Among the key early themes emerging from college basketball’s 2023 transfer window is that some big-name guards are looking for new homes. Kentucky point guard Sahvir Wheeler and North Carolina combo guard Caleb Love each entered the portal on Monday as the ranks of Division I players on the move swelled to over 1,000. Then, on Tuesday, Jalen Cook from Tulane joined the bunch after finishing as the AAC’s second-leading scorer.
The group joined other talented guards such as Arizona’s Kerr Kriisa, Illinois‘ Skyy Clark and Notre Dame’s J.J. Starling in the group of notable names who will be handling the basketball for new teams next season. In fact, Clark (Louisville) and Starling (Syracuse) have already announced their transfer destinations.
There should be no shortage of suitors for the group of high-level guards, especially after transfer guards such as Miami’s Nigel Pack and Memphis‘ Kendric Davis played starring roles on NCAA Tournament teams after transferring in for the 2022-23 season. In the case of Wheeler, Love and Kriisa, all three played multiple seasons for prominent programs, spending time as starters while facing high-level competition. All three have their shortcomings along with their strengths, but are the types of transfers who could have a big impact on the 2023-24 season
Now more than ever before in college basketball, it is possible to flip the fortunes of a program within a single offseason if the right players are brought in through the portal. Players have until May 11 to enter the portal, though they can wait longer than that to announce their next school. The days of slowly developing multiple members of a large freshman class into contributors have mostly evaporated. In this era, part of building a successful team is scouring the transfer market for help.
Here at CBS Sports, we have distilled the massive number of transfers to a handful of names to know. For starters, here are the top 20 players in the portal as of March 29.
1. Kel’el Ware
Old school: Oregon
Ware played just 15.8 minutes per game as a freshman at Oregon after ranking as the No. 7 overall prospect in the Class of 2022, according to 247Sports. The seven-footer blocked 1.3 shots per game in that limited action, though, and was effective offensively inside the arc. He also showed some signs of a potential as a 3-point shooter. There was a logjam in the Ducks’ frontcourt, and Ware should be able to make an immediate impact as a rim protector and secondary offensive weapon at his new school. Ware has three seasons of eligibility remaining, but could be off to the NBA before using them all if things go well at his next stop.
2. Kerr Kriisa
Old school: Arizona
Kriisa started at point guard for the past two seasons at Arizona as the Wildcats became an offensive juggernaut under coach Tommy Lloyd. His strengths are 3-point shooting and facilitating as he made 36.6% of his 3-pointers and dished out 5.1 assists for the Pac-12 Tournament champions in 2022-23. Aside from his perimeter shooting, Kriisa is limited offensively, and he’s not a plus defender. But in total, he’s a proven, veteran point guard whose experience and fearlessness will be highly sought in the portal.
3. Sahvir Wheeler
Old school: Kentucky
Wheeler finished first or second in the SEC in assists each of the past three seasons, initially at Georgia and then at Kentucky for the past two seasons. He’s undersized and limited as a scorer but has proven himself to be a trusty traditional point guard over the past four seasons. If he’s surrounded by good 3-point shooters, he can be a game-changer for a program in need of an old-school guard to orchestrate its offense.
4. Caleb Love
Old school: North Carolina
Love is a former five-star prospect and McDonalds All-American who helped spark North Carolina’s stunning Final Four run in 2022. But he’s just a career 36% shooter from the floor and made only 29.9% of his 3-point attempts on a whopping 7.4 tries per game this past season. His assist-to-turnover ratio also leaves something to be desired. Overall, he’s a talented but glaringly inefficient offensive player who might fit best on an offensively challenged team that needs someone capable of creating their own shot.
5. Skyy Clark
Old school: Illinois | New school: Louisville
Clark played in 13 games for Illinois, starting 12, before announcing in January that he was stepping away from the program for personal reasons. Now, the former top-40 prospect is headed to Louisville where he’ll likely be the primary ball-handler. The Cardinals had no help for point guard El Ellis in Kenny Payne’s first season as coach. Landing Clark is a good start for the program in terms of fielding a competent backcourt.
6. Denver Jones
Old school: Florida International
Jones finished second in Conference USA in scoring at 20.1 points per game during his sophomore season on 37.1% 3-point shooting, 55.2% 2-point shooting and 84.5% free-throw shooting. The 6-foot-4 guard is the type of instant impact offensive player who can help fill a production gap for a team in need. He reached the 20-point mark in 17 of 28 games this past season.
7. J.J. Starling
Starling averaged 11.2 points per game as a freshman at Notre Dame after ranking as a five-star prospect in the Class of 2022. The 6-4 guard will be staying in the ACC as he heads to Syracuse where he will play a major role under first-year coach Adrian Autry. One obvious improvement opportunity for Starling is 3-point shooting after he made just shot just 29.9% of his attempts from beyond the arc as a freshman.
8. Jalen Cook
Old school: Tulane
Cook led a 20-win Tulane team in scoring at 19.9 points in the 2022-23 season and also led the team in assists with 4.9 per contest. He’s a bit undersized at 6-foot but is a career 36.9% 3-point shooter who shined as one of the AAC’s top scorers for two seasons after transferring from LSU following his freshman season. Defense isn’t Cook’s strength, but he could be a difference-maker on offense in a starting role for a high-major program.
