The conversation around who should be the 2021-22 women's college basketball national player of the year is racing toward a fever pitch. The Aliyah Boston vs. Caitlin Clark debate is taking center stage. Throw in Baylor's NaLyssa Smith, the projected No. 1 pick in ESPN's latest WNBA mock draft, and Stanford's Haley Jones, last season's Final Four Most Outstanding Player, and we have the beginnings of an impressive All-America team.
How dominant are these players within their own conferences? Who is their chief competition for individual supremacy? We answer those questions not just in the SEC and Big Ten but in every conference across the country. As the regular season draws to a close and Champ Week is just around the corner -- the first conference tournament tips off March 1, with the first automatic bid to the NCAA tournament up for grabs on March 5 -- awards for the 2021-22 season will start coming in fast and furious. So let us prepare you for how the player of the year race might play out in all 32 conferences. And be sure to check Bracketology to see ESPN's latest projection of the 68-team NCAA tournament.
Navigate to each league:
American | America East | ACC | Atlantic Sun | A-10 | Big 12 | Big East | Big Sky | Big South | Big Ten | Big West | CAA | C-USA | Horizon | Ivy | MAAC | MAC | MEAC | MVC | MW | NEC | OVC | Pac-12 | Patriot | SEC | SoCon | Southland | SWAC | Summit | Sun Belt | WCC | WAC
American Athletic Conference
Tulane is on its way to the program's best season since 2015-16, and the addition of Ursin for her graduate season is a big reason. With her national championship experience after four years at Baylor, Ursin has been everything anyone at Tulane could have wanted. And she got something significant in returning to her home state of Louisiana: For the first time in her college career, she is the star. Her scoring (14.2 points per game) and rebounding (8.6 rebounds per game) numbers are career highs and rank among the top five in the AAC. She is also second on the team in assists and recorded the first triple-double in program history.
The league leader in minutes, Battles is an outstanding defender and the best offensive player on the league's best team.
A late-season push by the Black Bears, combined with the conference's decision to ban Stony Brook from the America East tournament, has made Maine the favorite to capture the America East's automatic bid and reach the NCAA tournament for the third time since 2018. Simon leads the charge as the best two-way player in the conference. The 5-foot-8 junior guard, who is also a three-year captain of the Luxembourg national team, tops the America East in both scoring (16.1 PPG) and steals (3.0 SPG). Winning this award would be the natural progression for Simon, who was the league's Freshman of the Year in 2020 and a first-team all-conference selection last year.
The junior guard is the driving force behind Vermont's first winning season since 2010.
Statistically, Kitley is having almost the exact same season she had a year ago. This year, however, the 6-6 junior has been the clear centerpiece of the most successful Hokies team since Virginia Tech joined the ACC in 2004. Kitley is a throwback low post center whose turnaround jumper has become one of the most indefensible shots in the conference. She's averaging 17.7 points (vs. 18.2 last season) on 53.7% shooting (53.1% last year) to go along with 10.2 rebounds (10.4 RPG last season). That kind of consistency and reliability is hard to match.
The Swiss Army knife of the ACC, Engstler can be the difference between winning and losing, even without needing to score.
FGCU coach Karl Smesko has built such a quality program that he can have one Player of the Year go down with injury and have one of her teammates slide right into the honor. The Eagles' Kierstan Bell, the A-Sun's best player over the past two years, was sidelined for a month after tearing a knee ligament in mid-January. Morehouse took it from there. The 5-3 senior has averaged 23.0 PPG since, keeping FGCU in position to win its 11th regular-season A-Sun title in 12 years. Morehouse has made 49.0% of her field goal attempts and handed out 4.7 assists per game.
The 6-4 Bond is the league's leading scorer this season and was the conference Defensive Player of the Year in 2021.
Breen's career was transformed after she left Penn State for UMass midway through the 2018-19 season. Since she began her career in Amherst, the 6-1 Breen has been one of the A-10's best players. This season she is the best. Not coincidentally, UMass is enjoying the winningest season in program history. Breen's 16 double-doubles are good for 10th in the nation, and she's the top scorer (16.8 PPG) on the best offensive team in the conference.
DeWolfe is the league's top scorer and is third in the country in minutes played.
