Womens College Basketball 2021 22: Final Four Picks, Player Of The Year Predictions, Biggest Storylines

The South Carolina women's college basketball team is No. 1 in the country and also leads the way in our midseason ranking of the top 25 players in the nation. And that includes a unanimous pick at No. 1 in junior forward Aliyah Boston, who garnered all 13 votes. She is one of three Gamecocks on the list, the most of any school.

Defending NCAA champion Stanford has two players, as does Maryland.

UConn's Paige Bueckers topped our preseason list in November, but the sophomore guard suffered a knee injury on Dec. 5 and hasn't played since. She had surgery and is rehabilitating, with an expected return in February. Bueckers averaged 21.2 points, 5.5 rebounds and 6.2 assists in six games, but her limited play thus far kept her off our updated ranking.

Seven newcomers who weren't ranked in the preseason are included in the midseason list. Kansas State center Ayoka Lee made the biggest jump, receiving votes in the preseason but now landing in the top 10.

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ESPN writers Katie Barnes, Charlie Creme and Mechelle Voepel, The Undefeated's Sean Hurd and ESPN analysts Debbie Antonelli, Angel Gray, Rebecca Lobo, Carolyn Peck, Steffi Sorensen, Christy Thomaskutty, Brenda VanLengen, Brooke Weisbrod and Stephanie White voted on our panel. The No. 1 player on each ballot received 25 points, No. 2 got 24 points, No. 3 received 23 points and so on.

Antonelli continues to provide scouting reports for each new addition to the rankings; click here to see our preseason rankings and analysis. So many good performances thus far made the voting a challenge past the No. 1 spot. But here are our midseason top 25.

1. Aliyah Boston, South Carolina Gamecocks

Forward | 6-foot-5 | junior

Preseason ranking: 3

2021-22 stats: 17.1 PPG, 11.1 RPG, 3.2 BPG

One thing wasn't up for debate with this list: Boston is No. 1. After an offseason fueled by her desire to get stronger, leaner and quicker, Boston has become an even better version of the All-American she was last season. She is shooting 57.8% from the field, which includes nine 3-pointers (she made 13 last season). Boston's defense and rebounding have been elite since she got to South Carolina, but at times she was an inconsistent scorer. That's in the past; she has scored in double figures in all but the first two games of the season. She was unstoppable in Sunday's game against Kentucky: 9-of-12 shooting for 18 points, with 15 rebounds and five blocked shots. -- Mechelle Voepel


2. NaLyssa Smith, Baylor Bears

Forward | 6-foot-4 | senior

Preseason ranking: 2

2021-22 stats: 20.4 PPG, 12.6 RPG, 1.2 BPG

Smith continues to prove that she is a force and a nearly unguardable one at that. The combination of her size and skills makes her an unfortunate assignment for anyone trying to contain her. She ranks in the top 20 in both points (18th) and rebounds (fourth) per game. The reigning Wade Trophy winner has been a double-double performer all season; with 11, Smith is tied for the most in the country so far this season. -- Katie Barnes


3. Caitlin Clark, Iowa Hawkeyes

Guard | 6-foot-0 | sophomore

Preseason ranking: 5

2021-22 stats: 25.2 PPG, 8.1 RPG, 7.1 APG

Just as she did during her incredible freshman campaign, Clark is once again making her case as the best player in college basketball. Clark's uncanny knack for finding the bottom of the rim is matched by an equal ability to distribute the ball and put her teammates in the best positions for success. She's tied for first in the country in scoring and ranks fourth in assists per game. The only player in college basketball with multiple triple-doubles this season, Clark recently became the fastest player in Big Ten history to reach 1,000 points (40 games). We've already seen Clark score a career-high 44 earlier this season. If she gets her rhythm back from behind the arc (shot 40% last season and is at 24% in 2021-22), who knows what scoring mark could follow. -- Sean Hurd


4. Rhyne Howard, Kentucky Wildcats

Guard | 6-foot-2 | senior

Preseason ranking: 4

2021-22 stats: 18.8 PPG, 6.5 RPG, 4.0 APG

The two-time SEC Player of the Year could be the top pick in the WNBA draft and has all the tools to succeed at the next level. There are times against the best college defenses where she has struggled, being limited to nine points apiece by South Carolina and Louisville. But her season-high 30-point effort against Georgia was a testament to how difficult Howard is to guard with her size and shooting ability. And her current assist average is a career high. -- Voepel


