The transfer portal giveth, and the transfer portal taketh away. But as the Minnesota Gophers women’s basketball team is learning this spring, the taking away is much more difficult to deal with. Minnesota was dealt a massive blow on Thursday when star junior Sara Scalia announced she was entering the transfer portal for her final two years of eligibility.
Scalia joins fellow 2021-22 starter Kadi Sissoko in jumping into the portal just after the end of the season. They follow starting point guard Jasmine Powell who entered the portal during the season and has already announced she will be transferring to women’s powerhouse Tennessee for her final two years of eligibility.
Add that to the transfer of little used players Klarke Sconniers, Caroline Strande and Erin Hedman, and that’s six players from the Minnesota roster who have entered the portal since the start of the 2021-22 season. Add in the graduating super seniors and Minnesota currently has
four three players on the roster for next season who saw any action this year, along with sophomore guard Katie Borowicz who missed the season with an injury.
***EDIT 7:20 PM Friday***
It get’s worse. Literally minutes after publishing this article news broke that sophomore guard Alexia Smith also had entered the portal. Smith averaged 3.4 points in 33 games for the Gophers this season. The Gophers are down to post Alanna Micheaux, post Kayla Mershon, and guard Maggie Czinano.
As of today the Gophers will lose 83% of their production from this season—one where they struggled to a tie for ninth place in the Big Ten and a gift of a Women’s NIT berth. It’s not quite what Minnesota fans had in mid when Mark Coyle introduced Lindsay Whalen as the new head coach of the Gophers in the spring of 2018.
With the Women’s Final Four in Minneapolis this weekend, it is an even starker comparison to where the Gophers are as a program. No realistic person expected Minnesota to be in the Final Four in their hometown four seasons into the Whalen era, but I think fans definitely were hoping for more than a pair of second round NIT trips in four years. The transfer portal has loomed large in the first few years of Whalen’s tenure not only this offseason, but in previous years. She has now has two talented guards decide to move on midseason after disagreements after Powell joined Destiny Pitts who left midway through the 2019-20 season. So far the transfer portal has taketh away much much more than it has giveth the Gophers.
So what is the answer? If we only knew. Minnesota will bring in their best freshman class in school history next fall with an All-Minnesotan class of Mara Braun, Mallory Heyer, Nia Holloway and Amaya Battle. But they will enter with incredible pressure on their shoulders as they are now THE team. Obviously Lindsay Whalen will need to hit the transfer portal hard, but as of now her prized freshmen are all nearly guaranteed to slate into the starting five or immediate spots off the bench next fall. That unfortunately is not exactly a recipe for success.
Next season’s success will most likely ride on who Whalen can try and bring in through the portal. Unfortunately with the exodus of quality players FROM the program, brining in players who will be able to make an immediate significant impact will not be easy. The playing time will be there, but as we saw with Ben Johnson’s first year as head of the Gopher men, with so many questions what Power 5 transfer is going to come to Minnesota? The unfortunate answer is probably not many. Thus the Gophers will join the ranks of raiding the mid-majors for players who can come in and make an impact. As we saw again with the Gopher men, that will get you close to a .500 type of season, but that isn’t going to leap you to a Big Ten Contender anytime soon.
This is not a call for Lindsay Whalen’s head. But she needs to start showing that her staff can do player development and retain them in a hurry. She was given a one year extension in March keeping her under contract at the U through the 2024-25 season. She has yet to recruit a true post player and the ones she has thus far brought in via the transfer portal have just been window dressing—good enough for limited minutes but not Big Ten quality post players. This season if Minnesota was not on from beyond the 3-point arc, the team was in deep trouble. That’s not going to cut it in a conference as tough as the Big Ten.
Next season will be a huge one for Lindsay Whalen and the Gophers. The pressure will be immense on the four incoming freshmen. Whalen will need to hit the portal hard and find at bare minimum three or four players who can jump immediately into the main playing rotation including at least one starting four or five. In Year five of the Whalen era, another under .500 team will not cut it. The public opinion is already trending in the wrong way, and while we know that women’s basketball takes up a much smaller media sphere in a college athletics program compared to the more visible sports, the struggles of the Gophers after what was billed as the hometown hero coming to take over the program and bring them to new heights has not lived up to the hype.
Unless the Gopher can turn the portal into a net positive in the offseason, the heat on Whalen is going to continue to increase with only Mark Coyle to decide when to turn it off.