There have been plenty of surprises so far in the NCAA Tournament, with two No. 1 seeds going down in the second round, and Ole Miss and Miami playing David to Stanford and Indiana’s Goliath. But one thing that hasn’t been surprising is the depth of talent in the March Madness field.
Building off our preseason top-25 player rankings, here are the top 25 players to watch in the Sweet 16, beginning Friday in Seattle and Greenville, S.C.
The Gamecocks senior will remain the queen of March Madness until someone unseats her. In last year’s tournament, she was named Final Four Most Outstanding Player while leading her team to a national title. This season, Boston is on track to do it again. The senior is averaging 13.1 points, 9.7 rebounds, 2.0 blocks and 1.8 assists per game. Her numbers may not look as good as others on this list, but that’s because Boston knows how to play within South Carolina’s system. Despite the Gamecocks’ plethora of talent, she remains the center of everything they do.
At this point, everyone knows Caitlin Clark. The Iowa junior is averaging 26.8 points, 8.6 assists and 7.3 rebounds per game. Her game is polished and well-rounded, and she does everything from full-court passes on the fastbreak to long-range 3-pointers. After the Hawkeyes lost to Creighton in the second round of last year’s tournament, Clark has been playing with a chip on her shoulder. In Round 1, she recorded 26 points, 12 assists and seven rebounds, and she followed that up with 22 points, 12 assists, three steals and three rebounds in Iowa’s second-round win over Georgia.
In LSU’s second-round win over Michigan on Sunday, Reese had a game indicative of what she’s done for the Tigers all season. She finished with 25 points, 24 rebounds and six blocks — a stat line so insane, it seems fake. But that’s the energy Reese has brought to the court every game since transferring from Maryland. She’s averaging 23.8 points, 15.7 rebounds and 1.6 blocks per game this season.
Tennessee had its share of struggles to start the season, and Jackson was a part of that. The talented senior missed multiple games based on a coach’s decision as the Vols worked through their issues, but both she and the team came out of it stronger. Now, Jackson has Tennessee looking downright dangerous. A projected top-5 draft pick before she decided to use her fifth year of NCAA eligibility, Jackson is a three-level scorer who, at 6-foot-2, is a defensive mismatch for opponents. She’s averaging 19.3 points, 6.1 rebounds and 1.5 assists while shooting 54.9 percent from the field.
Who could forget Miller’s one-legged jump shot to top Notre Dame earlier in the season? That game-winner is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to Miller’s talent. Averaging 19.3 points, 6.5 rebounds, 3.0 assists, 2.1 steals and 1.3 blocks per game this season, Miller is the key to Maryland’s success. She’s at her best when attacking the basket and using her 6-3 frame to score around defenders, often using a lethal step-through to do so.
Utah surprised a lot of people this season, and so did Pili, who transferred in from USC. But the 6-2 forward is no longer under the radar. The junior, who averages 21 points, 5.6 rebounds and 2.3 assists per game is a matchup nightmare for defenses. She scores with strength and finesse on the inside and can step past the 3-point line, where she shoots at a 42.4 percent clip. Defensively, Pili’s tall, stocky frame is a challenge for fellow posts. She can outmuscle opponents but is also quick on her feet, making for a dangerous combination.
The senior forward has been nothing short of spectacular for the Wildcats this season. She can create off the cut or with the ball in her hands, averaging an NCAA-leading 29.2 points per game. Siegrist is difficult to contain, as she scores from the inside and outside, shooting 51.9 percent from the field and 37 percent from beyond the arc. Both are season-highs for her four seasons as a Wildcat. Siegrist is capable of major scoring outbursts, such as a career-high 50 points against Seton Hall earlier this year.
Van Lith is already a top player, but in the NCAA Tournament, the guard takes things to another level. After averaging 19.5 points per game during the season, that number increased to 23.5 over the first two games of the tournament. At 5-7, the guard is undersized but makes up for it with her competitive drive. She has a solid handle and is quick off the bounce, allowing her to get to the rim or to pull up from midrange — and that’s where she really shines, showing off her athleticism and a quick release.
One of the four finalists for the Naismith Player of the Year Award, Kitley has propelled the Hokies to 13 straight wins, a No. 1 seed and a Sweet 16 appearance. The 6-6 center is averaging a double-double with 18.2 points, 10.8 rebounds and 2.3 blocks per contest. The senior does her scoring in the paint with a variety of moves, from face-up jumpers to quick spins to the hoop. Kitley attacks the basket with limited dribbles, a skill that allows her to use her height advantage while limiting turnovers.
UConn’s star guard spent most of the season on the bench with a knee injury, but when Fudd plays, she is elite. Her return means the Huskies have a shot at their 15th straight Final Four. The top recruit in 2021 has struggled with injuries over her first two seasons, but Fudd’s skills have more than lived up to the hype. Before getting injured, Fudd was averaging 24 points per game on 54 percent shooting from the field and 43.4 percent from beyond the arc. In UConn’s win over Baylor in the Round of 32, Fudd looked like her old self, leading the Huskies with 22 points.
The Fighting Irish guard has been a key piece to the team’s success all season, but with Olivia Miles and Dara Mabrey out with injuries, Citron becomes even more important. The sophomore is averaging 14.7 points, 5.5 rebounds, 2.4 assists and 1.7 steals on the season, impacting the game in a variety of ways. On offense, Citron is sneaky without the ball, always finding a cutting lane to the hoop. When the ball is in her hands, Citron can shoot (41.4 percent from 3) or attack off the bounce, with both dribble and post moves in her arsenal.
