A crazy season that saw one of the greatest teams in college basketball history go down in epic fashion proved just one thing: in the NCAA Tournament, any squad is a threat to win it all.
Thanks to a recent decision by the NCAA allowing any player a one-time transfer without having to sit out, the entire blueprint of college basketball has changed seemingly overnight. Rather than hoping to build up a program of young potential stars, coaches can now look towards the transfer ranks for ready-made pieces that could be their 'missing link'.
Even though several coaches have expressed dismay at the sport's shifting landscape, the reality is that the move gives players some much-needed agency. Instead of hampering their ability to find the best situation for their basketball careers, the NCAA has now allowed athletes to find the situation that works best for them. Here are five newcomers who could shake up this year's title race in a major way, due to both their ability and fit on the roster.
*Statistics courtesy of Sports Reference CBB
5. Walker Kessler - Auburn
One of the most shocking moves of the 2021 transfer portal was Walker Kessler's decision to leave North Carolina after just one year. His departure caught UNC so off-guard that it was rumored to have played a role in the retirement of longtime head coach Roy Williams.
However, Kessler's move makes sense. The former five-star's talent is undeniable, but he was trapped on the Tar Heels' depth chart behind more experienced big men in returning senior Armando Bacot and newly signed transfer and fifth-year senior Brady Manek. The Georgia native averaged just 4.4 points per game and started in none of his 29 appearances in 2020-21. Still, there were obvious flashes of brilliance, such as his near-triple double (with eight blocks) against Notre Dame in the ACC Tournament.
Kessler now shifts to an Auburn Tigers group that will count on him to be an integral part of their four-out, one-in offensive scheme. With incoming freshman five-star forward Jabari Smith, the Tigers will be able to switch the two out depending on the situation. Kessler, who was unable to display his shooting ability, can draw out slower big men to the three-point arc, giving Smith room to operate inside the paint. It will be interesting to see how Auburn coach Bruce Pearl uses Kessler, and how different his game may look away from Chapel Hill.
4. Qudus Wahab - Maryland
During Georgetown's improbable run to a Big East championship, much of the focus was (rightfully) placed on freshman phenom Dante Harris, who won the Most Outstanding Player of the tournament. However, big man Qudus Wahab had a terrific season, and tournament, in his own right. The lanky 6'11 center averaged 12.7 points, 8.2 rebounds, and 1.6 blocks per game during the regular season and was named to the Big East Tournament team.
Why leave the Hoyas you may be asking? Despite the helpful presence of legendary center and current head coach Patrick Ewing, Georgetown's upcoming class of recruits includes four-star Ryan Mutombo, son of Hall of Fame shot-blocker Dikembe Mutombo. With minutes likely to be contested by the freshman phenom, Wahab instead transfers to a Maryland Terrapins team in need of an inside presence.
Maryland, coming off an NCAA appearance and Round of 64 win, enters the 2021-22 season with high expectations. Many analysts, such as NCAA.com's Andy Katz, are high on the Terps in their preseason Big 10 predictions, with Katz going as far to say that they are the favorites to win the conference. Not only does Maryland add Wahab, but also talented former Rhode Island guard Fats Russell, giving them much-needed depth at multiple positions. As far as Wahab goes, his move to College Park should pay dividends for a group that was the second-worst rebounding team in the Big 10 last season.
3. Quincy Guerrier - Oregon
During the Syracuse's stellar run to the Sweet Sixteen, the smaller Orangemen were often forced to use 6'7 forward Quincy Guerrier inside the paint, where he had to do the 'dirty work' such as fighting for boards and setting screens to get shooters open. While he did a good job in this role, it was clear that it was not necessarily one that played to his strengths.
Now, the All-ACC Team selection joins an Oregon crew on the rise. Unlike what was run by Jim Boeheim and Syracuse, Dana Altman's Ducks utilize a spread offense. In this scheme, big men are given the opportunity to make plays and shoot from behind the arc. Guerrier has the talent to become a threat from outside of the paint, but we have yet to see it on a consistent basis. At Syracuse, he shot just .311 from three-point range. Regardless of if he is able to find his shooting stroke as a Duck, Guerrier gives Oregon, the 310th ranked rebounding team in the nation, size and toughness to compliment their talented guard rotation.
Even though he was not a marksman by any means last season, the move to Eugene makes sense for Guerrier. Versatility, ball handling, and perimeter shooting are skills that NBA scouts are always looking for, especially with today's new breed of big men. The Ducks are a legitimate title contender who are adding five-star recruit Nate Bittle to play center as well. The freshman's presence, along with Altman's offensive play calling, should free up Guerrier on the outside while still maintaining a level of size down low that Oregon has not possessed in years.
2. James Akinjo - Baylor
Fresh off of a dominant NCAA Championship run, the Baylor Bears head into the 2021-22 season with some uncertainty. The departures of Jared Butler, MaCio Teague, Davion Mitchell, and Mark Vital have forced Scott Drew to look to the transfer portal for additional playmakers, something he has relied on often during his 18-year head coaching tenure in Waco. This year, he may have found a perfect fit in senior James Akinjo.
Akinjo, a former student athlete at both Georgetown and Arizona, has the chance to play major minutes right away at guard. With the aforementioned losses of Butler, Teague, and Mitchell, the perimeter-centric formula that made Baylor so dynamic on offense is in need of a tweak. Akinjo's game is similar in many ways to the guards that left Baylor this offseason. He can drive to the rim, shoot efficiently (40