EAST LANSING, Mich. — Michigan State coach Tom Izzo is not a big fan of the transfer portal, lamenting that it gives young athletes an easy out instead of an opportunity to overcome challenges.
“I’ll say until the day I die, I do not see anything good for the players in it,” Izzo said Tuesday.
The seventh-seeded Spartans, however, would not be in the Sweet 16 for the 15th time under their Hall of Fame coach without former Northeastern guard Tyson Walker and ex-Marquette forward Joey Hauser.
The Spartans, of course, are not alone in relying on transfers. Not anymore. They are all over March Madness.
Third-seeded Kansas State, which will face the Spartans on Thursday night in New York, has relied heavily on transfers with 12 on its roster under first-year coach Jerome Tang. Former Florida forward Keyontae Johnson and ex-Arkansas-Little Rock guard Markquis Nowell, both of whom earned third-team All-America recognition, are starring for the Wildcats.
UCLA and Princeton are bucking the trend because they’re still in the Tournament without a transfer player.
Izzo could have dipped back into the portal to bolster this season’s team after losing his top three scorers and a solid post player from last year’s team. Instead, he chose to stick with the players he had after they chose to stay.
“There’s something they believed in here,” Izzo said. “That’s the beauty of sticking together. And if it carries us through the weekend, it’ll be one of the great life lessons learned.”
No. 4 seed Tennessee vs. No. 9 seed Florida Atlantic
Like many transfers, Tyreke Key left a smaller program (Indiana State) for a bigger one and the Volunteers are glad he did. After sophomore point guard Zakai Zeigler tore a knee ligament in the final week of the regular season, Key became even more valuable for the postseason.
Vladislav Goldin, meanwhile, went against the grain by leaving a larger school for a mid-major program. The 7-foot-1, shot-blocking Russian bolted from Texas A&M to play for the Owls in search of more playing time. He found what he was looking at FAU, starting in 33 games.
No. 1 seed Alabama vs. No. 5 seed San Diego State
All-America freshman forward Brandon Miller leads the Crimson Tide on the court, but key roles have been filled by a few transfers, including Mark Sears. The former Ohio University guard trails only Miller in scoring and has provided much-needed, 3-point shooting.
Four of San Diego State’s top five scorers are transfers, including former California standout Matt Bradley, who is averaging a team-high 13 points per game.
No. 6 seed Creighton vs. No. 15 seed Princeton
The Bluejays have two transfers, two more than the Tigers. Baylor Scheierman starts and Francisco Farabello comes off the bench for Creighton. Scheierman was the Summit League player of the year last year at South Dakota State and Farabello played at TCU for three seasons.
No. 1 seed Houston vs. No. 5 seed Miami
The Courgars have recruited and developed most of their best players, but former Arkansas forward Reggie Chaney is in the rotation. The Hurricanes second-, third- and fourth-leading scorers are transfers: Jordan Miller (George Mason), Norchad Omier (Arkansas State) and Nijel Pack (Kansas State).
No. 2 seed Texas vs. No. 3 seed Xavier
The Longhorns often have four transfers in their starting lineup and leading scorer, Marcus Carr, has left two schools. The former Pittsburgh and Minnesota guard along with ex-New Mexico State guard Sir’Jabari Rice, the team’s second-leading scorer, are in their sixth season of college. Carr and Rice took advantage of an extra year of eligibility that the NCAA gave athletes if they were in school when the pandemic started.
Souley Boum, who started his career at San Francisco and went on to become a star at New Mexico State, leads the Musketeers with 16.5 points a game and is also in his sixth year of college. Former Iowa forward Jack Nunge, ex-Belmont guard Adam Kunkel and former Indiana forward Adam Kunkel are also among Xavier’s top players.
No. 2 seed UCLA vs. No. 3 seed Gonzaga
While the Bruins have no transfers, the Zags have Rasir Bolton, who ranks fourth on the team in scoring, played at Penn State and for Iowa State before landing at Gonzaga. Malachi Smith went from Wright State to Chattanooga before choosing a lesser role at Gonzaga.
No. 4 seed UConn vs. No. 8 seed Arkansas
The Huskies’ backcourt is full of transfers. Former East Carolina star Tristen Newton runs the point, averaging 10-plus points and nearly five assists per game. Grad student Joey Calcaterra spent four years at San Diego and Nahiem Alleyne was a three-year starter at Virginia Tech.
The Razorbacks are in the Sweet 16 for a third straight year in part because coach Eric Musselman has made good use of the portal. Former Wichita State guard Ricky Council leads Arkansas in scoring and Makhi Mitchell, who played at Maryland and Rhode Island, is one of team’s top rebounders and scores seven points a game.