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Freshman national player of the year? An argument for UConn’s Paige Bueckers

For a few years, the national player of the year in college basketball for women has been stress-free, the culmination of a player who has led the start of the race to the end. Think OregonSabrina Ionescu last season, or UConnBreanna Stewart in 2016. In other cases it is a two-player fight. And then there’s this season when several players – including UConn freshman guard Paige Bueckers – are in the mix.

There may also be no consensus. There are several Player of the Year honors – including the Wade Trophy, Wooden Award, Naismith Award, and awards from The Associated Press and ESPN.com – and the different voting panels for each can rate different things. Even more complicated is the impact of the coronavirus pandemic on schedules this season, including some marquee non-conference games that have been canceled.

And then there are top teams like Texas A & M., NC status, Stanford and Maryland Because these are such successful ensembles, it’s difficult to pick just one player from each roster who consistently stands out.

With all of these in mind, here’s a look at the top candidates, listed in the order in which they are most likely to win at least one National Player of the Year.

Paige Bueckers, UConn, guard, newcomer

Will her age count against her just because there is no precedent for a newbie to be named the best woman player in the country? It shouldn’t be, but Bueckers would be groundbreaking. No newcomer has ever won the honors Wade (since 1978), Naismith (1983), AP (1995) or Wooden (2004). The only sophomores to win any of these awards are Cheryl Miller of Southern California, Clarissa Davis of Texas, and Maya Moore and Breanna Stewart of UConn.

Being the best player on the No. 1 team – and a program that has won 11 NCAA championships – is a pretty strong formula for Bückers to win National Player of the Year. The Huskies (21-1) are also predicted to be top overall seeds in the NCAA tournament.

Persistence is also in their favor. Only staying in the single digits once, Bueckers had nine points against Tennessee on Jan. 21 – but their 3-pointer late in that win was the dagger. She leads the huskies in the rating (19.8 PPG), assists (6.2 APG), steals (2.4 SPG), 3-pointers (50) and minutes (36.1). She had three games in a row with 30 points or more – something no other UConn player has done – and set the program’s single-assistant record at 14 against Butler on Saturday.

Bueckers is in a different situation than most previous UConn superstars. She plays on a team with no seniors and seven newcomers, and she has had more opportunities to field a larger number than many of her predecessors. For the same reason, it means that she has more weight and pressure to perform.

Bueckers is not a one-woman show; The juniors Christyn Williams (15.4 PPG), Olivia Nelson-Ododa (13.0 PPG) and Evina Westbrook (9.5 PPG) as well as the newcomer Aaliyah Edwards (10.7 PPG) offer good support. You have all contributed to the defensive improvement of the Huskies over the course of the season. But Bueckers is still UConn’s engine.

The problem some observers have with Bueckers is that the Great East has not proven more challenging this season than the American Athletic Conference in the past seven years. UConn has an average profit margin of plus 33.9 on Big East games. If the Huskies win the conference tournament, it will be eight consecutive seasons of unbeaten league play.

In their three non-conference games against Power 5 opponents – Tennessee, Arkansas and South Carolina – all SEC bumpers averaged 22.3 points, 4.7 rebounds and 4.7 assists. The Huskies only loss was to Arkansas, 90-87. Non-conference games against top teams like Louisville and Baylor have been canceled due to COVID-19 issues, but the Huskies are ranked number 2 on the NET.

Conclusion: Bueckers has made a convincing argument to write the history of the awards.

Dana Evans, Louisville, Guard, senior

Evans was named ACC Player of the Year for the second year running on Tuesday. He averages 21.0 PPG and 4.3 assists and scores 56 3-point points. In ACC games, Louisville took second place in Louisville on offensive (75.6 PPG) and defensive defense (63.3 PPG), and Evans was a big part of both. The Cardinals’ losses went to NC State and Florida State, with the latter coming on February 21, making a small turning point in their season. Even so, Evans is twice the top player in a highly competitive league and the coupling performance she has provided for the Cardinals makes her a strong national player of the year.

According to ESPN Stats & Information, Evans shot 56% off the ground in the final five minutes of the fourth quarter of this season’s games, including 8 out of 13 from the 3-point range. She has hit double digits in 40 consecutive games from last season.

