Columbia’s point guard Mike Smith has been a reliable and productive player since he stepped foot on campus. The senior has finished in the conference’s top-5 of scoring twice over the last three seasons and was the scoring champion this season. On pace to finish sixth in that category last year, Smith’s scoring title is all the more impressive coming off a torn meniscus that cut his junior season short. As a result of his resume, the offensive juggernaut has drawn interest from several high-major programs in need of point guard depth.
Smith was a volume scoring talent for the Lions, but it’s unlikely he will command nearly 20 shots per game at his next stop. The quality of his looks may improve surrounded by better talent, but the senior has already displayed a knack for creating space on his shots. Smith plays with purposed motion in the halfcourt and efficiently uses change of pace dribbles and hesitation moves to throw his defenders off balance. Along with his physicality, this trait surely points to his potential success and a valuable asset for a bigger program next season.
Arizona, Gonzaga, Michigan and Seton Hall are all sitting in
the clubhouse having reached out to Smith. Each of these programs is looking to
replace a very productive player at the position:
– Arizona Wildcats – Nico Mannion
– Gonzaga Bulldogs – Admon Gilder/Ryan Wooldridge
– Michigan Wolverines – Zavier Simpson
– Seton Hall Pirates – Myles Powell
All of these schools can offer Smith a chance to shine in the spotlight, but which will provide him with the best opportunity to raise his stock?
Arizona Wildcats: Sean Miller needs players badly. Eight members of this year’s team are set to graduate, enter the NBA Draft or are have already entered the transfer portal. Accounting for incoming transfers, Miller needs a point guard most-of-all. Mannion’s backup Jemarl Baker remains the only point guard left on the 2020 roster. Former Georgetown guard James Akinjo has already committed to the Wildcats, but it’s unclear when the NCAA will rule on his eligibility.
With this uncertainty at the position, Smith could arrive on campus and compete for the starting job immediately. However, another player to consider in the mix for minutes is Brandon Williams returning from knee surgery. Depending on how Miller sees Baker and Williams playing styles (on-ball vs. off-ball), Smith’s competition for maximum minutes could be in question.
Gonzaga Bulldogs: The ever-present Bulldogs were in the thick of the action again this season. Mark Few has brought in transfers over the last couple years and has immediately transformed them into key roles with the program. The 2019 version specifically utilized Gilder and Woolridge at the point and combo guard spots. Potential advantages for transfers coming to Gonzaga is the minimal amount of pressure placed on their shoulders, due to the abundance and balance of talent on the roster.
Smith will assuredly have this advantage as well. The Bulldogs bring back essentially their entire team and Joel Ayayi is the only returning guard. Even if Few decides to start Ayayi at the point guard spot and forces Smith to back him up, last year’s team was able to provide Gilder, Woolridge and Ayayi with 26+ MPG each. Much like Arizona, incoming freshman Jalen Suggs and Dominik Harris will complicate the backcourt rotations a bit – still there are plenty of minutes to go around. A move to Spokane means Smith will be able to play to his style, while boosting his stats is nearly every category AND making an all important run towards a national title.
Michigan Wolverines: The first full season under former player turned coach, Juwan Howard, went very well. A 19-12 season had the Fab 5 star elevating a program back to Jon Beilein’s peak. The 4th-overall recruiting class this offseason provide more assurances for potential transfers that this program will continue to rise through the ranks of college basketball. It’s even more appealing though to point guard transfers, given that David Dejulius and Eli Brooks struggled in the floor general role this year.
Both guards looked shaky as the primary playmaker spelling Zavier Simpson in Howard’s lineup. Surely a summer to hone their skills will shore up some of those deficiencies, but Smith will have plenty of opportunities for minutes on and off the ball for the Wolverines. Howard knows how to get the most out of his guys and elevate their play. It’s hard to believe that Howard wouldn’t be able to do the same for Smith in Ann Arbor, given the quick transformation we saw out of his players last season.
Seton Hall Pirates: One of the program’s best players to ever step foot through Seton Hall’s doors is about to walk out and leave for good. Myles Powell has been the face of the Pirates over the last 4 seasons and it’s time for Kevin Willard to find a new one…or at least one to transition between him and the next. Seton Hall to find a new ‘go-to’ player in 2020 and Smith would have a good chance to command a large role on this team.
The only true point guard left on the Pirates roster is Shavar Reynolds and he hasn’t proven to be a reliable scoring threat in his current role. That should change somewhat given the sudden abundance of minutes to reapportion. However, Smith being a natural scorer presents as a much better option for the program to lean on and continue their success from 2019. His game and style are very similar to Powell and his presence would not throw a huge monkey wrench into the play of the rest of the team’s rotation. Takal Molson will also be eligible this season and could produce a very strong scoring duo for the Pirates.
Prediction: Graduate transfers look to find programs that will excel as a team, but also provide the best opportunity to thrive on the court. The potential backcourt logjam at Arizona does not present the best opportunity for Smith. Of the remaining teams, Gonzaga has the best chance to cut down the nets whereas Michigan and more likely Seton Hall present the greatest opportunities to monopolize on-court minutes.
The ideal situation would be to go to Spokane and commit to the Zags, despite the potential to play less minutes or command less of the offense than desired. However, the pick has to be the Wolverines (it’s a close decision). Howard’s squad presents a good chance to start for the proven senior. Add in plenty of incoming talent, a strong coach and a 4-hour drive from his hometown, Michigan is a strong team to contend on and off the court for Smith’s services in 2020.