The production is staggering. That Morrow is a freshman is even more astounding. She leads the country with 24 double-doubles, including 21 straight, and her 13.8 rebounds per game also tops the nation. The spacing the DePaul offense employs gives her free reign to attack the offensive glass, and her ability to turn misses into makes is a large part of Morrow's 21.0 points per game. She already has four 30-point games, and she collected 27 rebounds in a late-January win over Seton Hall. Morrow's 12 Big East Freshman of the Week awards are easily a record, and she has been named national freshman of the week four times.
The 6-1 junior just became eligible for the scoring title after missing six games earlier this season with a broken hand, and she now trails only national leader Caitlin Clark by less than half a point per game.
The reigning Big Sky Defensive Player of the Year, White has been a Bobcat star from the moment she arrived in Bozeman from Boise. This season the junior point guard hit career highs with 15.3 points and 4.5 assists per game for a team closing in on its second regular-season championship in three years. White's 2.6 steals per game leads the conference for the second consecutive season.
She never averaged double-figure scoring in four seasons at Pacific, but Tillman has exploded as a Hornet to lead the Big Sky in both scoring and assists.
Behind the shot-blocking force that is Smith, the Lancers are having their best season since joining Division I in 2007. One year after being named the Big South's Defensive Player of the Year, Smith could be adding more hardware. Her 2.8 BPG are good for eighth in the country. If she continues this pace, and Longwood (currently tied for first) makes a deep Big South tournament run, Smith, a 5-11 senior, will set the single-season school record in blocked shots for the third straight year. Smith has one of only two triple-doubles this season that have included blocked shots (Tennessee's Tamari Key has the other). Her 16.7 PPG and 7.4 RPG each rank fourth in the conference, and she leads the league in field goal percentage (58.6%). Throw in 1.7 SPG as icing on the cake of what should be another defensive player of the year trophy.
The 5-10 senior has helped the Runnin' Bulldogs overcome a 2-9 start and led them on a recent seven-game winning streak.
This was Smith's award to lose from the second the season started, and not once did she leave any doubt. The 2021 Wade Trophy winner's 21.2 points and 11.2 rebounds per game are improvements over her junior season. Pro ready, with the speed, leaping ability, motor and finishing skills above what some WNBA players have, Smith is trending toward the top pick in the WNBA draft. Before that, she has the unfinished business of winning a second consecutive Big 12 Player of the Year.
A 61-point game certainly helps, but Lee's numbers are tremendous even without the single-game NCAA Division I scoring record she set against Oklahoma on Jan. 23.
With all the deserved attention being thrown Clark's way, it's difficult to remember that she got off to something of a slow start. On Jan. 13, Clark was shooting just 22.6% from 3-point territory. That seems so long ago now. She's on pace to be the first women's player to lead the nation in scoring (26.9 PPG) and assists (8.2 APG). We also shouldn't forget about her 8.0 rebounds per game or those five triple-doubles. Her next step is getting Iowa deeper than the Sweet 16.
In most other seasons or in most other conferences, Hillmon would be the easy winner.
Two years ago, Utti was the Mountain West Conference Player of the Year. Now she has made her mark in her one graduate season in the Big West. With averages of 14.8 points, 8.7 rebounds, 3.0 assists, 3.4 steals and 1.1 blocks, Utti's versatility is on display in every game. She has been held to single-digit scoring in just five games, but even then, she pulled in 14 rebounds and registered eight steals in one of them (a win over Richmond). The Beach are allowing five fewer points per game than they did last year and are the top defensive team in the conference. That the improvement coincided with Utti's arrival is not a coincidence.
Last year's winner is still third in the conference in scoring and rebounding.
Colonial Athletic Association
Since Dickey became a dominant player a year ago, the Blue Hens have won 41 games, the most sustained success the program has experienced since Elena Della Donne walked the Newark campus. The 5-10 senior won the award a year ago and has been even better this season. Her scoring average (25.4 PPG) is up three points per game and is good for third best in the nation. Dickey's rebounding (9.5 RPG) and field goal percentage (40.2%) have also improved.
The Dragons are in first place and Washington has outscored Dickey in Drexel's two wins over Delaware.
