Player of the Year race: Is Maddy Siegrist rising to level of Aliyah Boston, Caitlin Clark and Angel Reese?
What do you appreciate in the national player of the year? Is this the most insipid statistic? Production against strong competition? Movement on the court? The ability to make others better? How are teammates worn on the back? The one the team can’t be without?
There are so many ways to qualify an award that has no qualifications. And that’s why the National Player of the Year awards, or MVP, or whatever, are so ripe for heated and often angry arguments. There is only one award to be given, and in the case of women’s college basketball, there are over 2,000 players who could theoretically win it.
There are three players who have taken the bulk of the conversation this season and while they are all incredibly talented, they fit very different qualifications for a voter to consider.
6’5″ South Carolina center Alia Boston: The ability to make others better
6-foot Iowa point guard Caitlin Clark: Carries the team on the back
LSU 6-3 forward Angel Reese: The brightest statistic
Each player has their own “minus” associated with the professional skills they provide. Boston’s net stats are down because of the talent around her, her defense, and playing fewer minutes in these easier non-conference competitions. Clark’s team has the most losses in the group. And Reese has virtually no high-quality opponents, not to mention that her team has played strong teams in neither the vision test nor the NET rankings.
I am not a voter. But after watching Boston and Reese in Sunday’s long-awaited battle of the undefeated, I don’t think Reese should win the award from either Boston or Clark given her lack of equal competition and how she performed against a limited number of the best. And there’s a fourth contender to talk about, Maddie Siegrist Villanova, whose trio is headlined.
The difficult case of Angel Reese with NPOY
Reese’s stats are among the best in the country and her skill set is strong. Her 23.2 points in fifth place and 15.3 rebounds in second. She can deal with her own setbacks, get to her place, be defensive. Reese double-doubled every game as he headed for the No. 1 house in South Carolina, where he was caught. She set the program record for rebounding in a game (28) and is the only Division I player to play multiple 20-20 games.
Which begs the question, how many other players could have said all of this while playing in a competition that LSU competed in? Of course, if South Carolina head coach Dawn Staley kept her starters for full games against weak competition, Boston could. And it’s not Reese’s fault, and head coach Kim Mulkey isn’t to blame after she explained that the schedule was set before they built a strong transfer group. No one is detracting from what a great player Reese is and what she will become in her future LSU seasons. There is a time to show talent against real competition, and it will only get better for her.
The Tigers (23-1, 11-1 SEC, NET 3) didn’t play an Associated Press top 25 team until December in Arkansas, and that team quickly fell apart. Their non-conference schedule included one team (Oregon State, NET 55) from six strong conferences. And the SEC chart doesn’t just consist of South Carolina, LSU, and Tennessee (NET 19) in the NET top 20. It ranks fifth in chart strength (and future chart strength). massey ratings, leaving it behind all but the Big East.
Playing against Tennessee and South Carolina, two of the strongest teams on the schedule, Reese looked frustrated and largely missed her dominance throughout the game because the post-players were bigger, stronger, and more talented than almost everyone she was with. faced earlier. Against the Gamecocks, she had a career-high in rebounds (four) and shots (33.3%, 5-of-15) and approached a season-high low of 16. Her three worst games were South Carolina, Tennessee (5 of 14, 18 points), Kentucky (5 of 14, 26 points, mostly from free throws), and Alabama (4 of 11, 14 points).
It might be more of a note about experience, both physical and mental, regularly facing good competition, especially since Reese played for Maryland in a tough Big Ten pre-transfer. In fewer minutes last season with the Turps but higher usage, Reese averaged 17.7 points per game – 0.95 points per game – and 10.6 rebounds. Her numbers this season are up 31%, 44% and 10% respectively, and she ranks second in win share (13.3) according to her hoop stats.
I don’t think extra stats against weak talents is what makes player of the year. Boston, Clark and Siegrist are the stronger candidates on my list of qualifications.
