It's getting difficult to win a championship in women's college basketball without a little help from transfers. Whether South Carolina's Kaela Davis and Allisha Gray in 2017, Notre Dame's Jessica Shepard in 2018 or Baylor's Chloe Jackson in 2019, fresh starts turned into titles.
The coronavirus pandemic halted that streak when it wiped out the 2020 NCAA tournament. But a day before the Final Four would have started, Destiny Slocum announced she was leaving Oregon State and entering the transfer portal. And so began a new championship race.
We don't know exactly what the 2020-21 season will look like. We aren't entirely sure it will begin on time in November. But whether graduate transfers who are eligible immediately or players who will have to sit out in anticipation of the 2021-22 season, players and programs have been busy plotting new futures through the transfer portal.
Who were the winners and losers during the heart of the transfer season?
Arkansas: It is a one-person class. But it is a special class. Not only was Slocum the best transfer available, but the new arrival who is immediately eligible brings experience with the process of adjusting to new surroundings. She went through all of this before when she transferred from Maryland to Oregon State. That's no small consideration with all of the added uncertainty transfers will face amidst a pandemic and its effect on university life. Without Slocum, Arkansas might have struggled to duplicate its first winning SEC record in nearly a decade. With the guard, who complements Chelsea Dungee and eases the loss of both Alexis Tolefree's scoring and A'Tyanna Gaulden's playmaking, the Razorbacks can aspire to even more.
Kentucky: It is a different kind of success story for the second SEC team on this list. Where Arkansas went for a concentrated short-term gain, Kentucky added long-term depth as it looks ahead to Rhyne Howard's senior campaign in the 2021-22 season. Given the increasing uncertainty about what the upcoming season will even look like, Kentucky's long-term approach looks better and better. Barring any unforeseen waivers, Robyn Benton (Auburn), Jazmine Massengill (Tennessee) and Olivia Owens (Maryland) will all sit out this season. But they will be around their new teammates in practice, which means versatile guards in Benton and Massengill and a true post in Owens should be up to speed as likely starters alongside the position-defying Howard in 2021-22.
Baylor: Kim Mulkey is darn good at developing centerpieces, with junior forward NaLyssa Smith being the latest in a line of homegrown All-Americans. But Baylor's coach is also as adept as anyone at outsourcing complementary stars. Enter DiJonai Carrington, the graduate transfer from Stanford who follows Chloe Jackson (LSU) and Te'a Cooper (Tennessee and South Carolina) in that role. Like her predecessors who each led the team in field goal attempts in their lone seasons, Carrington is a scorer who nonetheless doesn't require an offense built around her. If her body allows it, and past injuries will be a concern, she might even be the best of the exclusive-but-expanding club of Baylor transfers. Mulkey also landed excellent insurance in case the graduate pipeline dries up next year, adding sophomore guard Jaden Owens from UCLA.
North Carolina: There isn't necessarily an ACC Player of the Year candidate in the group, but putting Petra Holešínská, Stephanie Watts and Ariel Young on the court this season should transform Courtney Banghart's second year in Chapel Hill. Watts is quite familiar to ACC fans as the league's former freshman of the year. Even if injuries take some toll after sitting out two of the past three seasons, including the 2019-20 season at USC, the graduate transfer is a 15.5 PPG career scorer. Another graduate transfer and Illinois' leading scorer a season ago, Holešínská should be well suited to providing 3-point cover on a more competitive team -- something the Tar Heels desperately need to round out their offense this season. And Young, whose mother, Carolyn, was a 1992 Olympian, is a former top-100 prospect who was able to practice with the Tar Heels for a portion of the 2019-20 season after transferring from Michigan.
Texas A&M: Replacing WNBA lottery pick Chennedy Carter was always likely to be more than a one-season project. Not necessarily because the results were spectacular this past season but because a player who both the offense and the program's public profile is built around exerts a gravitational effect on an entire program. So Gary Blair's team is certainly poised for good things in 2021-22 with transfers Destiny Pitts and Zaay Green on the court. The wild card is what Pitts can offer in the 2020-21 season. It still seems likely she'll have to sit out as a transfer who committed to Texas A&M in May. But if there is a means to play at least a portion of this season, her 3-point shooting and scoring would be a welcome complement for a veteran lineup.
