Top 7 candidates for college basketball’s Player of the Year

Aliyah Boston and No. 1 South Carolina got the better of Cameron Brink and No. 2 Stanford in November. (Darren Yamashita/USA TODAY Sports)

The John R. Wooden Award watch list, recognizing the top candidates for the most outstanding player in college basketball, is down to 25 players. Several teams have two candidates on the 2022-23 midseason list released last week, and players like Aliyah Boston and Catlin Clark have appeared on it multiple times. Others are seeing their name in contention for the award for the first time.

The list is chock full of talent, but some players stand out as better than the rest. Just Women’s Sports has narrowed the list down to the top seven, in no particular order.

Aliyah Boston, senior, South Carolina

Boston will be the player all others are compared to as the reigning National Player of the Year, and she sets a high standard. The senior forward is the best player on the No. 1 team in the country, and she’s just as good on offense as she is on defense. She impacts every aspect of the game for the undefeated Gamecocks, whether it’s scoring, blocking shots or rebounding. Even when she isn’t showing up in the stat sheet, Boston is helping South Carolina. The thing that will hurt her POY chances is actually the part of her game that shows just how talented and smart Boston is, as coach Dawn Staley referenced last week: Her numbers are down from last season.

During her POY and DPOY campaign in 2021-22, Boston averaged 16.8 points and 12.5 rebounds per game. This year, she’s contributing 11.5 points and 9.3 rebounds per contest. A lot of that comes down to the way teams are defending the forward. She’s been double- and triple-teamed every time she touches the ball, and often stopped from catching it entirely with defenders packing the paint. Instead of forcing the issue, Boston has continued to let the game come to her and deferred to her teammates when defenses throw multiple defenders at her. Boston knows she doesn’t need to put up the same numbers as she did last season for South Carolina to win games, and she is sacrificing her personal stats for the greater good of the team.

Cameron Brink, junior, Stanford

When Brink is on the floor, she’s arguably the most talented player in the country. The junior can score inside, pull defenders outside by hitting 3-pointers and block shots, all of which infuse the Cardinal lineup with energy. At 6-foot-5, her skill set makes her a mismatch for any opponent. The problem with Brink is one she has admitted on several occasions: foul trouble. Brink doesn’t have any speed other than 100 percent, and that costs her and Stanford at times. She commits 3.8 fouls per 40 minutes on average, which is why she plays only 21.5 minutes per game. Fellow Stanford stars Hannah Jump and Haley Jones, in comparison, average 29 and 28 minutes per game, respectively.

In her limited action, Brink contributes 13.9 points, 9.4 rebounds and 3.1 blocks per game. Now, imagine those numbers if she stayed on the court for an extra five minutes per contest. If Brink can stay disciplined in the second half of the season and guide her team to wins over top Pac-12 opponents like UCLA, Oregon, Utah and Arizona, then her case for POY becomes much stronger.

A constant for UConn in a trying season, Aaliyah Edwards is now dealing with an injury of her own. (Matt Krohn/USA TODAY Sports)

Aaliyah Edwards, junior, UConn

When the season started, it was Edwards’ UConn teammate, Azzi Fudd, who was a top candidate for Player of the Year. But as UConn has battled injury after injury — including one that’s sidelined Fudd since early December — Edwards was the constant calming force for the Huskies. Paige Bueckers went out before the season started, and freshman Ice Brady followed soon after. Then Dorka Juhász broke her thumb, Nika Mühl sustained a concussion and Caroline Ducharme battled neck stiffness. Through it all, Edwards continued to perform at a high level. Despite injuring her ankle last week against Xavier, Edwards is averaging 16.5 points, 9.5 rebounds and 2.8 assists, all while shooting an efficient 63.4 percent from the field.

It’s safe to say that without Edwards’ contributions, the Huskies wouldn’t be 13-2. That only adds to her case for the POY award, which recognizes a player who brings irreplaceable value to their team. On the flip side, as a big, Edwards will be compared against Boston, who has similar but more polished skills. And when Fudd comes back, the guard will demand much of the national attention and likely eclipse Edwards as UConn’s top player in many peoples’ eyes. All that being said, Edwards deserves serious consideration because of the way she’s anchored her squad in the midst of chaos.

