Whether coaches like it or not, the NCAA transfer portal has become a crucial part of roster-building in the offseason. In addition to high school recruiting, programs now have to worry about losing players to the portal and filling gaps with transfers. Some teams are thriving in the new landscape, while others are struggling.
Here are the winners and losers of the hyper-active 2023 transfer portal season.
The additions of Hailey Van Lith and Aneesah Morrow elevate LSU as the clear winners of the transfer portal. The defending champions needed a point guard after Alexis Morris departed for the WNBA, and they got the best available in Van Lith. Her midrange game and playmaking ability will complement Final Four Most Outstanding Player Angel Reese, and she also gives the Tigers another scoring option. Meanwhile, Morrow adds another offensive threat to the frontcourt and brings even more rebounding to the Tigers’ lineup. Reese and Morrow each averaged a double-double last year and should clean up on the glass once more.
The Tar Heels have managed to stay under the radar during the chaos of the transfer portal, but Courtney Banghart is building a contender in the ACC. The Tar Heels lost Kennedy Todd-Williams to Ole Miss and Destiny Adams to Rutgers, but still came out on the winning side of transfer season after securing Lexi Donarski (Iowa State), Indiya Nivar (Stanford) and Maria Gakdeng (Boston College). With Deja Kelly and Alyssa Ustby already on the roster, the Tar Heels now have capable scorers at every position. Donarski and Gakdeng also bolster the team’s defense, with Donarski as an on-ball defender and Gakdeng as a rim protector.
While teams like LSU and North Carolina added several new players, UCLA added one and made it count. They needed a post presence and they got one in the 6-foot-7 Lauren Betts from Stanford. Not to mention they retained the rest of their talented roster, a difficult feat in today’s transfer era. Betts, the No. 1 player in the Class of 2022, joins No. 2 player Kiki Rice and two other top rising sophomores in Gabriela Jaquez and Londynn Jones. Add in Charisma Osborne, who chose to skip the WNBA draft in favor of playing one more season with UCLA, and the Bruins are a team that can contend for a title.
The Buckeyes lost Taylor Mikesell to the WNBA but gained defensive stopper Celeste Taylor out of Duke and Taiyier Parks, who returns home to Ohio after four years at Michigan State. Taylor, in particular, is a player to get Ohio State fans excited. The Buckeyes’ identity is tied to their defensive prowess, particularly their press. Taylor, a 2023 Naismith Defensive Player of the Year finalist, fits perfectly into Ohio State’s system, joining former Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year Jacy Sheldon to create a dynamic backcourt that will spearhead the press.
A big reason for Colorado winning the transfer portal is that they didn’t lose any major players. The Buffs are a Power 5 program without a storied basketball history, making them the kind of team players might transfer from after a strong season. But Colorado’s core, including four starters, is returning from last season’s Sweet 16 run. One thing that was missing for the Buffs in 2022-23? Aside from Frida Formann, Colorado didn’t have any reliable 3-point shooters. That changed thanks to the addition of Maddie Nolan in the portal. The former Michigan player also gives Colorado another ball-handler to play alongside Jaylyn Sherrod.
Iowa exposed a weakness in South Carolina in the Final Four, and Dawn Staley remedied it by bringing in Oregon point guard Te-Hina PaoPao. The Gamecocks lost Aliyah Boston, Brea Beal, Zia Cooke, Leticia Amihere and Victaria Saxon to graduation, but with Kamilla Cardoso, Raven Johnson and Ashlyn Watkins returning, and three top-25 recruits coming in, those players won’t be as hard to replace as you might think. The Gamecocks already had starter-caliber players coming off the bench, but they didn’t have enough shooting. PaoPao provides experience and an outside threat. She made 2.3 3-pointers a game last season on 42.4 percent shooting from deep.
The Horned Frogs haven’t had much success in recent years, winning just eight games last season, but first-year coach Mark Campbell is guiding the program in the right direction. TCU signed former Oregon player Sedona Prince, who stepped away last season with an injury and a plan to turn pro before returning to college, and former 4-star recruit Madison Connor out of Arizona. The Horned Frogs also added former Stanford guard Agnes Emma-Nnopu, who showed potential in limited minutes over three years, and Una Jovanovi, who averaged 14.6 points and 3.8 assists at Cal State Fullerton last season.
Two seasons ago, Kara Lawson made waves by bringing in eight transfers, including Celeste Taylor. This time around, the portal wasn’t so kind to the Blue Devils, who lost five players including Taylor to Ohio State and Shayeann Day-Wilson to Miami. With Elizabeth Balogun graduating, Duke’s top three scorers are gone. They signed All-ACC Freshman guard Taina Mair out of Boston College, but overall the Blue Devils lost more than they gained.
Iowa State’s last few seasons have centered on 2023 WNBA draft pick Ashley Joens, so the Cyclones were bound for a rebuild of some kind this season no matter what. Now, they also have to deal with the loss of Donarski, a solid defender who contributed 12.1 points per game last season, and four other players. They will also feel the absence of Denae Fritz, who averaged 8.8 points and 4.6 rebounds per game before transferring to Baylor.
Oregon has talented young players like Grace VanSlooten and Chance Gray to build around, but the departure of PaoPao marks the final piece of a worrying trend. Paopao was the last remaining player from Oregon’s 2020 recruiting class. The Ducks brought in five 5-star recruits that season, and all of them ended up transferring.
Losing Morrow to LSU is enough to put DePaul in the losers category, but the Blue Demons also parted with six other players. The departures of Morrow and guard Darrione Rogers — who averaged 16.8 points, 5.1 assists and 4.7 rebounds per game last season — marks the end of an era where the Blue Demons failed to capitalize on star power. In Morrow’s two seasons, they made the NCAA Tournament once and lost in the first four games.
Head coach Adia Barnes is a renowned recruiter, but the Wildcats roster took a major blow this portal season. Arizona lost Lauren Ware, a major contributor as a freshman during the team’s run to the 2021 national championship, and Paris Clark, the No. 5 guard in the Class of 2022. The Wildcats also lost three other players. Currently, there are just five players listed on Arizona’s official roster for next season.
Last year, NC State picked up former No. 3 recruit Saniya Rivers in the transfer portal. This year, things aren’t going as well for the Wolfpack, with five players on the way out. That includes three starters in Jakia Brown-Turner, Camille Hobby and leading scorer Diamond Johnson. Brown-Turner signed with Maryland, Hobby is heading to Illinois, and Johnson has yet to make a decision.
The Hawkeyes didn’t lose or gain anyone in the portal, and that’s the problem. Iowa retains Cailtin Clark, Gabbie Marshall and Kate Martin from its starting lineup, and Hannah Stuelke will be more experienced and ready to step into a major role in the paint. Outside of that, the NCAA runners-up don’t have obvious replacements for McKenna Warnock or Monika Czinano. Iowa would have benefitted from finding a post in the transfer portal who could complement Clark’s playmaking and add depth alongside the developing Stuelke.
Eden Laase is a Staff Writer at Just Women’s Sports. Follow her on Twitter @eden_laase.