March 10, 2022
Daily Briefing — March 10, 2022: Inside one USBWA awards ballot
All roads lead to Boston
It’s Thursday — the workweek’s almost passed! Welcome to The Next’s Daily Briefing, featuring the W Roundup, the daily Watch List and Yesterday’s Recap! Day 120 of college basketball is here, following the first UNLV title out of the Mountain West tournament since 1994. Colorado State point guard McKenna Hofschild did her best to keep the game close, but Essence Booker and co. proved too much. There was little else on last night, and not much to speak of today, so I figured now would be a great time to join The Athletic and Sports Illustrated from yesterday and run through some national awards. I’m technically a USBWA voter (no, I don’t know why they let me do that, either), and I am all about transparency.
So with some further ado, let’s run through some national awards, shall we?
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Watch List, Thursday, March 10
(All times in Eastern)
No. 25 UCF v. South Florida, 9:30 p.m., ESPNU
(Note: some of these players had been written up in my Power 5 conference awards list. Those blurbs are block-quoted here.)
My USBWA Ballot
Ann Meyers Drysdale Women’s National Player of the Year
- Aliyah Boston, South Carolina
[Boston]’s the best player in the country by a decent margin. She was among the top players in the conference in usage, at center, while taking 1.5 threes a game and making a third of them — at center. The difference between her RAPM and the No. 2 player is the difference between that player and Evina Westbrook at No. 91. She had 18 points and 11 rebounds and five blocks and four steals against Cameron Brink.
- Caitlin Clark, Iowa
It’s Caitlin Clark. Her CBB Analytics wheel chart(?) speaks for itself:
- Cameron Brink, Stanford
[Brink] was so dang dominant in the minutes she played; Stanford was 14.8 points better with her on the court by RAPM, fifth-best in the country. She was a monster in the post, excellent working from the perimeter down, a deadly screener, and the best defensive playmaker this side of Aliyah Boston. In a year the Pac-12 was short on truly dominant performances, Brink rose to the occasion.
Honorable mention: Rhyne Howard (Kentucky), NaLyssa Smith (Baylor)
Tamika Catchings Women’s National Freshman Player of the Year
- Aneesah Morrow, DePaul
She recorded the second-longest double-double streak in women’s DI history. She was one of the best rebounders and defensive playmakers in the country. Enough said.
- Olivia Miles, Notre Dame
Miles was ruled ineligible by the ACC on account of having enrolled early last year. The NCAA doesn’t care about those silly ideas, though. So we’ve got a freshman who’s arguably the best playmaker in the ACC and one of the best in the NCAA, while developing as a three-level scorer and being a capable defender.
- Talia von Oelhoffen, Oregon State
Von Oelhoffen fell into the same boat as Miles with respect to conference eligibility. But I’m not so draconian. Von Oelhoffen was a wicked passer, a shooter with limitless range, and was the only consistent offensive creator on the Beavers. She kept the team afloat across a tough schedule despite the team’s severe dearth of other offense.
HMs: Rori Harmon (Texas), Jenna Johnson (Utah), Gianna Kneepkens (Utah)
(Players listed in order)
- Aliyah Boston, South Carolina
- Caitlin Clark, Iowa
- Cameron Brink, Stanford
- Rhyne Howard, Kentucky
- NaLyssa Smith, Baylor
Howard: Despite the downturn in Kentucky’s record, Howard has been as good as ever. She does more for her team’s defense than any other non-center in the country, and has remained an offensive engine that rivals any in the country. It’s just hard when there’s only one other consistently good offensive player on your team. … Smith: She’s the best rebounder in the country, shot a 61.4% true-shooting, and is the best defender in the Big 12.
- Haley Jones, Stanford
- Elissa Cunane, NC State
- Emily Engstler, Louisville
- Ayoka Lee, Kansas State
- Naz Hillmon, Michigan
Jones: A point wing, a fantastic playmaker, an elite multi-positional defender. No one in the country can do what she does. … Cunane (from my awards TDB): “she[‘s] dominated offensively in matchups with players like Kansas State’s Ayoka Lee, Indiana’s Mackenzie Holmes, Maryland’s Angel Reese, and her season-finale rematch with Virginia Tech’s Elizabeth Kitley. Cunane is the player the third-best team in the country turns to when it needs points in crunch time, and her gravity, passing, and post movement are a huge part of why the Wolfpack are the eighth-best 3-point-shooting team in the country” … Engstler: “Among all Power 5 players, she ranks fourth in defensive rebounding rate, fourth in steal rate, 15th in block rate, and fourth in stock (steals + blocks) rate. She’s switched onto the point of attack, defended wings facing up, and been an elite secondary rim protector. She’s been, quite simply, the perfect defensive four.” At the same time, she’s shot over 40% while providing legit playmaking. … Lee: She’s a bit matchup-dependent, and her defensive range is limited, but no one in the country dominates mismatches like she does. Given the rest of Kansas State’s roster, she’s essentially accounted for most of the Wildcats’ wins themselves. … Hillmon: Arguably the best post scorer in the country, and there’s no matchup that has proven capable against her.