5. Naz Hillmon, Michigan Wolverines

Forward |6-foot-2 | senior

Preseason ranking: 7

2021-22 stats: 20.0 PPG, 8.8 RPG, 55.9% FG

One of the more shocking parts of Michigan's season so far is that Hillmon has made only 55.9% of her shots. One of the elite offensive post players in the country, it seems like every shot Hillmon takes is going in. She just makes it look that easy. The reigning Big Ten Player of the Year ranks fourth in the conference in both scoring and rebounding, and that shooting percentage is still good for fifth. -- Charlie Creme


6. Haley Jones, Stanford Cardinal

Guard | 6-foot-1 | junior

Preseason ranking: 6

2021-22 stats: 12.5 PPG, 8.1 RPG, 3.6 APG

Jones' status as one of the most versatile players in the country has been put to the test in the first two months of the season. When coach Tara VanDerveer couldn't find a point guard to replace Kiana Williams, she turned to Jones, who at times last year was Stanford's power forward. This year she's the second-best defensive rebounder in the Pac-12 and is also sixth in the conference in assists. Her 18-point, 19-rebound, six-assist game at Tennessee in mid-December was Jones simply willing Stanford to its biggest win of the year. -- Creme


7. Ashley Joens, Iowa State Cyclones

Forward | 6-foot-1 | senior

Preseason ranking: 9

2021-22 stats: 20.8 PPG, 9.8 RPG, 2.5 APG

Joens was the Cheryl Miller award winner last season as the country's best small forward, and she's currently second in the Big 12 in scoring. Joens is one of the best pure scorers in Division I, but she hasn't had to carry the Cyclones this season. She has good help, including younger sister Aubrey Joens, as Iowa State is averaging 81.7 PPG. The Cyclones are currently ranked No. 9, their first time in The Associated Press top 10 since 2002. That was the senior season of center Angie Welle, Iowa State's all-time scoring leader at 2,149 points. Joens has 2,013 and could overtake that record in early February if she stays on her current pace. -- Voepel


8. Elissa Cunane, NC State Wolfpack

Center | 6-foot-5 | senior

Preseason ranking: 8

2021-22 stats: 13.8 PPG, 7.5 RPG, 82.8% FT

When a post player is so unselfish and such a good decision-maker out of frequent double teams, you run the offense through her. That is exactly what Wes Moore has done with Cunane. She is the pivot for everything NC State does offensively and is the Wolfpack anchor on defense. A brilliant free throw shooter and now a very capable 3-point threat, Cunane's game has grown every year -- and not so coincidentally the program has gone from good to great since her arrival in Raleigh. -- Creme


9. Ayoka Lee, Kansas State Wildcats

Center | 6-foot-6 | junior

Preseason ranking: NR

2021-22 stats: 24.2 PPG, 10.8 RPG, 3.6 BPG

The Big 12 leader in scoring average, blocked shots and shooting percentage (59.0%) is also tops in Division I in player efficiency rating, according to Her Hoops Stats. Lee missed what would have been her first season in 2018-19 with injury, but was Big 12 Freshman of the Year the next season, averaging a double-double. In 2020-21, she shot 62.1% from the field and averaged 19.1 points, and as a junior has had games of 43 and 38 points this season. A next stage of her development will be passing out of the post, but right now she is one of the top true centers in college on both ends of the court. -- Voepel

Antonelli's scouting report:

  • Tough to move or defend once she gets two feet in the paint

  • Plays low to high game; shot chart is points in the paint only. She posts, passes back out and then reposts deeper in the paint

  • Excellent synergy rating: 1.165 points per possession on post up and offensive boards


10. Ashley Owusu, Maryland Terrapins

Guard | 6-foot-0 | junior

Preseason ranking: 10

2021-22 stats: 16.7 PPG, 3.8 RPG, 4.3 APG

A slew of injuries and an incredibly difficult schedule -- four games against teams currently ranked in the top six -- could have derailed the Terps' season. Instead, Maryland has remained in the top 10 and Owusu is a primary reason why. She is one of only two Terps to start all 16 games, and while her numbers are down a bit from last season, Owusu's game remains the ignition for the fifth-highest scoring team in the country. Her game is equal parts power and playmaking ability, and coach Brenda Frese trusts Owusu with the ball in her hands in crunch time. -- Creme