9. Joe Girard
Old school: Syracuse
Girard quietly proved to be one of the sport’s best volume 3-point shooters during four years at Syracuse. He hit 40.3% of his long-range tries on 6.7 attempts per game last season and 38.1% on 7.2 attempts as a senior in 2022-23 while leading the Orange in scoring. At 6-1, he is undersized and limited defensively, especially after playing four seasons in Syracuse’s patented zone defense. But it’s easy to imagine Girard knocking down 3-pointers as a role player on an NCAA Tournament team.
10. TJ Bamba
Old school: Washington State
Bamba led Washington State in scoring at 15.8 points per game as a junior and should have two seasons of eligibility remaining. The 6-5 guard didn’t play particularly well against the Pac 12’s best teams this past season but is a career 38.5% 3-point shooter. He is also going through the NBA Draft exploration process. If he returns to college basketball, he would be a huge pickup for any team looking for a proven producer at shooting guard.
11. Jamison Battle
Old school: Minnesota
Battle is a 6-7 forward who averaged 17.5 points and 6.3 rebounds on 36.6% 3-point shooting in 2021-22 for Minnesota. But his shooting percentage and overall production dropped this past season as the Gophers continued to struggle. Ultimately, he is a versatile and experienced forward with a demonstrated track record of Big Ten production. On an NCAA Tournament team, his ceiling would likely be as a solid role player.
12. Khalif Battle
Old school: Temple
Battle ranked fourth in the AAC in scoring at 17.9 points per game for Temple in his fourth season of college basketball. The 6-5 guard has struggled with injuries during his career but has proven to be a dynamic and explosive offensive player when healthy. One downside is that he needs to improve as a defender to be a high-impact starter for a better team. Part of Battle’s appeal is that he should have two seasons of eligibility after his 2021-22 campaign was limited to seven games due to injury.
13. Fardaws Aimaq
Old school: Texas Tech
Aimaq is the former WAC Player of the Year at Utah Valley who transferred to Texas Tech last season but played in just 11 games because of injuries. In that limited action, the 6-11 center averaged 11.1 points and 7.9 rebounds, which demonstrated that he can be productive in a rugged league. Aimaq is a serviceable rim protector and has shown the ability to step out and make 3-pointers over the past two seasons.
14. Brandon Murray
Old school: Georgetown
Assessing Murray’s performance at Georgetown is tough since the Hoyas were just 7-25 (2-18 Big East) in the 2022-23 season. He averaged 13.7 points per game but made just 31.8% of his 3-pointers. The 6-foot-5 shooting guard also averaged 10.0 points per game as a freshman on an LSU team that reached the NCAA Tournament. He’s a good athlete and good defender, which makes it easy to imagine Murray slotting in as the No. 3 option or sixth man on a good power conference team.
15. Jared Bynum
Old school: Providence
Bynum is an undersized but battle-tested guard after playing heavy minutes at Providence the last three years. He’s just a career 33% 3-point shooter but averaged 4.3 assists this past season against just 1.6 turnovers. He also made 83.1% of his free throws in 2022-23, which is a nice characteristic for a point guard.
16. Graham Ike
Old school: Wyoming
Ike led a 25-9 Wyoming team in scoring and rebounding during the 2021-22 season with 19.5 points and 9.6 rebounds before missing the 2022-23 season due to injury. If the 6-9 big man can return close to 100%, he could be a multi-year contributor for a NCAA Tournament team. While his sheer production jumps off the page, Ike does have limitations since he is not a shot blocker or an outside shooting threat.
17. Rienk Mast
Old school: Bradley
Mast averaged 13.8 points, eight rebounds and 2.4 assists for a Bradley squad that won the Missouri Valley Conferene regular-season title before falling one game short of reaching the NCAA Tournament. At 6-9, he is not much of a rim protector, but he can step out and hit 3-pointers. The Netherlands native should have two seasons of eligibility and has the tools to challenge for a starting spot at a power conference program.
Old school: Iona
Clayton won MAAC Player of the Year while leading Iona in scoring and helping the Gaels to an NCAA Tournament appearance as a sophomore. The 6-2 guard hit 43.1% of his 3-pointers on 5.2 attempts per game and also averaged 3.2 assists and 1.8 steals. He has the makings of a high-major contributor.
Old school: Ole Miss
Brakefield averaged 11.1 points and 5.7 rebounds per game for Ole Miss this past season and has two seasons of eligibility remaining. The 6-foot-8 forward began his career at Duke as a four-star prospect in 2020-21 and has a tantalizing combination of size and offensive skill. The downside is that he rated as the Rebels’ worst defender, per evanmiya.com. If he can develop in that area, he could be a solid addition to a good team’s rotation.
20. Jae’Lyn Withers
Old school: Louisville
Somewhere inside the 6-8, 230-pound frame of Withers is an excellent college basketball player and maybe even an NBA prospect. The former four-star prospect earned ACC All-Freshman honors in 2020-21 for a respectable Cardinals’ squad before regressing offensively over the past two seasons amid chaos within the program. Withers ranked as Louisville’s best defender this season, per evanmiya.com, and the right coach will be able to build off the potential Withers showed earlier in his career.