Women’s college basketball 2021-22 – Top 25 players in the country

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How talented is the player pool for the 2021-22 women’s college basketball season?

For our panel of 12 voters, only three points — three! — separated the top two players in ESPN’s annual preseason ranking of the top 25 players in the country. In fact, the top three players headlining the list — Aliyah Boston, Paige Bueckers and NaLyssa Smith — each received at least three first-place votes.

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ESPN writers Mechelle Voepel, Charlie Creme and Katie Barnes, The Undefeated’s Sean Hurd and ESPN analysts Debbie Antonelli, 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.

When all the numbers were crunched, No. 1 South Carolina and No. 2 UConn led the way, both putting three players on our top 25 rankings. Defending NCAA champion Stanford, No. 3 in the preseason AP Top 25 poll, and fourth-ranked Maryland both have two players on the list.

The season tips off Tuesday — be sure to tune in to see No. 6 NC State host South Carolina (5 p.m. ET, ESPN/ESPN App). Until then, check out our rankings, including Antonelli’s scouting report for each player.

G | 5-foot-11 | sophomore
2020-21 stats:
20.0 PPG, 5.8 APG, 46.4% 3FG

Bueckers had a freshman season unlike any other. She was the consensus national player of the year, and was one of just a handful of Huskies in program history to average 20 PPG in a season. With all the talent in Storrs, she is likely to score less this season, but Bueckers prefers to facilitate first anyway. How she has developed her game on the court, as well as her leadership skills, will determine how deep of a run UConn makes this season. Bueckers received five first-place votes from our panel. — Katie Barnes

Debbie Antonelli’s scouting report:

  • Always makes the right play no matter what defense — scheme, junk, multiple looks — she faces

  • Elite offensive skills package

  • Trademarked #PaigeBuckets — impressive and something no one in our game has ever done

Forward | 6-foot-2 | senior
2020-21 stats:
18.0 PPG, 8.9 RPG, 56.1% FG

Smith, the Wade Trophy winner last season, has even more of her game to show. “A lot of people don’t know that I can handle the ball and shoot 3s,” she said. “And I feel like when you expand your game on offense, you also do it on defense. Guarding guards is about lateral movement, using my speed and conditioning.” Smith made just 3 of 14 shots from behind the arc last season and had 36 assists. She wants both of those numbers to improve. Smith received four first-place votes and finished three points behind Bueckers in our voting. — Mechelle Voepel

Antonelli’s scouting report:

  • Slasher and full-court finisher

  • Runs main street, runs wide and scores in transition

  • Dangerous face-up game off bounce

Forward | 6-foot-5 | junior
2020-21 stats:
13.7 PPG, 11.5 RPG, 2.6 BPG

Boston enters her junior season as the undisputed best traditional post player in the country. If there were a literal belt for that title, it’d be hanging in her room. But I guess the two Lisa Leslie Awards in her first two seasons will have to suffice. Though her season ended in heartbreak during last year’s Final Four, Boston will surely be a force for South Carolina this season. Her dominance has traditionally been anchored in the paint, but she has also shown that she can extend her range. If Boston, who received three first-place votes, becomes consistent farther out from the basket, she will be almost impossible to stop. — Barnes

Antonelli’s scouting report:

Guard | 6-foot-2 | senior
2020-21 stats:
20.7 PPG, 7.3 RPG, 3.8 APG

Hell hath no fury like a Rhyne Howard scorned? Despite being in the conversation for national player of the year awards throughout the 2020-2021 season, Howard ended up fading as the season went on, even as she posted impressive numbers. She will be right in the thick of those conversations this year as she tries to lead the Wildcats to the next level. — Barnes

Antonelli’s scouting report:

  • Gifted physical stamina, and creative and versatile shot-maker

  • Born to score anywhere on the floor

  • Late-game alpha who wants ball to win game

Guard | 6-foot-0 | sophomore
2020-21 stats:
26.6 PPG, 7.1 APG, 40.6% 3FG

A high-scoring star the second she stepped on the court at Carver-Hawkeye Arena, Clark had at least 20 points in eight of her first nine games, including four 30-point performances in that span. And she just kept going. Clark finished her freshman season as the nation’s leading scorer and was second in assists per game. With a shooting range that seems unlimited and court vision that at times seems astonishing, Clark is only in the early stages of what could be a record-smashing career. — Charlie Creme