The Bruins welcomed the top recruiting class in the country this season, and while the talented young players settled in, Osborne was the guiding force. Now, the rest of the team is experienced, but Osborne remains the best player on the floor. She’s averaging 15.9 points, 5.8 rebounds, 2.9 assists and 1.5 steals per game. Osborne was also outstanding in the Round of 32, where her 36 points, eight rebounds and four assists propelled UCLA past Oklahoma and to a Sweet 16 appearance.
Miller has spent the season under the radar, but now that the Buffs are in the Sweet 16, it’s time she gets her shine. The 6-3 senior is listed as a center but can play multiple positions. That versatility makes Miller a matchup nightmare for opponents, as she can post up guards and take bigs out of the paint by shooting 3s. Miller is averaging 13.1 points and 8.7 rebounds on the season and was particularly dominant against Duke, finishing with 17 points, 14 rebounds and three assists in the upset.
On a team stacked with talent, Cooke is the leading scorer with 15.3 points per game. The senior guard has experience in big games, after helping her team to a national title last season. In 2021-22, she averaged 10.7 points per game, but with Destanni Henderson now playing in the WNBA, Cooke took on a larger scoring role as a senior. Her ability to dismantle defenses off the dribble creates movement and openings for her teammates, or opportunities for Cooke to score herself. And with talented post players like Boston and Kamilla Cardoso drawing attention in the paint, Cooke provides balance to the Gamecocks offense with her ability to knock down 3-pointers at a 36.1 percent clip.
Kitley may be the focus of Virginia Tech’s offense, but Amoore is the player who makes everything happen. The point guard is a skilled passer who makes smart decisions — her 5.1 assists per game and 2-to-1 assist-to-turnover ratio are proof of that. But Amoore is also an excellent scorer, and she’s been huge in the postseason. She scored 24 points in the ACC tournament semifinals, and then 25 in the final. In the first two rounds of the NCAA Tournament, Amoore notched 22 and 21 points, respectively.
The Tennessee senior does a little bit of everything for her team, averaging 15.5 points, 7.1 rebounds, 3.4 assists, 1.5 steals and 1.1 blocks per game. At 6-2, Horston is a strong guard who can use her size and strength to attack the basket. Once she breaks down her primary defender, Horston can elevate and finish or make a play for one of her teammates. Horston also performs well under pressure, like in the SEC semifinals when she finished with 17 points and 10 rebounds in the Vols’ upset of LSU.
UConn has had ups and downs this season, largely due to injuries, but throughout the chaos, Edwards has been a constant. She’s played every game for the Huskies (just one of two players to do so) and has been consistent in her role. Edwards is averaging 17 points and nine rebounds per game for a near double-double, while also shooting 58.9 percent from the field. Edwards can catch in the post or create for herself on the dribble. She also extends defenses with a solid midrange game.
The sophomore guard has been crucial to Utah’s inside-outside game thanks to her ability to knock down shots. Kneepkens is shooting 42 percent from beyond the arc and averages just over two 3-pointers per game. But Kneepkens is more than just a shooter — she’s an all-around scorer who finished her high school campaign with 3,704 points per contest, a testament to her scorer’s mentality.
Cardoso may come off the bench for South Carolina, but she would be a starter on almost any other team in the country. The 6-7 junior is averaging 9.7 points and 8.6 rebounds per game, providing a major spark for the Gamecocks’ second unit. She’s also averaging two blocks per game, making her presence felt on the defensive end. With Cardoso playing as South Carolina’s sixth woman, opponents get zero reprieve when Boston goes to the bench.
Czinano is a perfect complement to Clark. She’s averaging 17.5 points and 6.6 rebounds per game, while making an efficient 67.5 percent of her attempts. A true post, Czinano is at her best with her back to the basket, where she knows how to seal and read her defender. Czinano has good hands and a high basketball IQ, making her an easy target for Iowa’s guards.
Ohio State’s senior guard is a rarity in college basketball in that she’s her team’s best offensive and defensive player. Last season, she was an All-Big Ten honoree and a member of the All-Defensive Team. Sheldon missed most of this season with a leg injury, but she came back in time for the postseason, when Ohio State needed her most. The point guard finished with 16 points, six rebounds, five assists and two steals, as well as the game-winning shot, to lead her team past North Carolina in the Round of 32.
The senior guard has played for three teams — Baylor, Rutgers and Texas A&M — before finding a home at LSU, where she is thriving. Morris is her team’s second-leading scorer at 14.7 points per game, and she also distributes the ball and runs the LSU offense. She’s averaging four assists and 1.9 steals per game, both career-high marks that prove her worth on both sides of the ball. While Reese attracts a lot of attention inside, Morris helps free her up with her playmaking and scoring abilities.
The senior guard transferred to Miami after three years at Fresno State in hopes of playing in an NCAA Tournament. Cavinder is a big part of why the Hurricanes are in the Sweet 16. She’s averaging 12.6 points, 4.9 rebounds and 2.5 assists per game. Cavinder is undersized at 5-6, but she makes up for it with athleticism and a high basketball IQ. The guard can create for herself or others and is sharp from long range, where she shoots 40.9 percent.
With Jacy Sheldon out for most of the season, the Buckeyes counted on Mikesell, who is playing 35.4 minutes per game — the most of her five seasons in the NCAA. She leads Ohio State in scoring at 17.2 points per game, making 3.2 3-pointers per game and shooting 40.9 percent from beyond the arc.
Baker did a little bit of everything in Ole Miss’ upset of Stanford in the Round of 32, helping her team to the Sweet 16. She’s an excellent defender, something the Rebels pride themselves on, and the team’s leading scorer at 14.9 points per game. Baker contributes in other ways as well, recording 5.4 rebounds and 2.5 assists per contest.
Eden Laase is a Staff Writer at Just Women’s Sports. Follow her on Twitter @eden_laase.