Caitlin Clark, junior, Iowa

Last season, Clark and Boston were locked in a two-way battle for POY. This year, there are other players with strong cases as well, but Clark remains one of the top options. The junior guard averages 27.2 points per game (third in the country), 7.4 rebounds and 6.7 assists (ninth in the country). Every team Iowa plays has to center its entire defensive game plan around Clark because she’s such a dynamic scorer. The junior has a plethora of moves, sees the court well and can shoot from long, long range. What she does on the court hasn’t been seen in the college game before, and that certainly gives her bonus points in the POY race.

Clark lost out to Boston last season because the South Carolina forward had a defensive edge. Clark isn’t a weak defender by any means; it just isn’t one of her strengths. Plus, with the heavy offensive load she carries, the Hawkeyes would rather she didn’t expend too much energy on defense. She still contributes in multiple ways: Clark leads her team in assists and has already set the record for the most triple-doubles in the Big Ten, among men or women, with seven in her career.

Aneesah Morrow, sophomore, DePaul

There is no denying Aneesah Morrow’s talent, which is why she remains one of the top candidates for the award. The sophomore averages a double-double with 26.1 points and 12.1 rebounds per game, which is fourth and sixth in the country, respectively. She’s also had multiple 40-plus-point games this season and has finished with fewer than 20 points in just three of her 16 games played. Morrow is consistently dominant, no matter the opponent, but the issue with her POY campaign comes down to the team she plays for.

DePaul is unranked after suffering losses to Marquette, Creighton, Louisville, Towson, Cleveland and Northern Illinois. The Blue Demons did upset Maryland in November behind Morrow’s 22 points and 10 rebounds, but the team as a whole needs to step up if Morrow has a shot at the award. DePaul must enter the top 25, at least, for her to become a legitimate contender.

Angel Reese, sophomore, LSU

The more I see from Angel Reese, the more I like her for this award. The forward’s numbers are incredible, with 24.2 points per game (sixth in the country), and an NCAA-leading 15.6 rebounds per contest. And while she’s done it against a lot of weak competition — LSU has had to answer to its conference schedule — Reese has two big things working in her favor. The first is that, even against lesser competition, she never has an off-game. Reese has had a double-double in all 15 of LSU’s games this season.

The second is that, in the few games LSU has been tested, Reese has answered, playing the same way she does against lesser opponents. She had 25 points and 20 rebounds against Oregon State on Dec. 18, and 19 and 16 against Arkansas a week later. LSU’s best competition is still to come, when the Tigers take on No. 1 South Carolina in February. Reese has a chance to cement herself as one of the league’s top players if she performs at a high level against the Gamecocks. If LSU keeps winning and establishing legitimacy in the top-25 poll, Reese becomes more and more attractive as a POY candidate.

Alissa Pili, junior, Utah

Despite being the best player on an undefeated, top-10 team, Pili manages to stay under the radar. It’s time the forward received national attention. In her first season with Utah after transferring from USC, Pili has taken the team to another level, with the 14-1 Utes ranked No. 8 in the AP Poll. Thanks to its high-powered offense, Utah is ranked fourth in the country with 87.3 points per game. In a sea of scorers, Pili still manages to stand out. The 6-2 forward leads her team in both points (19.3) and rebounds (5.9), while shooting 62.8 percent from the field.

Pili’s high shooting percentage becomes even more impressive when you look at the multitude of shots she takes. Though Pili is a strong big with a traditional build, her game has dimension. She can score down low or stretch the floor, where she shoots 40.6 percent from beyond the arc. Pili’s challenge in the POY race is lack of attention. Though Utah plays in a strong conference and is a top ranked team, the Utes don’t have the name recognition of teams like UConn and Stanford. Pili will have a chance to prove herself on the national stage however, with difficult Pac-12 matchups against Arizona, Stanford, Oregon and UCLA on their schedule.

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