- Maddy Siegrist, Villanova
- Veronica Burton, Northwestern
- Elizabeth Kitley, Virginia Tech
- Madi Williams, Oklahoma
- Aneesah Morrow, DePaul
Siegrist (from the Jan. 26 TDB): “since returning from a broken hand on Dec. 9, Siegrist has averaged 28.1 points on 51.3%/36.9%/83.5% shooting, 10.1 rebounds (3.4 offensive), 1.9 assists, 1.4 steals and 0.9 blocks, with an elite 61.5% true shooting percentage on 34.1% usage. No college player in the Her Hoop Stats era (since 2009) has touched those numbers; the only players even coming close were Elena Delle Donne in her best season, Chiney Ogwumike when she won the Wooden Award and TDB favorite Jasmine Dickey this year — the last two with significantly more turnovers.” … Burton (from my awards TDB): “Burton is the best backcourt defensive playmaker in the country, and there’s no one else in the conversation. She forces ball-handlers into miniscule passing windows thanks to impeccable timing on entry passes, harasses posts with her unique aggressive digs, and remains stout at the point of attack. She’s an entire defense unto herself.” She’s also running a 99th-percentile assist rate and 92nd-percentile true-shooting. … Kitley: On an elite offense driven by perimeter guard, Kitley’s provided the interior presence to make it run. (She’s also a very good post defender.) When she played against N.C. State two weeks ago, the Hokies lost by two; when she missed their rematch last Saturday, they lost by 15. … Madi Williams: Oklahoma doesn’t have a lot of creators, and they dearly rely on Williams to get her own shot — at the rim, in the midrange, from three (accuracy notwithstanding). And she’s done it against everyone: she averaged 19 points against Baylor this year.
HMs: Nyara Sabally (Oregon), Lorela Cubaj (Georgia Tech), Olivia Miles (Notre Dame), Ashley Joens (Iowa State), Shakira Austin (Ole Miss)
Women’s National Coach of the Year
- Jennie Baranczyk, Oklahoma
Oklahoma features two players in the primary rotation this year who weren’t in last year’s: the composite No. 82 recruit in the country at backup point guard and a bench combo forward who played 65 minutes for a 13-11 North Carolina team last year. And the Sooners have gone from 4-14 in the Big 12, ahead of exactly one team, to 11-5 (probably finishing 13-5), good for a top-20 national ranking and almost certainly third place in a drastically improved Big 12. The team has adapted to playing a 2-3 zone full-time as well as any team could, while every player on the roster looks dramatically better than they ever have before. Have I mentioned that this team has no centers?
Baranczyk has worked nothing short of a miracle. They swept Baylor, for God’s sake.
- Cori Close, UCLA
UCLA dealt with injury trouble so bad it played with only six players for the better part of two months. And those weren’t even the Bruins’ best six: Their preseason projected starting point guard (Gina Conti), center (Emily Bessoir), and backup center (Angela Dugalić) have all missed multiple months, while their top three scorers on the season have themselves missed considerable time. While Bessoir was always going to be out for the year, Conti and Dugalić were expected back by Christmas; the latter ramped up this month, the former is missing the season. And yet UCLA kept battling.
The fact that this team finished just 2.5 games back of second place is genuinely astounding.
- Dawn Staley, South Carolina
The Gamecocks have made a mockery of nearly every opponent they’ve faced this season. Their only loss all season came in overtime to a mid-level conference opponent (Mizzou); they’ve beaten five current-top-11 teams — including the Nos. 2 and 3 and a fully healthy UConn — by an average of 8.4 points; and they’ve eased top freshmen into an already-stacked rotation as the season went on. And by “they,” you bet I mean Dawn Staley. South Carolina’s sheer dominance and Staley’s recruiting prowess is overwhelming.
Fun fact: Florida’s run started on Jan. 23. Over that period, it had a +3.7 net rating; the Gamecocks were +39.5.
Since then, South Carolina breezed past Ole Miss and did lose to Kentucky, a Wildcats team on an insane shooting streak.
HMs: Nicki Collen (Baylor), Kelly Rae Finley (Florida), Lynne Roberts (Utah)
Wednesday, March 9 recap
(All rankings below reflect tournament seeding)
AAC tournament, quarterfinals
#1 UCF beat #5 SMU, 61-28.
#2 USF beat #6 Houston, 58-50.
MAC tournament, quarterfinal
#2 Buffalo beat #7 Western Michigan, 63-49.
#3 Akron beat #6 Bowling Green, 81-67.
Mountain West, championship
#1 UNLV beat #6 Colorado State, 75-65. The Rams closed the gap to one point in the mid-fourth quarter, but UNLV pulled away to close on its first conference-tournament title in 29 years. 14 automatic qualifiers down!