Florida State: Arguably no program better mixed help now with help in the future in the transfer scramble. For the upcoming season, Florida State added graduate transfer Tiana England from St. John's. The point guard isn't just immediately eligible but fills an immediate need with all-conference point guard Nicki Ekhomu gone and the Seminoles likely to rely on ensemble scoring with Kiah Gillespie also gone. In England and former South Carolina transfer Bianca Jackson, the backcourt appears in good shape. Long term, Auburn transfer Erin Howard and Arizona State transfer Sara Bejedi are also good additions. With three seasons of eligibility remaining, and given Florida State's history with international players, Finland's Bejedi is particularly intriguing.
DePaul: UConn's Big East return means the Blue Demons transition back to the role of challenger after ruling the league for much of the time UConn competed in the American Athletic Conference. But changing the label doesn't change a program that resides on the cusp of the championship echelon. So how does Doug Bruno do it year after year? Adding the likes of Jorie Allen and Courtney Fredrickson doesn't hurt. If history is any indication, both players who went largely under the radar in Power 5 programs will thrive in DePaul's up-tempo style. They'll likely have to wait a year on the 6-foot-1 Allen, who transferred from Indiana after her freshman season. But Fredrickson, a 6-foot-2 graduate transfer from Wisconsin, could help in an ensemble that fills the void left by all-conference forward Chante Stonewall. Injuries all but wiped out the past two seasons, but she averaged 8.9 PPG and 5.6 RPG with 3-point range as a sophomore starter for the Badgers.
Transfers aren't a zero-sum game. Sometimes the player and both programs involved really can all come away no worse for the process. But not every time. Whether slowing a championship progression, delaying rebuilding or simply decimating a roster, some losses sting a bit more.
Auburn: It isn't just that seven players left the program, although that's enough of a warning sign. But four of those players found new homers at Power 5 programs (as well as mid-major powers Dayton and Missouri State), suggesting whatever the problem is at Auburn, it isn't simply a matter of talent misevaluation. At one point, Auburn had just seven scholarship players available to Terri Williams-Flournoy for the upcoming season. The situation no longer looks that dire, with junior college and international additions pushing the roster to double-digits. And maybe what Williams-Flournoy called her "juco backcourt" of Kira Lowery and Keya Patton ultimately makes Auburn into a winner on this list. But wholesale change is always a concern.
Maryland: The caveat is that in former Mississippi State standout Chloe Bibby and former Harvard star Katie Benzan, with Benzan immediately eligible, Maryland has a better incoming transfer class than most programs. Unfortunately, most programs didn't lose a trio like Shakira Austin, Taylor Mikesell and Olivia Owens to the transfer portal. Even with Bibby and Benzan, not to mention prized recruit Angel Reese, that's a lot to replace on top of the expected departure of WNBA draftee Kaila Charles. Austin accounted for 30% of Maryland's blocks a season ago, while Mikesell accounted for 43% of the team's 3-pointers. And losing both Austin and Owens, on top of senior Stephanie Jones, leaves Maryland short-handed, if not just short, in the post.
After missing the NCAA tournament in the 2018-19 season as it adjusted to life after Kelsey Mitchell, Ohio State appeared back on track by the time last season shut down. But that quick rebuilding hit at least a snag with the transfer departures of rotation regulars Kierstan Bell (Florida Gulf Coast) and Janai Crooms (Michigan State), as well as Kaelynn Satterfield and Aixa Wone Aranaz. Bell is the biggest loss after holding her own as a highly touted freshman. The Buckeyes still return four starters, including all-conference forward Dorka Juhasz, and add redshirt freshman Rikki Harris and top signee Kateri Poole. So it isn't as if Kevin McGuff will struggle to put together a lineup. But separating from the Big Ten pack will be more difficult.
Penn State: It starts to feel as if we're picking on the Big Ten. And unlike Auburn's Williams-Flournoy, for instance, Penn State coach Carolyn Kieger is in just her second season. Some degree of roster turnover is to be expected. That's all the more true with a large freshman class expected to earn minutes. Still, five transfers -- including rotation players Mya Bembry, Lauren Ebo, Alisia Smith -- is a lot for one offseason. Kieger also scored a nice addition in graduate transfer Niya Beverly from Wisconsin among a large group of incoming players.