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Can LSU’s Angel Reese win NCAA Player of the Year?

(Photo courtesy LSU Athletics)

There are two undisputed truths when it comes to LSU women’s basketball.

1. The Tigers have played a weak schedule, void of any true tests so far this season.
2. Angel Reese is one of the best players in the country.

The combination of these truths makes it difficult for Reese to truly showcase her talent. Through 12 games (and 12 wins) for LSU, Reese is averaging a double-double and is one of two players to record one in all of her team’s contests. The second is Lauren Gustin of BYU, though the Cougars have played 11 games to LSU’s 12.

Reese is sixth in the country with 24.6 points per game, first with 14.6 rebounds per game and 12th with a 63.5 shooting percentage. She’s been LSU’s top scorer in eight of their 12 games, and the top rebounder in all but one.

Those are Player of the Year numbers.

But those performances have not come against Player-of-the-Year competition.

Up to LSU’s 87-55 win over Oregon State on Sunday, the Tigers’ opponents list was as follows: Bellarmine, Mississippi Valley State, Western Carolina, Howard, Northwestern State, George Mason, UAB, SE Louisiana, Tulane, Lamar and Montana State. The Tigers are winning their games by an average of 44 points per game, and while other top-25 teams are testing themselves, the No. 11 team in the country is not.

LSU has yet to play a ranked team, whereas every other top-25 team has taken on another top-25 squad at some point this season. The Tigers’ opponents are also low on the NET rankings, with only two teams they’ve played so far (Tulane and Oregon State) ranking in the top 100, three in the top 200 (Montana State, UAB and George Mason) and the rest sitting at 269 or below.

It’s hard to take LSU seriously with its slate of opponents, which unfortunately for Reese, makes it hard to take her seriously as a POY candidate.

Regardless of the circumstances, Reese is doing everything she can to get her name in the conversation. On Sunday, the sophomore forward put up her best numbers against the Beavers, the best team LSU has played so far at 64th in the NET rankings. Reese finished with 25 points and 20 rebounds to lead her team to victory.

Reese has played against elite competition before, just not as a Tiger. She played two seasons at Maryland, improving over her freshman and sophomore years before transferring to LSU in May. In her first season at Maryland, Reese averaged 10 points, six rebounds and 1.3 blocks per game in 15.1 minutes of playing time. She increased those numbers to 17.8 points and 10.6 rebounds as a sophomore, while also contributing 1.1 blocks in 25.9 minutes per contest.

As a Tiger, Reese has continued her double-double prowess while adding 2.9 assists, 2.3 steals and 1.4 blocks per game.

She played arguably her two best games at Maryland against the best competition the NCAA has to offer . She had 20 points and 10 rebounds in a loss to South Carolina last December, and then 25 points and nine rebounds in a loss to Stanford in the Sweet 16 of the 2022 NCAA Tournament. There’s no reason to think she won’t have similar success this year in an LSU uniform, but POY awards can’t be given based on assumptions, so she’ll have to prove it when the time comes.

Another positive for Reese is consistency. Even against low-level teams, players have bad games, but the forward has had a similar output in every game with the double-doubles to prove it. Reese is shooting an efficient 63.5 percent from the field, a mark that puts her at 12th in the country. She’s not forcing shots nor completely dominating the ball, though both would be easy to do in blowout games. Instead, she’s letting the game come to her and making the most of her opportunities.

Reese has a legitimate shot at the Player of the Year award despite her team’s cakewalk schedule. LSU is an AP top-25 team, meaning she gets plenty of eyes on her each week, and they have upcoming SEC games against No. 21 Arkansas and No. 1 South Carolina. If Reese has big performances against those teams — especially against the Gamecocks and reigning POY Aliyah Boston on Feb. 12 — her case for this year’s award becomes even more compelling.

Eden Laase is a Staff Writer at Just Women’s Sports. Follow her on Twitter @eden_laase.