11. Shakira Austin, Ole Miss Rebels

Center| 6-foot-5 | senior

Preseason ranking: 11

2021-22 stats: 14.4 PPG, 8.7 RPG, 1.9 BPG

The evolving rebirth of Ole Miss basketball under coach Yolett McPhee-McCuin has largely been built on Austin's shoulders. Her decision to transfer from Maryland gave Coach Yo the star upon which to build. This season, Austin leads the Rebels in points, rebounds, blocks, steals, free throws made and minutes. Her offensive game has grown more versatile in Oxford, with a much smoother post game and range that extends to 15 feet. Last season she led Ole Miss to the WNIT final. The NCAA tournament looks like a more obtainable goal this season. -- Creme


12. Angel Reese, Maryland Terrapins

Forward/guard | 6-foot-3 | sophomore

Preseason ranking: NR

2021-22 stats: 18.1 PPG, 10.8 RPG, 1.8 SPG

Last year we got a glimpse of the dominant player Reese could be for the Terrapins, despite much of her freshman season being derailed by a foot fracture. Reese's sophomore season thus far has served as a confirmation of that dominance. For a Maryland team that has battled injuries and adversity, Reese has been its most consistent performer. She has logged 10 double-doubles in 15 games and leads the Terps in points, rebounds, blocks and steals. Reese is particularly impressive in her proficient ability to get to the free throw line (third-most attempts in the country) and is an absolute powerhouse on the offensive glass. She leads the nation with 5.4 offensive boards per game. -- Hurd

Antonelli's scouting report:

  • Double-double machine

  • Long, active rim protector who defends switches on perimeter

  • Swooping counters in low post are unorthodox but effective at 6-3


13. Cameron Brink, Stanford Cardinal

Forward | 6-foot-4 | sophomore

Preseason ranking: 13

2021-22 stats: 12.6 PPG, 7.9 RPG, 2.62 BPG

Brink has really come into her own during her second season. She has been dominant in the paint for Stanford and is 15th in the country in blocked shots per game. She has elevated both her scoring and rebounding averages, along with a slight minutes increase to 21.2 per game. Stanford has tremendous depth and a plethora of impact players, but expect to see these numbers continue to trend upward for Brink as she cements herself moving toward the postseason. -- Barnes


14. Destanni Henderson, South Carolina Gamecocks

Guard| 5-foot-7 | senior

Preseason ranking: 24

2021-22 stats: 11.7 PPG, 4.2 RPG, 4.9 APG

They say that absence makes the heart grow fonder, and the Gamecocks found that out the hard way after losing Henderson for three games early this season. South Carolina is a different team with her on the floor directing the offense. In her first game back -- a high profile 1-2 showdown with Stanford -- Henderson showed the depths of what she brings to the table, pouring in 17 points, seven assists and seven steals to spark South Carolina's rally from an 18-point deficit. Boston is undoubtedly South Carolina's best player, but Henderson is their X factor. -- Barnes


15. Kierstan Bell, Florida Gulf Coast Eagles

Guard | 6-foot-1 | junior

Preseason ranking: 19

2021-22 stats: 24.1 PPG, 8.2 RPG, 1.8 SPG

Bell has picked up right where she left off last season. Following her dominant debut season at Florida Gulf Coast, the junior is the third-leading scorer in the country, with a season-best 39 points coming against Tennessee Tech in November. Bell has led FGCU to a 13-1 start and looks poised to be a scary matchup come tournament time in March. -- Barnes


16. Zia Cooke, South Carolina Gamecocks

Guard | 5-foot-9 | junior

Preseason ranking: 14

2021-22 stats: 12.6 PPG, 1.9 RPG, 2.1 APG

Is there anything smoother than a Zia Cooke pull-up jumper? Cooke is able to get in the lane with ease and create her own shot. She's also an elite playmaker and one of the best guards in the country. Cooke has struggled at times this season, particularly with shooting efficiency, but she has managed to find the magic when South Carolina needs it from her. She is the Gamecocks' primary perimeter threat, and if she is able to be more efficient on a consistent basis, look for Cooke to take a leap and continue to move up these rankings. -- Barnes