Given that the 49ers are in first place in Conference USA despite ranking 12th in a 14-team league in offense, Jett-Wilson's value cannot be overstated. The 5-8 senior (18.5 PPG) scores nearly 30% of Charlotte's points and has been the catalyst in a 7-1 February that catapulted the 49ers to the top of the standings. With just a little bit more help from transfers Mikayla Boykin and KeKe McKinney the rest of the way, the 49ers could be on their way to the program's first regular-season championship since 2006.
Second in C-USA in both scoring and steals (2.4 SPG), the senior guard had WKU in first place until a recent slide.
When most players say they want to run it back, they mean to come back and play another year. In Williams' case, she returned for a fifth season with Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis and is the heavy favorite to win a fourth straight Horizon League Player of the Year honor. (Per ESPN Stats & Info, only three players -- Ohio State's Jantel Lavender, Utah's Kim Smith and ULM's Eun Jung Lee -- have won four conference player of the year awards.) Most of her numbers look pretty similar to those of a year ago, but she's more efficient. Williams is scoring 18.3 points per game (18.9 PPG last season) but is attempting two fewer field goals a game and averaging just 28 minutes an outing. Per Her Hoop Stats data, Williams is the third-most efficient player in the country.
Top competition: Lily Ritz, Youngstown State Penguins (17.0 PPG, 9.9 RPG, 58.8 FG%)
The Penguins have overtaken IUPUI for first place in the Horizon, and the 6-1 Ritz is second in the league in rebounding and field goal percentage.
No Ivy League opponent has come within single digits of the Tigers, who have resumed their pre-pandemic dominance of the conference. Meyers is the biggest reason why. The 6-0 senior has scored in double figures in every game this season, including 18 in an upset of Florida Gulf Coast and 21 against Texas, the two ranked opponents Princeton has faced this season. Meyers leads the Ivy in points (18.0 PPG), field goals (154) and 3-point field goal percentage (41.4%). And she's nearly as good on the other end of the floor, ranking 20th nationally in defensive win shares, according to Her Hoop Stats data. If anyone is handing out most improved awards, Meyers could also be up for any of those after averaging just 6.3 PPG the last time the Tigers had a season in 2019-20.
Columbia is the only team within five games of Princeton, with Davis earning a league-leading four Player of the Week honors.
With Fairfield dominating the conference and Lopez-Senechal, one of the best players in the history of the MAAC, leading the league in scoring (19.2 PPG), the 6-1 native of Grenoble, France, was an easy choice. In her first three seasons, Lopez-Senechal has been the league's Rookie of the Year and a two-time first-team all-conference selection. This season, she's also averaging 4.5 rebounds per game and shooting 45.1% from the field. More comfortable facing the basket and scoring off the dribble, Lopez-Senechal can also play in the post and averages 1.5 3-point field goals per game.
Last season's MAAC Player of the Year, DeWees is fourth in the country in steals this season.
In each of her three collegiate seasons, Fair has ranked in the top five in the country in scoring. This season, the 5-5 junior is fifth with 23.8 points per game, helping the Bulls to second in the MAC. She also leads Buffalo in assists (4.2 APG), steals (2.0 SPG) and 3-point percentage (35.7%). Still a volume scorer, Fair has gotten more efficient this season, shooting at the highest percentage of her career (39.4%), with no drop-off in her ability to create her own offense. And as the Bulls make a final push to catch Toledo for the top spot in the conference, Fair has taken her game to another level, averaging 30.6 points in Buffalo's past five games.
One of the best defensive players the MAC has ever seen, Hooks was the conference's Player of the Year last season.
Once a four-star recruit, the 5-11 Alexander has traveled a long road to become the leading scorer (16.6 PPG) and rebounder (8.0 RPG) in the MEAC this season. She began her career at Clemson and started 30 games in two seasons there before leaving for Butler. A redshirt season was followed by another lost to injury. After one season with the Bulldogs, Alexander returned home to Baltimore to finish her career. She began her final season with a 30-point game and scored 35 on Feb. 2 against Delaware State as Coppin State began its move back into the MEAC race.
Downs and teammate Deja Francis are keeping the Spartans in pursuit of the program's first MEAC regular-season title.