Antonelli’s scouting report:

  • Four-level passer: Advance/skip in transition, two-player game, post feed, passes under duress

  • Dynamic offensive bucket-getter

  • Possesses the three Ws of a good point guard: Who to get the ball to, when and where

Guard | 6-foot-1 | junior
2020-21 stats:
13.2 PPG, 7.4 RPG, 54.6% FG

It feels weird to write that the sixth-ranked player on this list is underrated, but at the end of the season we might be looking back on this ranking and saying exactly that. When Jones has been on the floor her first two seasons, she has been consistently good. But in the 2021 NCAA tournament, Jones showed how great she can be. The Final Four Most Outstanding Player led the Cardinal to their first championship since 1992. And if Stanford repeats, it will be on the back of Jones’ play. — Barnes

Antonelli’s scouting report:

  • Full-court facilitator

  • Power and aggressive in transition and off glass

  • Complete scoring versatility, invert to block — taking a perimeter player and posting her up — off-screening action, with ball in two-player game

Forward |6-foot-2 | senior
2020-21 stats:
23.9 PPG, 11.4 RPG, 62.3% FG

The reigning Big Ten player of the year, Hillmon was one of the most imposing interior forces in college basketball last season. She was seventh in the nation in scoring, second in field goal percentage and put up video-game-level stat lines such as 35 points and 22 rebounds vs. Nebraska and 50 and 16 vs. Ohio State. What expansion of Hillmon’s game might we see in Year 4? Through her first three seasons, Hillmon took just one 3-point field goal attempt. In an exhibition game last Thursday, she went 2-for-3 from beyond the arc. Watch out. — Sean Hurd

Antonelli’s scouting report:

  • Power finisher inside

  • Two-handed, aggressive, ball-seeking rebounder

  • Raw strength on deep post catch, and will finish and-1

Center | 6-foot-5 | senior
2020-21 stats:
16.3 PPG, 8.3 RPG, 53.3% FG

Cunane is more a throwback-style center but has enough accuracy beyond the arc (33 of 81, 40.7% for her career) that teams can’t ignore her there. She has shot 54.4% from the field over her three seasons. She doesn’t block a lot of shots, but she alters them or dissuades opponents from thinking about shooting in the first place. Coach Wes Moore said Cunane is in “the best shape of her life; I think she’s going to be running the floor better than ever.” — Voepel

Antonelli’s scouting report:

  • Elite-level screener, roller and 3-point shooter makes her excellent in pick and pop and pick and roll

  • Can finish with left or right hand in lane and has un-guardable skyhook

  • Infectious love for teammates and game

Forward | 6-foot-1 | senior
2020-21 stats:
24.2 PPG, 9.5 RPG, 46.3% FG

The résumé is already staggering. Last season, Joens was voted the top small forward in the country as the Cheryl Miller Award winner. She set the Cyclones program record for single-season scoring average. Joens has also led the Big 12 in scoring for two consecutive seasons. Her game is built on an uncanny ability to score over and around taller opponents, using angles and opportunity with great efficiency. If her senior season is comparable to last year, Joens should easily become Iowa State’s all-time leading scorer. — Creme

Antonelli’s scouting report:

  • Eyes and feet ready to make a winning play

  • Tough, fierce, durable competitor on every play

  • Great handle and shot-making, from 3-point range to rim

Guard | 6-foot-0 | junior
2020-21 stats:
17.9 PPG, 5.6 RPG, 5.9 APG

A power forward in a guard’s body with a playmaker’s skill set, Owusu blossomed a year ago. A summer spent winning a gold medal with USA Basketball at the AmeriCup should only make her better. Stronger than almost any defender she faces on the perimeter, Owusu also has a special ability to find precise driving angles to get to the basket efficiently. When Maryland got down to a seven-player rotation at one point last season, Owusu took command and led what became the highest-scoring offense in the country. — Creme