17. Elizabeth Kitley, Virginia Tech Hokies

Center | 6-foot-6 | junior

Preseason ranking: 20

2021-22 stats: 18.5 PPG, 10.8 RPG, 3.1 BPG

Another of the true centers who have made our list, Kitley was a Lisa Leslie award finalist last season and had 12 double-doubles. This season, she already has eight. She has had a season-high 34 points twice and set a program record with 17 made field goals in a victory over George Washington in November. Kitley is shooting a career-best 56.6% from the field and she has established herself as one of the most consistent bigs in Division I. -- Voepel


18. Lorela Cubaj, Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets

Forward | 6-foot-4 | senior

Preseason ranking: 23

2021-22 stats: 9.3 PPG, 12.7 RPG, 1.6 BPG

Coming off a senior season in which she was named the ACC co-Defensive Player of the Year, Cubaj is once again proving to be the anchor for a Georgia Tech team that boasts one of the best defenses in the country. She leads the nation in defensive win shares, according to Her Hoops Stats. Cubaj's toughness on the defensive end begins with her rebounding; she ranks second in the country in defensive rebounds per game. But Cubaj has also pushed her game on offense and has established herself as an exceptional passer. She currently leads the Yellow Jackets in assists, averaging a career-high 4.8 per game, which ranks second in the ACC. -- Hurd


19. Charisma Osborne, UCLA Bruins

Guard | 5-foot-9 | junior

Preseason ranking: 16

2021-22 stats: 18.4 PPG, 5.3 RPG, 2.9 APG

Osborne has been a bright spot in a challenging and bewildering season for the Bruins. UCLA missed six consecutive games because of COVID-19 protocol and hasn't won since Dec. 5, but Osborne has remained steady. With improved accuracy from behind the 3-point line and more freedom to work off the dribble as UCLA's top option, Osborne has scored in double figures in all nine games and ranks second in the Pac-12 in points per game. -- Creme


20. Khayla Pointer, LSU Tigers

Guard | 5-foot-7 | graduate student

Preseason ranking: NR

2021-22 stats: 18.1 PPG, 6.8 RPG, 5.3 APG

Pointer started her fifth-year campaign by recording LSU's first triple-double since 2010 and has since cemented her position as one of the best in the game this year. She is one of just two Power 5 players averaging 18 points, 6.5 rebounds and 5.0 assists per game. Perhaps most impressive from Pointer is her increased production in rebounding. At 5-7, she is second on the team in rebounds and is averaging almost three more boards than she did a year ago. And if the Tigers are in need of a basket in a late-game situation, Pointer has demonstrated on multiple occasions this season why the ball should be in her hands. -- Hurd

Antonelli's scouting report:

  • Vertical, score-first point guard with elite speed and bucket mentality

  • Complete scoring fundamentals with explosive first step

  • Clutch gene in late game situations or late in shot clock


21. Mackenzie Holmes, Indiana Hoosiers

Forward | 6-foot-3 | junior

Preseason ranking: NR

2021-22 stats: 17.9 PPG, 8.2 RPG, 61.5% FG

Holmes has been a consistent and efficient force for No. 6 Indiana this season and throughout her career in Bloomington. She ranks fifth in the country in field goal percentage amongst players with at least 100 attempts. Holmes has recorded five 20-plus point games this season, shooting at least 64% from the field in each of them -- and three came against ranked opponents. Holmes is extremely effective in the pick-and-roll, and when she catches the ball in the low post, it's most likely a bucket for the Hoosiers. She has set single-game scoring career highs twice this season, most recently with a 30-point performance against Ohio State in December. We've also seen the beginnings of an expanded offensive game, hitting the occasional 3-pointer. -- Hurd

Antonelli's scouting report:

  • Strong post-up frame + two feet in paint = two points

  • Improved 3-point range brings versatility to ball-screen offense

  • Left or right hand finishing skills. Reads the defense to score with counters


22. Nia Clouden, Michigan State Spartans

Guard | 5-foot-8 | senior

Preseason ranking: NR

2021-22 stats: 21.5 PPG, 4.3 RPG, 4.3 APG

Clouden has steadily improved during her time at Michigan State and has her name in the record books with a program-best 50 points in a double-overtime loss to Florida Gulf Coast in December. She is shooting a career-best 46.4% from the field and finds ways to get open and get to the rim despite being the primary focus of opposing defenses. It has been a challenging season for the 8-7 Spartans, but Clouden has been a consistent bright spot. -- Voepel

