May 24, 2024

For the second year in a row, we’ve entered the women’s college basketball season with a returning senior who is the reigning consensus national player of the year. Will Iowa‘s Caitlin Clark repeat those honors?

Clark starts as the unanimous No. 1 in ESPN’s 2023-24 top 25 players rankings, which is where she finished last season. But she opened 2022-23 as No. 2. Just as she contested South Carolina‘s Aliyah Boston as national player of the year last season, Clark will face challengers this season.

UConn‘s Paige Bueckers, another former national player of the year, is back after missing last season with a knee injury. LSU senior Angel Reese is also expected to have another huge season, despite the Tigers’ surprising season-opening loss.

Virginia Tech‘s Elizabeth Kitley, like Clark a two-time conference player of the year who led her team to the Final Four last season, is one of several post players vying for the top 10 in our rankings.

We will update our rankings — as voted on by ESPN’s Michael Voepel, Charlie Creme and Alexa Philippou — throughout the season and NCAA tournament. And while there’s no freshmen in this initial top 25 — despite some impressive debuts this week, the rookies haven’t had a chance to really make their cases yet — they might appear on subsequent lists. We also weighed injury concerns with some players whose status isn’t clear as the season gets underway.

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1:14

Fab 4: The top women’s basketball players to watch for this season

Get ready for another scintillating season of women’s hoops with the best moments from Angel Reese, Paige Bueckers, Caitlin Clark and Cameron Brink.

Guard | 6-foot-0 | senior
2022-23 stats:
27.8 PPG, 7.1 RPG, 8.6 APG, 140 3-pointers

Clark won national player of the year accolades last season, leading Iowa to the Final Four and the Big Ten tournament championship. But she has consistently been the same force all three years in college. She led the nation in assists and 3-pointers as a junior, a tough combination for defenses. Some major individual records — the NCAA Division I career scoring and 3-point marks — are within reach this season. But the two-time Big Ten Player of the Year is more focused on leadership and empowerment of her teammates, especially for those who are in bigger roles this season. — Voepel


Forward | 6-foot-3 | junior
2022-23 stats:
23.0 PPG, 15.4 RPG, 52.5% FG

No transfer delivered in the way Reese did a year ago. In her first season in Baton Rouge, she instantly became the centerpiece of the program, put up huge numbers and, most importantly, catapulted the Tigers to their first national championship as Final Four Most Outstanding Player. Few players have her intuition for tracking missed shots; she led the country in offensive rebounds per game last season. Not to be lost in all of the attention Reese received last April, she has been named to the all-defensive team in the SEC and Big Ten (Maryland). — Creme


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0:20

Paige Bueckers scores 1st basket in return from injury for UConn

Paige Bueckers scores her first basket in return from injury for UConn.

Guard | 6-foot-0 | junior
2021-21 stats*:
14.6 PPG, 4.0 RPG, 3.9 APG (*did not play in 2022-23; ACL)

College basketball hasn’t seen a fully healthy Bueckers in about two years, but Geno Auriemma said his point guard is a better basketball player now than when she won national player of the year as a freshman. It might take time for Bueckers to return to form, but she’ll undoubtedly be motivated to make up for lost time in her first season since an August 2022 ACL tear — and dialed in on taking care of unfinished business: winning a national championship. — Philippou


Forward | 6-foot-4 | senior
2022-23 stats:
15.1 PPG, 9.6 RPG, 3.5 BPG

Brink was part of Stanford’s national championship team as a freshman and now is their centerpiece as a senior. She’s an equal force on offensive and defensive, finishing second in the nation last season in blocked shots per game. The Cardinal had a disappointing end to 2022-23, losing in the Pac-12 tournament semifinals and NCAA tournament second round. But Brink impressed in both losses. That’s what the Cardinal need from her this season since they are not the conference favorite for the first time in the past few decades. — Voepel


