The second-leading scorer for La Salle’s men’s basketball team this season was not an Explorer last season.
And no, Josh Nickelberry, who is averaging 12 points per game, is not a freshman. After playing two seasons at Louisville, he transferred to La Salle last summer and has established himself as a consistent scoring threat.
Nickelberry, along with teammates Mamadou Doucoure (Rutgers) and Matt McFarlane (Colby C.C.), are not the only transfers to find new homes in Philadelphia this season. St. Joseph’s welcomed two centers to their squad, Ejike Obinna (Vanderbilt) and Charles Coleman (East Carolina). Obinna has started every game for the Hawks. Coleman is his backup.
The transfer portal has been a source for the smaller, mid-major schools to attract experienced players from Power Five schools. Some are searching for more playing time or a fresh role, as evidenced by Nickelberry and Obinna. Last April, the NCAA ratified a one-time transfer rule, allowing athletes in all sports to transfer once without having to sit out a year.
According to the players’ stats and improved overall records from last season, La Salle and St. Joe’s have taken advantage.
Villanova and Penn don’t have any players from last year’s transfer portal on their current roster. Temple and Drexel have one player each.
Here is how the Explorers and Hawks have used the transfer portal to their benefit.
Instant offense for the Explorers
With three players plucked from the transfer portal, along with five incoming freshmen, Ashley Howard’s La Salle team looks a lot different this season.
The Explorers are just 6-10, 1-5 in the Atlantic Ten, but they’ve been in tight contests — their last three A-10 losses have been by a combined 14 points.
The season has also had its fair share of surprises. Along with Nickelberry’s productivity, Doucoure and McFarlane have turned into solid role players, with Doucoure starting and McFarlane coming off the bench. And after last year’s A-10 Sixth Man of the Year, Sherif Kenney, and Tegra Izay entered the transfer portal in late December, Nickelberry, Doucoure and McFarlane’s roles have become even more important.
Although Nickelberry, who averaged just four minutes per game at Louisville, takes the majority of the three-pointers, the three players account for 34% of all three-pointers made and 30% of all three-pointers attempted.
Nickelberry leads the team in games with 20+ points (3), three-pointers made (34), and three-pointers attempted (95). He is 11th in the A-10 in three-pointers made per game.
The trio also accounts for 22% of all field goals made and attempted. In two-point field goal attempts, Nickelberry is shooting 51% (34-67). And in six starts this season, all coming since Dec. 30, Doucoure has averaged six points per game and shot 48% from the field.
McFarlane is averaging just nine minutes but scores one point every three minutes, which is an an efficient rate for a bench player.
Instant rebounding for the Hawks
Although St. Joseph’s has played fewer games because of COVID-19 cancellations, the Hawks have nearly doubled their total wins (8) in 18 games, and matched their conference wins (2) from a season ago.
The Hawks have had impressive victories — beating Temple in November, and a Dec. 30 win at Richmond — and some head-scratching losses, most notably blowing a nine-point lead at home against La Salle.
Obinna and Coleman have given the Hawks a sizable increase in rebounding and blocked shots. According to KenPom, in St. Joe’s last five games as of Jan. 23, the 6-foot-11 Obinna and 7-foot Coleman were on the bench at the same time in only 6% of the Hawks’ most frequent lineups. In other words, at least one of them is always out there.
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Last season, St. Joe’s ranked last in the Atlantic 10 Conference in rebounding margin at minus-8 per game.
It’s a different story this season. Obinna and Coleman account for 25% of St. Joe’s total rebounds. That rebounding margin from last season is now plus-3. Through Sunday, the Hawks ranked 23rd in defensive rebounds per game out of all Division I teams. St. Joe’s also ranks third in the A-10 in rebounds per game and first in defensive rebounds. And as a team, with 12 games left in the regular season, the Hawks have nearly collected more total rebounds (661) than they did all last season (675).
Obinna and Coleman also have accounted for 23% of St. Joe’s blocks. The Hawks’ have more total blocks (47) than last season’s total (36).
Obinna is also one of the most efficient shooters in the nation, ranking 17th among Division I players in field-goal percentage.
Help for Hall and Funk
The presence of Obinna and Coleman allows other Hawks players to get more rebounds as well.
Last season, Jordan Hall, Taylor Funk, and the now-departed Ryan Daly carried the team’s rebounding load, with each averaging around six per game. This year, even with Obinna and Coleman dominating the paint, Hall and Funk’s rebounding numbers have still grown, all while playing nearly the same number of average minutes as last season.
Both Hall and Funk considered leaving St. Joe’s after last season. Hall entered the portal in April and initially committed to Texas A&M before taking his name out and returning to Hawk Hill in May. Funk also, for a period, pondered leaving.