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NCAA Player of the Year: The cases for Aliyah Boston, Caitlin Clark

South Carolina's Aliyah Boston (Andy Lyons/Getty Images)

I spend most of every Sunday sitting on the couch watching women’s college basketball, and this Sunday was no different. When I tuned in to watch South Carolina top Ole Miss, I thought to myself, “Aliyah Boston has to win National Player of the Year.” Then I changed the channel to watch Iowa defeat Michigan and thought, “Actually, Caitlin Clark has to win Player of the Year.”

That pretty much sums up my thought process on the POY race at this stage of the season. I watch one player and think she’s the clear favorite; I watch the other and change my mind.

But with the regular season nearly wrapped up, it’s time to officially choose between the two.

The case for Caitlin Clark

There’s only one way to watch Caitlin Clark play basketball: on the edge of your seat, mouth agape in absolute awe. To put it simply, she is the most exciting player in college basketball. Men’s or women’s, full stop.

There isn’t a shot Clark can’t make. Whether it’s a 3-pointer from the logo or an off-balance, through-contact finish in the lane, when Clark shoots, you’re surprised if she misses. If the POY race takes watchability into account, Clark’s case for the award is air tight.

Then there are her stats. The sophomore is leading the NCAA with 27.5 points per game and 8.3 assists per game. She also has the most triple-doubles of any player this season with five, and she hit 1,500 career points in just 56 games — the fastest a player has done that in men’s and women’s Division I history. Statistically speaking, it’s hard to argue against her.

So, we’ve got watchability and we’ve got stats. The next component to a POY resume is what the player does for her team. Iowa has talented players around Clark — the best being Monika Czinano in the post — but the rest of the roster is made up strictly of role players. Clark makes everything happen for the Hawkeyes, and without her, this team likely wouldn’t be ranked and, instead of winning the Big 10, likely would have found itself near the bottom of the conference.

That brings me to the final point of consideration in the POY race: team success. Points, assists, logo 3s and acrobatic finishes mean nothing if your team isn’t winning. And after a difficult start to the season, Iowa is doing just that. With five straight wins over Minnesota, No. 15 Maryland, No. 5 Indiana, Indiana again (this time ranked 10th) and No. 6 Michigan, Iowa not only secured a share of the Big 10 title, but also jumped from 21st in the country to 12th.

Iowa is thriving, and it’s all because of Caitlin Clark.

Iowa's Caitlin Clark (G Fiume/Getty Images)

The case for Aliyah Boston

Caitlin Clark is awe-inspiring because she’s doing things on the basketball court that no one else has, while Aliyah Boston is standing out for the opposite reasons. She’s doing exactly what players before her have done, what other players in the league are doing now and what plenty more will do in the future. The difference is she’s doing it better than anyone else.

It’s a hard feat to revamp rebounding and scoring in the paint, because it’s been a staple of basketball since the sport was invented. Yet, that’s exactly what Boston is proving this season.

The junior recently broke Sylvia Fowles’ SEC record for consecutive double-doubles, with 20, which also makes her one of just five women in DI history to reach that mark. Boston is setting records and playing at a consistently high level in every game, making her games must-see TV. In other words, Boston passes the watchability test.

Now, let’s chat stats. Boston is averaging 16.8 points per game and 11.9 rebounds while shooting 54.4 percent from the field. Her rebounding numbers are sixth best in the country, and while her 16.8 points a game don’t put her in the top 50, it’s certainly nothing to scoff at.

Boston is also playing with two other top players in the country, Destanni Henderson and Zia Cooke, who each average just under 12 points per game. Boston doesn’t have to score over 20 points a game because South Carolina has other weapons. She doesn’t hide on defense, either. The junior averages 2.7 blocks per game, and 8.2 of her rebounds per game come on the defensive end. So adding to Boston’s offensive impact is the fact she takes away tons of scoring chances for South Carolina’s opponents.

All of those points bring us to the final question: What would South Carolina look like without her? With two stars in Henderson and Cooke, and a slew of role players, the Gamecocks would probably be in the top 25, but they almost certainly wouldn’t be No. 1 nor the favorite to win the NCAA Tournament, as they are now. An unwritten rule when it comes to voting for awards like this is to pick the best player on the best team. In that category, Boston stands alone.

The verdict

Now that we’ve unpacked the analysis, it’s time to make a decision. I genuinely don’t think there is a wrong answer here. Both players are deserving, and both players have rock solid arguments for why they should take home the POY prize. It would be easy to say that I can’t choose between Clark and Boston and just leave it there, but that would be a cop-out.

In sports, the emphasis is always on winning, and South Carolina has done that more than any other team. The Gamecocks are 27-1 and have been ranked No. 1 in the country all season long. Neither of those things would have happened without Aliyah Boston, and that gives her the edge.

Poll talk

I like the AP Poll this week from Nos. 1-9. But when it comes to Michigan, Maryland and Iowa taking up Nos. 10-12, I think Iowa deserves to jump into the 10th spot. The Hawkeyes have already moved up nine spots, but they beat Michigan in their last meeting. Sure, the teams split their games on the season, but the most recent games lead me to believe that Iowa is the better team at the moment.

Then, I’m pulling BYU all the way up to 14th. The Cougars have been consistent all season, something teams above them can’t say. And sure, the WCC isn’t as strong of a conference, but going 15-1 in any conference is impressive.

Finally, it’s time to get Princeton into the rankings. The Tigers are another consistent team, now 12-0 in the Ivy League conference, and they haven’t lost since playing Texas on Dec. 22. Let’s give them a little credit.

JWS’ Top 25 in Week 17

  1. South Carolina (27-1)
  2. Stanford (25-3)
  3. NC State (26-3)
  4. Louisville (25-3)
  5. Baylor (24-5)
  6. LSU (25-4)
  7. UConn (22-5)
  8. Iowa State (24-5)
  9. Texas (21-6)
  10. Iowa (20-7)
  11. Michigan (22-5)
  12. Maryland (21-7)
  13. Ohio State (22-5)
  14. BYU (25-2)
  15. Arizona (20-6)
  16. Indiana (19-7)
  17. Tennessee (22-7)
  18. North Carolina (23-5)
  19. Oklahoma (22-6)
  20. Florida Gulf Coast (26-2)
  21. Notre Dame (21-7)
  22. Virginia Tech (21-8)
  23. Florida (20-9)
  24. Georgia Tech (20-9)
  25. Princeton (20-4)

Eden Laase is a contributing writer at Just Women’s Sports. She previously ran her own high school sports website in Michigan after covering college hockey and interning at Sports Illustrated. Follow her on Twitter @eden_laase.