Forward | 6-foot-3 | senior
2022-23 stats:
22.3 PPG, 7.3 RPG, 68 FG%

Holmes on the block is money in the bank: In her four seasons at Indiana, she has shot 63.5% from the field. As a super senior, Holmes is again at the heart of the Hoosiers’ offense and defense. Indiana celebrated just its second Big Ten regular-season championship — and first in 40 years — in 2023. But the postseason was tough for the Hoosiers and Holmes, who wasn’t 100% due to injury and didn’t play in their NCAA tournament first-round game. Miami upset Indiana in the second round — Holmes had 22 points and nine rebounds — a heartbreaking finish she hopes to remedy this season. — Voepel


Center | 6-foot-6 | graduate
2022-23 stats:
18.2 PPG, 10.7 RPG, 55.8% FG

Kenny Brooks has turned around Virginia Tech, and he’s done it largely on the shoulders of Kitley, the best and most important player in the history of the program. After leading the Hokies to their first ACC tournament title and Final Four appearance with dominant post play, Kitley will be looking to become just the third player after Alana Beard and Alyssa Thomas to be a three-time ACC player of the year. Amazingly consistent, Kitley has averaged 18.2, 18.1 and 18.2 points per game in each of the past three seasons and has never shot worse than 53.1% in her four years in Blacksburg. — Creme


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2:57

Tennessee’s ‘allure’ led to Jackson’s return in 2023

Rickea Jackson explains why she stayed with the Lady Vols and Kellie Harper chimes in by saying players like her making coaching much easier.

Forward | 6-foot-2 | graduate
2022-23 stats:
19.2 PPG, 6.1 RPG, 54.8 FG%

Jackson transitioned from Mississippi State to Tennessee with little fanfare, simply remaining one of the SEC’s top offensive forces. Her scoring average, field goal percentage and free throw percentage (79.2%) were all top five in the conference. Had she come out of school, Jackson likely would have been a top-five WNBA draft pick. With her elite midrange game and shot-creating abilities, that should be the case again next spring. — Creme


Forward | 6-foot-3 | senior
2022-23 stats:
16.6 PPG, 9.0 RPG, 1.1 BPG

For as rocky as last season was for UConn, Edwards’ growth into an all-American-caliber player was a bright spot. She led the team in scoring, was a force on the glass and stepped up in big games. Edwards’ role could change with the return of Bueckers and Azzi Fudd, although perhaps it will make her life easier. With relatively unproven frontcourt depth, Edwards remains as critical as anyone to UConn’s title aspirations. — Philippou


Forward | 6-foot-2 | senior
2022-23 stats:
20.7 PPG, 5.6 RPG, 59.0 FG%

After a big start to her career at USC, where she averaged 16.3 points per game in 2019-20, Pili struggled with injuries and her scoring dropped in half. She transferred to Utah and her career was reborn, earning Pac-12 Player of the Year honors. With soft hands and excellent foot work, Pili is nearly unstoppable in the post, but she also takes her game to the perimeter, where she shot 42.1% from 3-point range. Pili became the missing piece as Utah won its first Pac-12 championship and reached the Sweet 16 for the first time since 2006. — Creme


Forward | 6-foot-0 | sophomore
2022-23 stats:
15.1 PPG, 5.5 RPG, 1.6 SPG

For Ohio State to take the next step as a program and become a Final Four team, it will need a big year from McMahon. She turned heads in her first season in Columbus as the Big Ten freshman of the year and a second-team All-Big Ten selection. She should exhibit more confidence this season after helping USA Basketball capture the U19 World Cup, where she had 16 points, six rebounds and three assists in the gold medal game. — Philippou


Guard | 5-foot-11 | junior
2022-23 stats:
15.1 PPG, 1.9 RPG, 1.9 APG

Similar to Bueckers, Fudd’s past two years largely have been hindered by injuries; foot issues her freshman year and a knee injury last season when she was limited to 15 games. We’ve seen what a healthy and confident Fudd can do — she went on a tear last season prior to the knee injury and has shown flashes of stellar shooting ability. Now the key is staying on the court, maintaining an aggressive mindset and shedding the “reluctant superstar” title Auriemma has given her. — Philippou