Antonelli’s scouting report:

  • Doctorate degree in ball-screen offense: so good in reading and making decisions

  • Excellent situational point guard: knows time, score and how to win

  • Crafty and flashy; wow factor with ball in her hands

Center| 6-foot-5 | senior
2020-21 stats:
18.6 PPG, 9.1 RPG, 1.8 BPG

Austin took a risk when she opted to leave perennial power Maryland after the 2019-20 season to help change the culture at Ole Miss, and it paid off. Ole Miss made an appearance in the WNIT finals last season and Austin cemented her place as one of the best in college basketball. The strength of Austin’s game is her versatility. At 6-5, she has exceptional ballhandling ability, shooting range that extends behind the arc and an array of post finishes once she’s able to touch the paint. That skill set will probably make Austin a top pick in the WNBA draft. — Hurd

Antonelli’s scouting report:

  • Offensive threat in middle third of floor

  • Pivots, counters and finishes in lane with array of post moves

  • High post jumper is real

Guard | 6-foot-3 | junior
2020-21 stats:
17.3 PPG, 5.8 RPG, 50.6% FG

She was the Terps’ second-leading scorer last season and filled the stat sheet in every other way, too. Miller was also second on the team in steals and third in assists. With her height, she’s a difficult matchup for opposing defenses, especially considering Maryland virtually always has five strong scorers on the court. Miller is dealing with knee pain to start this season, so the Terps will be cautious with her. — Voepel

Antonelli’s scouting report:

  • High-energy two-way wing

  • Length, speed, balance and a burning desire to make a play

  • Excels in up-tempo, with complete offensive skill package off bounce, off screens, in isolation or transition

Forward | 6-foot-4 | sophomore
2020-21 stats:
9.9 PPG, 6.6 RPG, 2.8 BPG

Defense was a critical part of Stanford’s first NCAA title in three decades, and Brink was at the center of it. She led Stanford and the Pac-12 (and tied for fourth in Division I) with 88 blocked shots, despite averaging just 18.5 minutes per game. Coach Tara VanDerveer wants her to cut down on foul trouble, which she is likely to do after a year of experience. The Cardinal also might look to Brink to score more, especially if she gets additional court time. — Voepel

Antonelli’s scouting report:

  • Aggressive playing through the elbows — or “in the pinch post offense” — from high post

  • Bucket-getter at all three levels (3-pointers, mid-range, at rim)

  • Guard-like skills; potential All-American ready for breakout year

14. Zia Cooke, South Carolina Gamecocks

Guard | 5-foot-9 | junior
2020-21 stats:
15.9 PPG, 3.0 RPG, 2.0 APG

It’s no small feat that as a sophomore, Cooke was the top scorer on one of the top teams in the country. Cooke plays with an almost effortless flair that makes her game so fun to watch and makes her one of the best playmakers in college basketball. Cooke continues to steadily climb this list, and if she can harness her shot selection in Year 3 and make yet another jump as we expect to see this season, she could be a top-10 player in the next iteration of these rankings. — Hurd

Antonelli’s scouting report:

  • Multilevel, jump-shooting power guard

  • Triple-threat across midcourt to pound ball to rim or finesse a 3

  • Competitive shot-seeker off all screening action

Guard | 5-foot-11 | senior
2020-21 stats:
16.3 PPG, 4.3 RPG, 2.2 APG

There’s no doubt Williams had a tough junior season for UConn, wavering between meeting and playing below expectations. She recently revealed that she’d played through a nerve issue in her left elbow, which required offseason surgery. But Williams’ play in the NCAA tournament, in which she scored 20-plus points in each of the Huskies’ final three games, showed promise for the coming year. The senior guard said she’s 100% healthy heading into this season — and a Huskies championship run will require Williams at her best. — Hurd

Antonelli’s scouting report:

  • Catch-and-shoot from 3

  • Makes scoring cut, basket cuts, backdoor cuts, exit cuts with purpose

  • Aggressive off bounce

Guard | 5-foot-9 | junior
2020-21 stats:
17.0 PPG, 5.8 RPG, 3.8 APG

She ranked in the Pac-12’s top 10 in scoring, assists, steals (38), 3-pointers (53), assist-to-turnover ratio (1.93) and minutes played (34.4). With UCLA being short on personnel last season, the Bruins relied on the starters a lot. Michaela Onyenwere went on to be Rookie of the Year in the WNBA, so now Osborne is the Bruins’ top star. Even though they have more depth this season, she’s going to have a lot on her shoulders. She proved last season she was ready for it. — Voepel

Antonelli’s scouting report:

  • Combo guard

  • Playmaker impacts the game without scoring — or in “right side of the box score” (rebounds, assists, steals)

  • Competitive rebounding motor and ball-seeker off glass from the perimeter

Forward | 6-foot-1 | senior
2020-21 stats:
16.8 PPG, 4.6 RPG, 82.5% FT

Smooth is the word that comes to mind when I think about Burrell’s game. She can finish at the rim and her pull-up game is pretty. During her breakout season in 2020-21, she statistically improved her game across the board. Burrell ended up leading the Lady Vols in 3-point shooting percentage last season, and if she has another year of growth, don’t be surprised if she emerges as a dark horse pick for SEC Player of the Year. — Barnes

Antonelli’s scouting report:

  • Elite and complete offensive skill-scoring motor

  • Dangerous on catch to attack off bounce

  • Works off any screening action and an excellent cutter off the ball

Guard | 5-foot-7 | sophomore
2020-21 stats:
11.2 PPG, 5.2 RPG, 2.1 APG

At just 5-7, Van Lith was among the best rebounders on Louisville’s squad last season. Her tenacity and physicality make her stand out on the court. Her 38.3% 3-point shooting led the Cardinals last season, and with the graduation of Dana Evans, look for Van Lith to increase her scoring. Louisville has been a perennial power in the ACC, and if Van Lith has a breakout season, the Cardinals could be serious contenders. — Barnes

Antonelli’s scouting report:

  • Trustworthy in late-game playmaking situations with elite handle, decisions and free throw shooting

  • Shot-making abilities outside arc and inside lane

  • Dangerous on the catch, aggressive first step make her hard to guard

Guard | 6-foot-1 | junior
2020-21 stats:
24.3 PPG, 10.6 RPG, 2.7 APG

In her first year in Fort Myers, Bell posted the best season in FGCU history while taking home every A-Sun award possible. The only player from a mid-major to make our top 25, Bell is one of the most complete players in college basketball. She can score from 3, take a defender off the dribble in the half court or start her own one-person fast break by grabbing a defensive rebound (Bell was sixth in the nation in defensive rebounds per game) or blocking a shot (19th in the nation in total blocks). — Hurd

Antonelli’s scouting report:

  • Power/point forward and double-double machine

  • Dangerous in open floor with ability to score or make play for a catch-and-shoot kick out

  • Stat sheet stuffer with endless energy

Center | 6-foot-6 | junior
2020-21 stats:
18.2 PPG, 10.4 RPG, 53.1% FG

On the verge of going from a good player to a great player, Kitley remains one of the country’s most under-recognized players. In a time with few true post players, she is a throwback. Kitley’s instincts around the basket and ability to finish, along with her size, make her an increasingly impossible matchup in the post. The shooting talent that Virginia Tech has around her helps minimizes double teams, and her already gaudy numbers (led the ACC last season with 12 double-doubles) could get even better. — Creme

Antonelli’s scouting report:

  • Great footwork and balance; could have big-time season

  • Runs floor like a guard, ahead of the ball, finishes in lane or hits transition 3

  • Unguardable one-on-one go-to moves and counters, including step-back in post

Guard | 5-foot-10 | sophomore
2020-21 stats:
18.8 PPG, 5.3 RPG, 3.1 APG

One year into her career and Leger-Walker can already be considered a transformative player. In just one season, she made people recognize Washington State basketball for the first time in years. With an aggressive, confident approach to her offensive game, Leger-Walker led the Pac-12 in points scored and pulled the Cougars into the NCAA tournament for the first time in 30 years. The big moments never seemed too big for her, like a game in January in which she scored 17 points in overtime against Arizona to get the Cougars their most important victory of the season. — Creme