Antonelli's scouting report:

  • Not far from joining exclusive 50/40/90 club (she's shooting 45.1% from the field, 35.5% on 3-pointers and 90.6% at the free throw line)

  • Combination of instincts and analytics allows her to play free on both ends

  • No longer underrated or excluded from the national spotlight. Now get ready to put her game on your speed dial


23. Jordan Horston, Tennessee Lady Vols

Guard | 6-foot-2 | junior

Preseason ranking: NR

2021-22 stats: 15.5 PPG, 9.6 RPG, 3.8 APG

Horston is having a breakout season for No. 5 Tennessee and has been a leader for the Lady Vols in the absence of Rae Burrell, who missed 12 straight games with a knee injury. Horston had one double-double in 56 games entering her junior year. Through 13 games this season, she has seven. In addition to almost doubling her scoring average, Horston has excelled on the glass, grabbing almost six more rebounds per game than she did a year ago. Perhaps most importantly, Horston has come up big in big-time games. She had 24 points, nine rebounds and four assists against USF; 28 points and 15 rebounds against Texas; and 18 points, 13 rebounds and four assists against Texas A&M. We've been waiting for this version of Horston since she arrived in Knoxville and can't wait to see more. -- Hurd

Antonelli's scouting report:

  • High energy two-way positionless player

  • Length and speed on balance with the desire to make plays

  • Excels with complete offensive skill package off bounce, off screens or in transition


24. Christyn Williams, UConn Huskies

Guard | 5-foot-11 | senior

Preseason ranking: 15

2021-22 stats: 13.7 PPG, 3.0 RPG, 2.3 APG

At some point, it's probably best to appreciate a player for what she is, rather than keep assuming she is supposed to be something else. Williams was the No. 1 recruit in the Class of 2018, and that comes with enormous expectations, especially at UConn. Williams has been a solid contributor throughout her career, and it's possible we actually might see her best at the next level. But what she has done for the Huskies has been good, as she has logged a lot of minutes and is not afraid to take clutch shots. -- Voepel


25. Emily Engstler, Louisville Cardinals

Forward | 6-foot-1 | senior

Preseason ranking: NR

2021-22 stats: 10.6 PPG, 8.4 RPG, 54.8% 3FG

Engstler, who spent her first three seasons at Syracuse, was No. 7 in our recent transfer rankings. She is the perfect cog for the Cardinals, fitting in so well to their gritty style of play that you would almost think she spent her whole career there. Able to play all over the court and have an impact on all aspects of game, she leads Louisville in both 3-point field goal percentage and rebounding. -- Voepel

Antonelli's scouting report:

  • Two-way wing with defensive length and anticipation; provides rim and lane protection on elite defensive team

  • Skills, knowledge, experience to make winning plays

  • 3-point range, strong driver, willing passer; versatility to play positions 2-5


Also receiving votes: Grace Berger, Indiana; Aijha Blackwell, Missouri; Rae Burrell, Tennessee; Veronica Burton, Northwestern; Jayda Curry, California; Shaylee Gonzales, BYU; Vivian Gray, Texas Tech; Mya Hollingshed, Colorado; Lexie Hull, Stanford; Rickea Jackson, Mississippi State; Tamari Key, Tennessee; Charlisse Leger-Walker, Washington State; Taylor Mikesell, Ohio State; Olivia Miles, Notre Dame; Diamond Miller, Maryland; Que Morrison, Georgia; Aneesah Morrow, DePaul; Te-Hina Pao Pao, Oregon; Raina Perez, NC State; Cate Reese, Arizona; Jaz Shelley, Nebraska; Kianna Smith, Louisville; Jewel Spear, Wake Forest; Jenna Staiti, Georgia; Alyssa Ustby, North Carolina; Hailey Van Lith, Louisville; Kayla Wells, Texas A&M; Maddy Westbeld, Notre Dame; Evina Westbrook, UConn; Madi Williams, Oklahoma

Source : https://www.espn.com/womens-college-basketball/story/_/id/33038441/ranking-top-25-players-women-college-basketball-2021-22-season-version-20

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