Center | 6-foot-7 | senior
2022-23 stats:
9.8 PPG, 8.5 RPG, 1.9 BPG

Cardoso spent the previous two years learning from the generational talent Aliyah Boston; now she’ll have a chance to lead this new chapter of South Carolina basketball. Dawn Staley has instilled in her that she must be consistent and embrace a level of dominance not asked of her so far on the college stage. If Cardoso ascends into that sort of player, the Gamecocks will remain favorites to advance to a fourth consecutive Final Four. — Philippou


Guard | 5-foot-6 | senior
2022-23 stats:
16.3 PPG, 4.9 APG, 118 3-pointers

Amoore showed her stuff as a floor leader last year and was especially effective in the postseason. She was ACC tournament MVP as the Hokies won their first title in the event. Then she was the Seattle Regional 3 most outstanding player, with 29 points in the semifinals and 24 in the final as the Hokies reached the Final Four for the first time. A native Australian, Amoore is expected to be a key cog again in her fourth season with the ACC favorite Hokies. — Voepel


Guard | 5-foot-6 | junior
2022-23 stats:
11.2 PPG, 5.3 RPG, 7.4 APG

A tenacious defense-first mentality makes Harmon the perfect point guard for her intensely competitive coach, Vic Schaefer. Despite injuries throughout the roster, those two helped drive the Longhorns to a share of the Big 12 championship. Harmon was named the league’s Defensive Player of the Year and set a school record with 7.4 assists per game. If Harmon can take the next step with the consistency of her jump shot (31.9% on 3-pointers last season), she could challenge Bueckers and Clark as the top lead guard in the country. — Creme


Guard | 5-foot-10 | graduate
2022-23 stats:
13.2 PPG, 3.5 APG, 3.5 SPG

A leg injury limited Sheldon to just 13 games last season. There’s no telling just how good the Buckeyes might have been with Sheldon on the floor all season. She returned in March to run the team and quarterback the full-court press, and the Buckeyes reached the Big Ten tournament title game and the Elite Eight. With a non-stop motor and great instincts, Sheldon is arguably the Big Ten’s best two-way guard. Two years ago when she was completely healthy, Sheldon ranked sixth in the conference in scoring (19.7 PPG) and shot over 50% from the field. — Creme


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3:01

Women’s college basketball reloaded for an even bigger season

Elle Duncan details some of the big storylines in women’s college basketball this season after a thrilling 2022-23 campaign.

Guard | 6-foot-1 | junior
2022-23 stats:
25.7 PPG, 12.2 RPG, 2.6 SPG

Morrow was among the nation’s top scorers and rebounders during her first two seasons at DePaul, but she has said she’s willing to sacrifice big numbers to win a championship. She has a chance to do that at LSU, taking on a much different role with the star-studded Tigers than she had with the Blue Demons. How she figures into Mulkey’s system, adjusts to a new position (LSU lists the former DePaul forward as a guard) and adapts to SEC play will be fascinating to watch. — Philippou


Guard | 5-foot-7 | senior
2022-23 stats:
19.7 PPG, 4.5 RPG, 3.2 APG

In her three seasons at Louisville, Van Lith went to the Final Four once and the Elite Eight twice, which is quite a career. But she said she thought it was best for her individual growth to move on, so she transferred to LSU. Known as a scorer who doesn’t back down in clutch situations and big games, Van Lith hopes to expand her repertoire by learning the point guard role playing for LSU coach Kim Mulkey. — Voepel


Guard | 6-foot-1 | junior
2022-23 stats:
14.7 PPG, 5.5 RPG, 2.5 APG

After being named ACC freshman of the year in 2022, Citron was an all-ACC pick for the regular-season champion Irish last season. She led Notre Dame in scoring and shot 40% from 3-point range. Citron also started every game and led the team in minutes played in 2022-23. The Irish will be as dependent as ever on Citron this season, especially with the uncertainty around teammate Olivia Miles’ health. — Voepel