Rhyne Howard, KentuckyGuard, junior

On Tuesday, the junior was named SEC Player of the Year for the second year in a row. It exceeded ours Ranking of the 25 best players in women’s college basketball since Novemberand it’s not like their season wasn’t worthy. It’s more about other candidates standing up. But Howard is still in the mix as one of the best in the nation.

Her average of 19.8 PPG is lower than last season’s 23.4. But their rebound (7.5 RPG) and assists (3.7 APG) averages are both improved. Howard also has a history of making it big for the No. 17 Wildcats against the best of opponents. According to ESPN Stats & Info, Howard has averaged 20.5 points over her career against AP-ranked opponents. This is the fourth best among SEC players (with at least 20 such games) in the last 20 seasons.

NaLyssa Smith, Baylor, forward, junior

The Big 12 has many strong candidates for conference player of the year, and the league has a week left in the regular season. By doing ESPN.com selects the Player of the Year in each conference Last week we picked Natasha Mack of Oklahoma State as the favorite for the Big 12 award and Smith as the top challenger.

But Smith’s accomplishments in Baylor’s last four wins seemed to focus the tide more on her. In these games, she shot 66.7% off the field, while Baylor secured his eleventh Big 12 title in a row in the regular season with an average of 18.8 points.

Smith averages 18.1 points and 9.3 rebounds, and while she probably won’t win International of the Year this season, she makes a statement that at least she should be on the table.

Caitlin Clark, Iowa, Guard, newbie

Like Bueckers, Clark is a dynamic newcomer who leads her team. Her numbers are huge: she averages 26.9 points, 6.1 rebounds and 7.0 assists. She did 82 3-pointers and shoots 41 percent behind the bow and a total of 47.7 percent. Your score and assists averages and 3 points total each rank second in Division I. You scored 30 or more points 10 times, including in five games in a row.

Clark might be held back a little by the results of the unrated Hawkeyes; With one game remaining in the regular season, they are a total of 14: 7 and 10: 7 (sixth) in the Big Ten on Wednesday. The Big Ten are currently expected to have seven teams in the NCAA tournament, as opposed to three from the Big East. It’s hard to argue that Clark hasn’t consistently played against better competition than Bueckers.

If Clark ends up with her current scoring average, it will be the third highest value for a freshman in Division I women’s history. The top three are now Tina Hutchinson of San Diego State (1983-84) with 29.9, Valorie Whiteside from the state of Appalachian (1984-85) with 27.1 and Elena Delle Donne (Delaware) with 26.7 (2009-10) (ESPN Stats & Info).

Aliyah Boston, South carolina, forward, in the second year

The Gamecocks’ offense doesn’t always give Boston as many touches as it needs, though trainer Dawn Staley continues to work on things. Boston is second on the team with an average of 13.0 points averaging 11.7 rebounds and 2.9 blocks.

Boston’s domination inside opens things up to her guards – Zia Cooke leads the team at 15.9 PPG – and she’s the tent mast for the defense. Her talent is abundant, but with relatively low scores and the # 7 Gamecocks falling in their regular season finale against Texas A&M, Boston is mentioned as National Player of the Year, but likely not a front runner.

Aari McDonald, Arizona, Guard, senior

Pac-12 Player of the Year – the second such award for Arizona after current coach Adia Barnes (1998) – McDonald helped lead the # 11 Wildcats to a second place in the league and their first NCAA tournament to secure appearance since 2005.

After moving from Washington, the senior has scored double digits in all 85 games she played for Arizona. It averages 19.4 points, 5.0 rebounds, 4.4 assists and 2.7 steals, and its effectiveness in attack and defense will attract some attention for the national player of the year.

Charli Collier, Texas, Middle / striker, junior

The draft-able junior is the planned number 1 in the ESPN.com WNBA pattern design and averages 21.0 points and 12.2 rebounds. She had a season high of 44 points and 12 games with 14 rebounds or more.

Collier is likely to be considered by national player of the year voters. In the two largest tests in Texas against Baylor, however, she fought with a total of 14 points and 14 rebounds.

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