Antonelli’s scouting report:

  • Walking bucket; was put on this Earth to score

  • No matter the screening, will read second and third level and make a play

  • Lose her in transition, she will make a play

Guard | 5-foot-9 | sophomore
2020-21 stats:
10.2 PPG, 3.2 RPG, 4.4 APG

Comparisons to Sabrina Ionescu were inevitable. Ducks coach Kelly Graves has never hesitated to liken the two. Paopao largely lived up to the billing. Her court vision, passing talent, ability to shoot from the perimeter and willingness to rebound all look familiar. She started as Oregon’s point guard in the 2020-21 season opener, and only a late-season injury that forced her to miss the final five games derailed an otherwise outstanding first year. — Creme

Antonelli’s scouting report:

  • Bouncy, quick and smart with ball

  • Downhill in transition like a running back through the offensive line

  • Untrappable, unflappable in late game or under duress

Forward | 6-foot-4 | senior
2020-21 stats:
12.5 PPG, 11.5 RPG, 1.3 BPG

Cubaj (pronounced coo-BYE) could have said goodbye to the college game after the Yellow Jackets reached the Sweet 16 last season, but she opted to use her extra year of eligibility. That was great news for Georgia Tech, and allows her a fifth year to build skills for the WNBA. She has the size and strength needed for a pro and was the ACC’s co-Defensive Player of the Year last season. Her 14 double-doubles ranked second in the league. — Voepel

Antonelli’s scouting report:

  • Sets such effective screens that it completely takes the opponent out of the play

  • Wins right side of box score

  • Tough, determined, hard-working rebounder and defender

Guard| 5-foot-7 | senior
2020-21 stats:
12.2 PPG, 4.7 RPG, 5.1 APG

There might not be another player in college basketball who can get from one baseline to the other faster than Henderson. Everything for South Carolina begins with Henderson and her ability to jump start both sides of the ball. The Gamecocks’ floor general really came into her own last season in place of Ty Harris. Henderson might have also had one of the most clutch performances of 2020-21 when she scored nine of South Carolina’s 16 fourth-quarter points in the Final Four. — Hurd

Antonelli’s scouting report:

25. Azzi Fudd, UConn Huskies

Guard | 5-foot-11 | freshman
2020-21 stats (high school):
26.3PPG, 6.2 RPG, 2.5 APG

It’s rare that a freshman makes this list in the preseason. Fudd seems to be that special. Just last season, friend and teammate Paige Bueckers was a preseason top-25 player and went on to win most of the national player of the year awards. Fudd is considered by many to be an even better prospect. Her skill set is vast, but her effortless shooting ability gets the most attention. The only question seems to be how she will fit into a deep and well-established UConn rotation. — Creme

Antonelli’s scouting report:

  • No. 1-rated high school player ready to ball out

  • Efficient shot-maker, spacer and cutter works at game speed

  • Advanced offensive skill set

Also receiving votes (alphabetical order):

Grace Berger, Indiana; Jada Boyd, NC State; Kennedy Brown, Oregon State; Leigha Brown, Michigan; Jakia Brown-Turner, NC State; Veronica Burton, Northwestern; Kamilla Cardoso, South Carolina; Gina Conti, UCLA; Emily Engstler, Louisville; Vivian Gray, Texas Tech; Anastasia Hayes, Mississippi State; Lauren Heard, TCU; Mya Hollingshed, Colorado; Diamond Johnson, NC State; Taylor Jones, Oregon State; Dorka Juhasz, UConn; Ayoka Lee, Kansas State; Jordan Lewis, Baylor; Que Morrison, Georgia; Koi Love, Arizona; Sedona Prince, Oregon; Cate Reese, Arizona; Nyara Sabally, Oregon; Aisha Sheppard, Virginia Tech; Jenna Staiti, Georgia; Evina Westbrook, UConn