Aliyah Boston’s ability to upgrade the players around her
Boston, whose Gamecocks is 25-0 (12-0 SEC, NET 1), is the easiest comparison in conversation because she’s also in the SEC. Her numbers are not as flashy: 13.4 points per game and 9.9 rebounds, although her points per game – 1.13 – is the highest among the three favorites. She ranks fifth in win rate (9.5). The game around her and South Carolina’s deep bench contributed to the results she had last season. Some of her best games were Kentucky (9 of 11, 21 points, 11 rebounds, three assists, four blocks) and Alabama (8 of 10, 16 points, 12 points, 4a) versus Reese.
South Carolina’s schedule strength is many times that of LSU because it has scheduled UConn (NET 2), Stanford (NET 4), and UCLA (NET 27) on the road. Boston had a season-high double-double with 26 points and 11 rebounds against UConn and 14 points and 13 rebounds against Stanford.
It could be argued that Boston is South Carolina’s most valuable asset because spotting it opens up her teammates to stronger stats. In terms of talent, many scouts consider her the first pick in the WNBA draft in April. Her ability to find a down low or find an open player through these doubles is easy to see. And she shows good competition. Beating it already certainly helps.
Caitlin Clark’s Tasteless Stats, Team MVP Status
Clarke played in a tougher conference for Iowa (20-5, 12-2 Big Ten, NET 8) with insipid stats of 27.4 points, 7.6 rebounds and 8.3 assists. The Big Ten has nine teams in the top 50 of the NET rankings (and five in the top 16), which the selection committee uses primarily to determine seeding, and is the highest-scoring conference in Division I.
Twice she scored 40 points, and each time against an opponent with an AP rating. Her three triple-doubles lead the country, and she’s consistently followed them up, including a day with 25 points, seven rebounds and six assists against UConn in November with Azzi Fudd on the Huskies. She is third in winning share (10.9).
The case for Reese mostly centers on how invaluable she is to LSU (although Alexis Morris may have blown a hole in that on Sunday). Clark is perhaps even more valuable to Iowa. Monica Chinano is the most efficient in the country on the stand, but it’s Clarke who gets the ball. The junior point guard assists the nation’s top 47.1% of the team’s shots.
Clarke’s ability to strike from deep is interesting to watch, but she also extends the defense to help her open Chinano. She was also stronger in her drives in the paint and hitting more free throws than the year before.
Maddie Sigrist, forgotten NPOY contender
There is a fourth candidate that should be seriously discussed with the trio: Siegrist. The 6-2 senior forward is averaging near a double-double with 29.1 points per game (first in the DI) and 9.4 rebounds.
Her 1.17 points per game dwarfs Boston, and her high utilization rate (37.6%) is on par with Clarke. Her 53.6% field goal percentage is similar to Reese’s, but her game goes all the way to the three-point line, where she averages 41% almost twice a game. Her 57.5 field goal percentage surpasses everyone else on the above NPOY list except Boston (59.2%).
The Big East is ranked sixth in terms of schedule strength, with Villanova as a program. ranked 50th — right next to the statistical SOS LSU. The Wildcats (22-4, 13-2) are 11th on the NET and have played Princeton (NET 50), Baylor (NET 24), South Florida (NET 32), and Iowa State (NET 15) in out-of-competition games.
Siegrist, the current Big East Player of the Year, had 32 points and 12 rebounds against Iowa State. Her two worst shots were against UConn (9 of 23), where she still scored 25 points with eight rebounds, and Baylor (8 of 24), but still with 22 points, eight rebounds and four steals. Against Seton Hall on Saturday, she scored a career-high 50 points, becoming the all-time leading scorer in Big East conference history.
The one who is being chased by all of the above Player of the Year contenders is Siegrist, whose 13.8 win share is the nation’s leader. If we’re talking about scoring, she leads the nation in points (and 40-minute points) as well as field goals (and 40-minute field goals). Her turnover rate is 5.9% and she is in fifth place, knocking everyone else out of the competition (Boston is 11.5% in 238th). And that’s with the highest usage rate of any of the four players on this list (outperforming Clark 36.6%, Reese 29.2% and Boston 21%).
If Reese is in the Player of the Year conversation — which is fine if anyone sees the award as heavily based on stats — then Siegrist should be the top contender for what she’s done this season. Considering the power of graphics and performance, she’s actually a stronger candidate than Reese, at least in this viewer’s eyes.