Guard | 5-foot-8 | sophomore
2022-23 stats:
21.3 PPG, 4.5 RPG, 2.9 APG

Picked to finish ninth in the ACC last season, the Seminoles instead reached the NCAA tournament. Latson was the primary reason. After becoming the first freshman to lead the ACC in scoring, Latson took home every major national rookie award. With an offensive game as efficient as it is spectacular, she began her career scoring at least 19 points in 17 straight games. But a late-season injury did what no defense could: slow down Latson. With her sidelined, Florida State lost its first game of the ACC tournament and in the opening round of the NCAA tournament. — Philippou


Guard | 5-foot-10 | senior
2022-23 stats:
17.7 PPG, 5.5 RPG, 4.1 APG

Not many players can say they helped change a program’s entire culture, but Leger-Walker can. In her time at Washington State, the Cougars have made three consecutive NCAA tournament appearances after just one previous trip in program history (1991). They also won the Pac-12 tournament title for the first time last year. Leger-Walker, a native of New Zealand, now hopes to help Washington State get its first NCAA tournament victory. — Voepel


Guard | 5-foot-10 | junior
2022-23 stats:
14.3 PPG, 7.3 RPG, 6.9 APG

Miles would be higher on this list if there was more certainty around her status for the season. After suffering a significant knee injury at the end of February, Notre Dame hasn’t provided a timeline on when the point guard could return, and it hasn’t ruled out that she could miss the season entirely. While the Irish have another star guard in Hannah Hidalgo to hold things down in the meantime, their ceiling will be greatly shaped by the timing of Miles’ return. — Philippou


Guard | 6-foot-2 | junior
2022-23 stats:
13.9 PPG, 4.8 RPG, 3.9 APG

With Diamond Miller and Abby Meyers gone, the Terrapins are now Sellers’ team — and she might be primed to be the next great Maryland player. Whether it’s playing point guard, defending the other team’s best player or taking the big shot, Brenda Frese will ask Sellers to do a lot this season. That shouldn’t be a problem for perhaps the most versatile player in the Big Ten. Her numbers improved significantly across the board from her freshman to sophomore years. Another similar step forward and Sellers will become a household name. — Creme


Guard | 5-foot-9 | senior
2022-23 stats:
15.9 PPG, 5.9 RPG, 2.8 APG

Osborne had an outstanding fourth season, leading the Bruins to the Pac-12 tournament championship game and the Sweet 16. Now as a super senior, she would love to take that next step to the Final Four. She has been UCLA’s rock her entire career, with the consistent production the Bruins needed. This season, she has the most talent around her in her time at UCLA, and the maturity and experience to make the most of it. — Voepel


Guard | 5-foot-8 | senior
2022-23 stats:
16.5 PPG, 3.9 RPG, 3.2 APG

Kelly led the Tar Heels in minutes played, scoring and assists last season as they advanced to the second round of the NCAA tournament. Kelly has carried a big load in her three years at UNC, which included a Sweet 16 appearance in 2022. She had the best assist total (101) of her career last season, but will be looking to increase her 3-point percentage (28.1) closer to her sophomore year success (36.1%). — Voepel


Guard | 5-foot-9 | senior
2022-23 stats:
13.1 PPG, 4.2 RPG, 3.3 APG

Even as a newcomer to Staley’s program following three years at Oregon, Paopao has received rave reviews so far for her senior leadership, and her pairing with Raven Johnson in the backcourt could produce the best guard pair Staley has worked with since arriving in Columbia. Paopao’s shooting — 42.4% on 3-pointers last season in Eugene — will be paramount for the Gamecocks to help alleviate the pressure Cardoso faces inside the paint. — Philippou


Also considered: Janiah Barker, Texas A&M; Gianna Kneepkens, Utah; Darianna Littlepage-Buggs, Baylor; Kiki Rice, UCLA

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