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The Truth About Transfers (Or Something Like That)

By now you've all heard the news:  Reggie Smith announced Monday that he's transferring from Marquette University, effective, like, now.  Predictably, the standard reactions to such an announcement have come flooding in.   Fans have expressed a variety of sentiments from: "The kid obviously wasn't tough enough to make it here, good riddance" to "This is obviously a sign that we have a serious problem here and I think we may need to be worried about Buzz Williams' ability to lead this program."  Others have simply chalked this up as another kid letting his parents, who think he's better than he really is, lead him away from the program - the "Maymon Scenario."  Badger fans, always eager to offer their two cents, have chimed in with accusations of Buzz being a liar and promising the world to every recruit he brings in.  They've also kindly pointed out that Reggie Smith clearly doesn't care about academics and will never get his PhD, walk on Mars and cure cancer like every student athlete at UW-Madison will.

Undoubtedly the truth lies somewhere in between all of that nonsense.  For whatever reason, the kid and his family felt that Marquette wasn't the best for him and his basketball future.  That's fine.  We wish him the best, no hard feelings.  But what the real question is, "What does this mean for Marquette?"  This is the second mid-season transfer in as many years.  And Smith's transfer makes him the 4th player to transfer out of the program in the past two years.  (And I'm not even counting Liam McMorrow, who sat out and then was never medically cleared to play in his one season at Marquette.  If you want to include him go ahead, but I'd say he only counts as a half a transfer.  So, if you want, you can call it 4.5 transfers.)  Alarmists and Badger fans will say this is a sign that there is something seriously wrong with the program and with Coach Buzz.  Those who want to try and remain positive, despite the way things may look, will say every program has transfers, these are all kids that couldn't cut it anyway, and this is no big deal.

So we revved up the Anonymous Eagle Research Department* to see just how Marquette's recent string of transfers stacks up against other Big East programs, and others around the country.

*Anonymous Eagle Research Department = me + Google

Jump for random statistics

First, a lot was made today out of Buzz Williams' comment today that he wasn't concerned and that "40% of freshmen across the country are transferring."  A number of people were quick to jump on that line as Buzz being full of crap, or just trying to do some damage control.  There's one thing I've learned in the past three years: you don't want to argue statistics with Buzz Williams.  Professional journalist Todd Rosiak pointed to this item - a letter from the NABC to Division I coaches regarding the elimination of the July evaluation period - as proof that Buzz knew what he was talking about.  I'll spare you the entire letter.  Here's the pertinent part.

In light of the fact that 40% of our incoming freshmen leave the institution they signed to attend by the end of their sophomore year, an action, such as the elimination of July evaluation, would add to the problem of retaining student-athletes.

In short: if anyone out there really thinks Buzz is just pulling numbers out of his ass, don't bet on it.

As for how Marquette stacks up with other Big East schools, I scoured a number of college basketball blogs to try to compile a list of players that have transferred out of Big East programs in the last two years (that is, since August 2009, when Brett Roseboro left Marquette).  Based on what I was able to dig up, Marquette definitely has one of the highest number of transfers in the entire conference.  MU had five players on the 2010 transfer list, including McMorrow.  That was the second highest in the entire league.  Only Rutgers, which fired its (possibly insane) coach and is a program in complete disarray, had more transfers with seven.  The next closest schools were Providence (4) and UConn (3).  Going back to 2009, Marquette's five transfers again rank behind only Rutgers (8) and ties MU with Providence.  Seton Hall, St. John's and UConn are all at four. 

The good news, then, is that while Marquette's transfers are numerous, they are not completely out of line with other teams in the conference.  The bad news, however, is the teams that they are in line with are teams like Rutgers, Seton Hall, St. John's and Providence.  You might recognize them as the teams that have occupied the bottom third of the Big East standings for the majority of the last five years -- and half of those teams were coached, until this season, by probable sociopaths.  Obviously, these are not teams that you would like your program being mentioned alongside.  You'll notice the perennial top teams in the league are not mentioned on this list.  Villanova, Pitt, Syracuse and Georgetown have a combined three transfers in the past two years.

When you extend the comparison outside of the Big East, you begin to find the company a bit more favorable.  The following are notable programs that have had four or more players transfer out over the last year: Arizona State, Iowa State, Ole Miss, Oregon, St. Joe's, UCLA, Utah, Virginia and Washington State.  While these aren't the dregs of college basketball society, you'll notice one thing they all have in common: none of 'em made the NCAA Tournament in 2010.  Clearly, this is not a plan for long term success.

Lastly, I remind everyone that transfers do happen.  They happen to everyone, and they happen with some very highly touted players.  In 2008, Georgetown lost both a McDonald's All-American in Vernon Macklin, and the son of an NBA star (and Marquette legend) in Jeremiah Rivers.  UConn lost the No. 10 prospect in the country when Curtis Kelly transferred to Kansas State. It happens.  And to this point, the players MU has lost have been, at best, role players and, at worst, bench warmers (with the jury still being out on Smith, of course).  It's not as if the players that have left are guys that we anticipated being cornerstones of the program.  Buzz and Co. already have a point guard committed to help fill the void next year. 

So yes, Reggie's departure hurts.  It hurts the depth of the team this year and removes a guy who would be playing with a year of Big East experience under his belt next year.  That, and it's kind of a bummer because we had kind of taken a liking to the kid.  And I don't think this is a trend that can continue if we hope to have success going forward.  But it isn't the end of the world.  It isn't an indictment of Buzz Williams or the program.  And it certainly isn't grounds for heating up anyone's seat.  Let's hope that the team can rally like it did last year, and make another push to the Big Dance.  If that happens, then Reggie Smith becomes just a footnote to the season.