As the summer turns to autumn, all 362 division-one basketball programs begin their preparations for the upcoming season, which tips off on November 6th. In this ‘new era’ of collegiate athletics, the transfer portal and NIL play a significant part in how coaches address building their roster, which begs the question: Who won the summer? Of course, being a winner during the summer in college basketball does not necessarily mean that a program obtained all of the highly touted transfers. Being able to retain players that could have potentially jumped into the portal or the NBA draft can benefit a roster as much as adding through the portal. There are a handful of teams that excelled in one, or multiple, of these areas more than the others.
The post-Jay Wright era of Villanova basketball got off to a rough start last year, as Kyle Neptune’s squad struggled out of the gates and never recovered. Anything that could have gone wrong did for the Wildcats in a 17-17 campaign, as their top two options in Cam Whitmore and Justin Moore battled through injuries and every close game appeared to go against them. Now moving to the present day, the Wildcats look much improved, returning the aforementioned Moore on the perimeter along with Eric Dixon (15.4 PPG, 6.6 RPG) in the post. Kyle Neptune also did significant work in the portal, adding Richmond transfer Tyler Burton, Washington State transfer TJ Bamba, and Maryland transfer Hakim Hart. This trio of transfers could go down as the best transfer class in the country. Burton was an extremely skilled wing at Richmond, with great ability to get downhill and finish at the rim. Bamba is seen more as an outside threat, shooting 37% from three last year on just under five attempts per game. Hart will likely play along with Eric Dixon in the frontcourt, playing a ‘glue guy’ type of role where he will be asked to do a little bit of everything from scoring to being an energetic defender. Kyle Neptune’s utilization of the portal at Fordham was the key to his success there, and it will be interesting to see if it carries over to power-six basketball.
Last year was a weird year for the Jayhawks, who won the Big 12 once again, but failed to make the second weekend in the NCAA tournament. There were apparent cracks in that team last year, ultimately leading to their tough loss to Arkansas in the tournament. Although the departures of Gradey Dick and Jalen Wilson leave a lot of offensive production up for grabs, Bill Self went into the portal and got a couple of pieces that can come close to replicating, or even out producing that duo. Hunter Dickinson, arguably the best player in the portal, transferred in from Michigan. Dickinson is an extremely gifted big man on the offensive side of the ball, and his defensive flaws can be protected by KJ Adams, giving the Jayhawks a frontcourt with unlimited potential. In the backcourt, Kansas retained Dajuan Harris and Kevin McCullar and joined them with Towson transfer Nicholas Timberlake. The slick scoring Timberlake should be very effective playing off of Harris, who is one of the best distributing point guards in America. This retooling job done by Bill Self continues to show why he is the best coach in college basketball, evolving to the modern era and building a strong roster once again that should compete for its second championship in three years come March.
Florida had its dominant run atop college basketball during the late 2000s, but ever since the departure of Billy Donovan, the Gators’ ability to recruit and develop NBA talent has fallen off severely. Mike White’s tenure always seemed to revolve around the theme of consistent disappointment, and last year, San Francisco coach Todd Golden was brought in to right the ship. In his first season, the Gators failed to make the NCAA tournament, largely due to their inconsistency on the offensive side of the ball. To address that, Golden got a plethora of talented players through the portal, giving the Gators a much better outlook for this season. UC Riverside transfer Zyon Pullin and Iona transfer Walter Clayton Jr. headline the class, and are poised to form a dynamic offensive trio with Riley Kugel coming back. In addition to that, Golden brought in several other transfers, like Tyrese Samuel from Seton Hall, who can be an energetic piece inside. EJ Jarvis, Micah Handlogten, and Julian Rishwain are all additions that give the Gators quality depth as well. The big contenders in the SEC appear to be Kentucky, Arkansas, Tennessee, and Alabama, but don’t be surprised if Todd Golden’s Gators are right there with them come SEC play.
Mark Few’s Bulldogs have become a model of consistency at a national level, making it to eight consecutive Sweet 16s. In fact, the past four seasons might have been some of Few’s best work, as the Zags would be the top overall seed in the NCAA Tournament for two of those years, while still obtaining a three seed in their “down year” last year. However, the future held a lot of doubt and concern with the graduation of All-American Drew Timme, leaving Few to replace one of the most productive players this sport has seen in the past decade. In addition to that, the Zags backcourt play last year was not up to standard, often hurting them in big games. Fortunately for Few, he was able to snag Ryan Nembhard out of the portal, the brother of former Gonzaga star Andrew Nembhard. Ryan is a major upgrade from Nolan Hickman in terms of a primary ball handler. Hickman is still back this year, and with a reduced role on offense, he should be able to perform better overall. Of course, the big question for the Zags this year is what will they do to replace not only Timme, but first round NBA draft pick Julian Strawther. Although they are not perfect one-for-one replacements, the addition of Graham Ike and Steele Venters give the Zags an interior presence on offense and a three level scorer on the wing. Additionally, Anton Watson is expected to take a step forward after showing signs of being one of the top ‘glue guys’ in the nation last year. Watson can do a little bit of everything and will be the key for Gonzaga improving defensively in this year’s campaign. Although this year’s edition of Gonzaga basketball is not as top-heavy as years past, Mark Few’s portal additions give the Zags some much needed depth that will have them contending for that elusive national title once again.
Jamie Dixon’s Horned Frogs are coming off a solid season last year, all things considered. Injuries to key starters like Mike Miles Jr. and stretches of historically bad shooting could’ve derailed a season that the Frogs had a lot of potential in, but they battled through to a second straight year with an NCAA Tournament win. TCU returns a lot of pieces from last year, including Emmanuel Miller, Chuck O’Bannon Jr., JaKobe Coles, and Micah Peavy, but lose their best player from last year in All-Big 12 performer Miles. The loss of Miles is significant, but the additions of Oklahoma State transfer Avery Anderson III and Delaware transfer Jameer Nelson Jr. give the Horned Frogs a solid pair of guards to match along with their abundant depth of wings. Of all the additions that Dixon made, the best could very well end up being Kansas transfer Ernest Udeh. Udeh was a phenomenal piece of the bench last year for the Jayhawks, showing elite defensive ability with his lengthy frame. Udeh’s size combined with his motor makes him one of the premier lob threat/rim protecting bigs in the country, and with more playing time coming his way, a breakout seems to be on the horizon. TCU’s identity as of late has been dominating the boards and winning games with defense, and these portal additions allow for them to continue embracing that style, while giving them some go-to options on the offensive end.
In the end, these five programs could have taken a step back in 2023-2024, but these coaches made the right moves to assure that they are primed to progress in this upcoming season. Obviously, these teams are not on the same tier, but they all made the right moves during the summer and were able to maximize their outlook for the 2023-2024 season.