And if you have read this newsletter or listened to Solving Basketball, you won’t be too surprised to know that most of those 37 transferred out of Division I basketball entirely. Just six of the 37 transferred to five different D1 schools — NC Central, Delaware, Morehead State, SE Louisiana, and Arkansas Pine Bluff.

There are certainly exceptions, but more successful programs tend to see less players transfer out. North Carolina leads the way in player retention; Seventh Woods’ recent decision to leave is actually the only instance of a UNC player transferring in the VC database (the most recent before Woods was Larry Drew II in 2011). You’ll see other recent Final Four programs like Michigan State, Kentucky, Wisconsin, Duke, Villanova and Gonzaga all firmly in the bottom right quadrant of this graph, as well.

It’s important to remember that the decision to transfer is a two-way street. For every player that “up-transfers” to a better program thanks to his performance, there’s another player getting run-off the roster to free up a scholarship (also thanks to his performance). And the player-coach relationship is also a two-way street.

Logically, programs with multiple coaching changes stand out on this list.

Memphis, for example, with Josh Pastner -> Tubby Smith -> Penny Hardaway is one of two schools with over 30 transfers despite a program adjusted efficiency margin over 10, while Utah is the other school to qualify despite retaining Larry Krystkowiak throughout that time.

And if we drill down to a season-by-season level, we see that the program with the most departures is nearly always one with a coaching change:


Which programs have ADDED the most transfers since 2012?

If we surveyed 100 devoted college basketball fans and asked them which school do they consider to be “Transfer U”, I’d expect to get a lot of Iowa State, Nevada, and Gonzaga responses. So while unsurprising, it’s comforting to see each of those teams stand out on this graph.

And while Eric Musselman and Fred Hoiberg both had a lot of success taking a lot of transfers at ISU and Nevada, Texas Southern actually tops the list with 24 transfers. 

Beginning with Mike Davis at the helm and now continuing with Johnny Jones, the Tigers have consistently brought in more talent that any other team in the SWAC by landing high-major transfers — and in turn, have led the SWAC with three NCAA Tournament appearances in that span. Players from programs including Auburn, LSU, Nebraska, Ole Miss, Purdue, TCU, and West Virginia have all made their way to Houston and set the program on a winning path in conference.

We hear about it all the time, but the university itself often determines the viability of taking transfers. 

There are 20 schools who did not show up on the VC list at all since 2012, and a clear theme around that group emerges: academic rigor and high admissions standards. Among the 20 programs who did not take in a single transfer, the list is dominated by Ivy League schools (Brown, Cornell, Harvard, Princeton, Yale), service academies (Air Force, Army, Navy, VMI), and even a couple academically rigorous high-majors (UCLA and Stanford).

If we look at net gain/loss of transfers since 2012 according to Verbal Commits, we see that the programs losing the most players are disproportionately affected than those bringing in the most new faces:

1. Georgia State (+6)
2. IUPUI (+5)
T3. Colgate, North Carolina, San Diego State, Texas Southern (+4)

1. Mississippi Valley State (-34)
T2. Robert Morris, Alabama State (-28)
4. Morehead State (-27) 
5. Utah, Maine (-26)

I suspect that teams taking in a lot of transfers would be a positive predictor of conference-adjusted success. But there could be some selection bias going on here, where essentially schools that have the capacity (admission standards, administration buy-in, recruiting sell) to take transfers in the first place are almost inherently built to succeed. Expect some more on this as our transfer series continues.


Something new we'll be trying out, also — in this space throughout the offseason, we'll be sharing articles, videos, resources, etc. that the Hoop Vision community has enjoyed or recommended. It will be a mix of wonky hoops-specific breakdowns from others, plus some less esoteric content on basketball and team principles.

Whenever you come across anything you think might be educational, thought-provoking or otherwise useful for the Hoop Vision audience, feel free to pass it along!

Hoops: Tactical

NCAA: "Proposal would extend 3-point line in men's basketball"
(Published today)
If approved,  the latest proposed rule change for the upcoming season would move the three-point line back to the international distance of 22 feet, 1¾ inches. Remember, the current distance is 20 feet, 9 inches — and the NBA distance is 23 feet, 9 inches at top of the key, and 22 feet in the corners. The rationale for moving the line back, via the NCAA Rules Committee:Making the lane more available for dribble/drive plays from the perimeter.Slowing the trend of the 3-point shot becoming too prevalent in men’s college basketball by making the shot a bit more challenging, while at the same time keeping the shot an integral part of the game.Assisting in offensive spacing by requiring the defense to cover more of the court.

Kirk Goldsberry: "Kevin Durant was unstoppable -- so how do the Warriors replace him?" 
(ESPN, Published today)
With Kevin Durant out for the remainder of the Warriors' series against the Rockets and potentially the Western Conference Finals — if the Warriors get there — Goldsberry breaks down Durant's shot chart, how his absence affects the Rockets' defensive blueprint, and how other Warriors players will have to pick up the slack in specific matchups.

And sticking with the NBA, a cool GIF from @gnavas103 on Twitter — file this one in the "I wish I had thought of that" folder:

Hoops: In The Feels

Kevin O'Connor: "The Celtics, My Father, and Me"
(The Ringer, Published 1 week ago)
Missed this in last Friday's newsletter, but a terrific — albeit bittersweet — first-person piece from O'Connor on his relationship with his father and how their shared love for basketball nurtured their relationship through a cancer diagnosis and all that comes with it.

Book Recommendations

The Only Rule Is It Has to Work: Our Wild Experiment Building a New Kind of Baseball Team, by Ben Lindbergh and Sam Miller (Amazon)

Published in May 2017, this book is the story of two analytics-centric baseball writers who were given the keys to manage an independent minor-league baseball at their discretion. They used statistical models to add players to their roster directly based off of a spreadsheet, tinkered with different in-game strategies, and implemented technology to better to try to improve their decision making -- all while dealing with the human element of coaching/managing. It’s a very interesting read just for the story and final results of the team alone, but also to potentially inspire some innovation for your team/program/organization.


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