Is it time to be concerned about the transfer portal's impact on Duke men's basketball?

Head coach Jon Scheyer confers with his players during Duke's win against James Madison.
Head coach Jon Scheyer confers with his players during Duke's win against James Madison.

The past few weeks have seen Duke men’s basketball lose the majority of its roster from last season, some due to lost eligibility and some to the NBA draft. But many players have also entered the transfer portal, looking to find a new home with increased playing time and the potential to make more NIL money. But will this development hurt or benefit the Blue Devils? The Blue Zone is here to break down both sides of the situation:

Point: Duke's transfers are hurting the team and program 

Duke head coach Jon Scheyer is no stranger to roster turnover. Two years ago, in his first year at the helm of Blue Devils, Scheyer was forced to revamp a team that lost nearly its entire starting five. Duke’s 2022-23 squad only retained 15.9% of minutes played and 11.5% of scoring from the previous year, most of which came in the form of then newly minted captain Jeremy Roach. 

However, this year's turnover is different than two years ago. Seven players have entered their names into the transfer portal within the past few weeks, with the headliner being Roach. Joining him in the portal are freshmen TJ Power and Sean Stewart, sophomores Jaden Schutt, Mark Mitchell and Christian Reeves, and junior Jaylen Blakes. 

These transfers, along with Jared McCain and Kyle Filipowski’s departures to the NBA Draft, mean Duke will return only 15.4% of its minutes and 13.2% of its scoring in 2024-25. If the Blue Devils aspire to make another deep NCAA tournament run, they will have to overcome a severe lack of roster continuity. For context, 2023-24 Elite Eight teams brought back players accounting for an average of 56.2% of minutes and 55.6% of scoring from the previous season. Since Sports Reference started tracking returning minutes and points, no team has ever won a national championship without returning at least 30% of its minutes from the year before. 

The departures of Roach and Mitchell are fueled mostly by the new NIL atmosphere in college basketball. By transferring to Baylor and Missouri, respectively, the two are poised to become the stars of the show at their new schools. Also, both players will likely make more money than if they had stayed at Duke, and won’t have to compete with the incoming talents of Cooper Flagg and the rest of 247 sports’ No. 1 recruiting class in the country. 

Power and Stewart likely transferred in the search of new homes with guaranteed playing time. Had they returned, both would have faced steep competition against newcomers Maliq Brown and Isaiah Evans for a starting spot in the frontcourt alongside Flagg. Additionally, by moving to new schools with less talent on paper, they have the potential to become bigger stars and make considerably more money with NIL. Their cases could be a sign of things to come for the Blue Devils. For example, if incoming freshmen Kon Knueppel and Darren Harris don’t see the floor much next season, they may be prompted to follow in Power and Stewart’s footsteps by transferring after only their freshmen campaigns. 

In the past, talented players often accepted smaller roles with the Blue Devils to have a shot at a national championship all four years of their career. But, with this new era in college basketball, the idea of being a star at a lower-level team, with NIL boosters willing to open their checkbook, makes transferring a lot more appealing. While the change might lead to more parity in college basketball, it could also end up hurting established programs like Duke. -Myles Powicki

Counterpoint: No need to panic about Duke men’s basketball’s roster turnover

After an Elite Eight run powered by several strong returners and the nation’s second-ranked recruiting class, Blue Devils fans might have hoped that career longevity would become the norm for Duke’s best players. But that dream has quickly faded. Beginning with the departure of Christian Reeves to the transfer portal, a mass exodus began, with seven total players leaving “The Brotherhood”. After the smoke cleared, Scheyer was left with just two players who saw meaningful minutes last season, not including the six incoming freshmen. 

The biggest shock departure is arguably Roach, who transferred to Baylor. With another year of eligibility left, his most likely options seemed entering the NBA Draft or staying for a final year — he was the captain after all. Nobody really expected him to finish his collegiate career outside of Durham. While the Blue Devils will be blessed with the returns of Tyrese Proctor and Caleb Foster, and have two incoming freshman guards in Evans and Harris, the team would have greatly benefitted from Roach staying another year. 

In the frontcourt, the departures of Stewart and Mitchell hurt the most. Duke lacks a natural power forward on next year’s roster, as incoming freshmen Flagg and Knueppel would be better positioned to play as small forwards. Having players with the skill sets of Mitchell and Stewart would have added an extra element to an already stacked team.

But there’s no use worrying too much over these departures.

Looking at last year’s Final Four teams, Purdue started four homegrown players, UConn three, Alabama one and N.C. State none. In this current college basketball landscape, winning with homegrown players is no longer as common or necessary. The transfer portal is growing and becoming a common avenue for the success of teams at all levels. It’s time for the Blue Devils to take advantage of it. 

Experience matters. If Duke continues to build a team mostly around freshmen, it will have a harder time competing for championships. While the incoming Blue Devil recruiting class is one of the most complete in history, pitting teenagers against college veterans in their fifth or sixth year no longer seems viable. 

That’s why transfers Maliq Brown and Mason Gillis are smart additions from head coach Jon Scheyer. His offseason moves have a clear direction, focusing on defensive-minded players and three-point weapons. If Duke succeeds in adding a backup guard, the Blue Devils will have depth and experience at basically every position. By capitalizing on the transfer portal, the program can combine elite freshmen talent with experienced, proven veterans.

Yes, relying on transfers and one-and-done players isn’t exactly the most sustainable model. But this is simply what college basketball’s landscape looks like now. As nice as it would be to develop a strong homegrown team over four years, the motivation for players to seek larger roles at smaller schools is growing faster than expected.

Duke is catching up and getting past the learning curve. There’s simply no need to worry, Blue Devil fans. Scheyer is proving he can evolve as the sport evolves. Duke men’s basketball is primed for another deep run — just in a new way. -Ryan Hamner


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