Greener Pastures

[Bump.  And a fine Memorial Day to everyone.  --LVS.]

Travis and David Wear Chris Allen

Justin Cobbs recently decided to become the third departure from Minnesota this off-season (with the embattled Trevor Mbakwe threatening to make it four). This comes hard on the heels of the transfer of former McDonald's All-Americans Travis and David Wear from one super-elite program in rebuilding mode (UNC) to another (UCLA) in what has become a busy off-season for leaving or changing schools. With rumors of Chris Allen's possible transfer from Michigan State still "swirling" I thought it might be interesting to take a look at the current list of D1 departers and see if it provides any insight into the transfer decision (the up-to-date list, courtesy of Jeff Goodman, is here).

First, here's a list of transfers of interest to Michigan State and Big Ten watchers. Many of these were Fan-Shotted or commented on as they came up, but it's interesting to seem them in a group.

Player Position Yr. Old School New School
Jeff Jordan G Jr. Illinois Central Florida
Stan Simpson C RS Fr. Illinois
Aaron Fuller F Soph. Iowa USC
Anthony Tucker G Soph. Iowa Winona State
Tom Herzog C Jr. Michigan State Central Florida
Justin Cobbs G Fr. Minnesota California
Paul Carter G Jr. Minnesota Illinois-Chicago
Royce White F Fr. Minnesota
Kyle Rowley C Soph. Northwestern
Bill Edwards F Fr. Penn State Miami (OH)
Chris Babb G Soph. Penn State Iowa State


The biggest name on this list is probably Aaron Fuller, who was a budding star at Iowa but continues the exodus of players unhappy with Todd Lickliter's program or pessimistic about Fran McCaffery's. He is joined by the troubled Anthony Tucker. Minnesota continues to shed players from their highly-ranked 2009 recruiting class. Cobbs and White are joined by upperclassman Carter, who wanted to be closer to his sister and her battle with cancer. Bruce Weber apparently did not have enough minutes available at Illinois for Stan Simpson and the enigmatic Jeff Jordan. Tom Herzog left the Spartans, where he was looking at stealing a few minutes, at best, from Derrick Nix, Garrick Sherman, Adreian Payne and Alex Gauna in his final year of eligibility. Penn State, like Iowa, appears to be having a basketball culture problem and they continue to struggle to attract and retain talent. They lose up-and-comer Chris Babb, who preferred Fred Hoiberg's NBA connections to the wreckage of an 11-20 season under Ed DeChellis, and Bill Edwards, who is returning to his home state of Ohio. Kyle Rowley left Northwestern for more playing time. The other interesting thing about this list, of course, is that all the transfers are outbound. Nobody seems to feel the need to escape the chaotic pace and offense-first style of the Mountain West or the WAC for the rigor and discipline of the Big Ten.

Here's another subset of the transfer list that may be of interest to Spartan Fans:

Player Position Yr. Old School New School
Tom Herzog C Jr. Michigan State Central Florida
Emmanuel Negedu F RS Fr. Tennessee New Mexico
Elston Turner G Soph. Washington Texas A & M
Clarence Trent F Fr. Washington Seattle
Givon Crump SG Fr. Baylor

This represents the complete list of players leaving programs that made the Sweet 16. This must, I think, have some bearing on the Chris Allen situation. More than anything else (most) players want to win, and, this year at least, it's not very common to leave a team that's winning on the big stage. Even with the mass early exodus for the NBA draft, many of the borderline players who were in top-flight programs elected to return (Durrell Summers, JaJuan Johnson, Kyle Singler, et al.).

Players and coaches, of course, rarely openly discuss the real reasons for transfers. Sometimes the player was going to get kicked out of the program anyway. Sometimes there were intractable personality conflicts between player and coach, or player's family and coach, or among players. Sometimes it just doesn't seem to be a good fit, for no specific reason. The most common reasons given publicly for a transfer are the following:

  1. Desire to be closer to family, friends
  2. Dissatisfaction with coach's philosophy/style of play
  3. Lack of available minutes

In the case of Chris Allen, none of these really seems to tell the tale. Although he is from Georgia I haven't heard anything to suggest he's homesick. In fact his mother has been emphatic in her pronouncements that Allen would be staying at State. And as far as 2 and 3 go, Allen seemed to be really "buying into" Izzo's program and was taking pride in his increasing role as a defensive stopper. And his minutes have increased substantially over his three years, with no indication of a decreased role for the coming season.

Another sensible-sounding reason for questioning Allen's desire to transfer is that he's about to start his senior year and would have to sit out a whole year to play just one more at an unfamiliar program. Post-junior transfers are less common than freshmen or sophomores certainly, but of this year's 318 (and counting) transfers, 64 were juniors last year. This includes Jeff Jones, leaving Virginia because he felt his role was limited, Justin Knox, who had an opportunity to get minutes at North Carolina with the departure of the Wear twins and Ed Davis, and Roburt Sallie, who is leaving Memphis but will not have to sit out a year as he has graduated.

To state the obvious, however, every transfer decision is unique - and subject to factors that outsiders have no idea about (but love to speculate!). The one statistical indicator I might bring into play here is one that I buried in a comment thread the last time such rumors were being "mongered". Chris Allen's change of role this year was statistically highly unusual, almost as unusual as Evan Turner's assumption of complete dominance at Ohio State after a fairly ordinary freshman year. For those of you who inexplicably chose not to click through to the post, here's the gist:

Though not as dramatic as Turner’s evolution, Allen’s transformation in a different direction is very much an outlier. Allen went from a usage rate of 23.6% as a freshman (23.7% last year) to 17.8% this year [Note: after the postseason this dropped even further to 16.9%, though of course he was hurt]. Pomeroy doesn’t provide the raw numbers in the article, but that looks like it’s just at or outside the 95% line on the other end of the range. Allen has completely transformed himself from primary offensive option to 3-point/defensive specialist. He’s now David Lighty ‘Lite’ (or Jeremy Nash with a much better jumper).

This may be reflective of Allen accepting a new role, but it's also not hard to imagine that it could be a source of discontent for a player used to being a go-to guy and carrying much of the shooting load. But for now, until I hear from Allen or Izzo, I remain skeptical about his departure.

This is a FanPost, written by a member of the TOC community. It does not represent the official positions of The Only Colors, Inc.--largely because we have no official positions.

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