Missouri Valley Conference
SIU has gone from eighth in the MVC preseason poll to first thanks in large part to the play of Brockmeyer. The 6-1 grad student, who was not selected to the preseason all-conference team, is third in the MVC in scoring (16.2 PPG), second in field goal percentage (53.2%) and is the league's best rebounder (10.2 RPG). She has been a double-figure scorer in all five of her seasons in Carbondale, but each of these stats are career highs. As the Salukis try to close in on their first regular-season championship since 2007, Brockmeyer has registered three of her 12 double-doubles in February.
When leading scorer Jasmine Franklin went down with a knee injury and with last year's Player of the Year, Brice Calip, struggling, someone on the Bears needed to step up to save the season. Jackson was that player. She has averaged 15.8 points per game since Franklin went down.
Mountain West Conference
With over 4 million TikTok and Instragram followers and multiple name, image and likeness deals, Haley and twin sister Hanna Cavinder are the most well-known, and likely highest paid, people on the Fresno State campus. Haley is also on her way to being the most decorated player in program history. The MWC Freshman of the Year in 2019-20, Cavinder is closing in on a second straight Player of the Year honor. Despite the Bulldogs residing in a disappointing eighth place, Cavinder leads the conference in scoring (19.1 PPG) and is second in assists (5.8 APG), and at just 5-6, averages a league-best 9.6 RPG. She leads the country playing an average of 38.8 minutes per game, and she has played the full 40 minutes in 11 games.
The Seton Hall transfer is on the brink of leading the MWC in assists for the second straight year and is second to Haley Cavinder is scoring.
Making the most of her decision to transfer from George Washington three years ago, Bresee is on the brink of winning a second consecutive NEC Player of the Year award. While the Mountaineers, currently in third place and just 9-12 overall, aren't having as much success as a season ago when they won both the NEC regular-season and tournament titles, Bresee is an even better scorer and shooter than she was a year ago. The 5-10 sixth-year senior is averaging a career-high 15.3 points on 39.2% shooting. Bresee tops the NEC in scoring and is second with 7.7 rebounds and fifth with 4.2 assists per game.
A fifth-year senior, Stanley is the best player on an FDU team currently in first place and looking for its first regular-season title since 1993.
Ohio Valley Conference
Wells, last season's OVC Freshman of the Year who helped the Bruins win their 2021 NCAA tournament opener against Gonzaga, looks poised be one of Belmont's all-time greats. She's second in the conference in scoring (15.8 PPG) and assists (4.6 APG) and has the Bruins back in first place. Perhaps even more impressive was Wells' performances against some of the best teams in the country. In games against Ole Miss, Georgia Tech, Arkansas and Louisville, the 5-6 Wells averaged 19.5 points on 44.7% shooting.
While the Racers struggle to catch Belmont in the standings, Young leads the league in points and rebounds.
Few players have the diverse skill set of Jones. With Stanford's offense sputtering at the beginning of the season, last year's Final Four Most Outstanding Player was asked to take over point guard duties. Despite increased ballhandling, Jones still grabbed 19 rebounds to go along with 18 points as she almost single-handedly got Stanford a win at Tennessee. At 6-1 and still mainly playing on the perimeter, Jones leads the Pac-12 with 7.9 rebounds per game. She's also fifth in the conference in assists (3.6 APG) and scores 12.6 points per game.
Jones might have to hold off her teammate. Brink is Stanford's leading scorer and is second in the Pac-12 in rebounding and third in field goal percentage.
Here's a Jeopardy answer: DePaul's Aneesah Morrow, South Carolina's Aliyah Boston and Missouri's Aijha Blackwell. The question: Who are the only players in the country with more double-doubles than Coleman? Throughout the disappointment of Navy's season, Coleman has been dominant. Her 22.4 PPG is nearly six points better than any other player in the Patriot League. She also leads the conference in rebounding (11.0 RPG) and steals (2.8 PPG). According to Her Hoop Stats data, Coleman is the nation's seventh-most efficient player per minute, and she broke the Navy school record for points in a season with four games still left on in the regular season.
Johnson has led BU to the top of the Patriot League standings, and the Terriers are looking for the program's first NCAA tournament berth since 2003.
This race was over right about the time Boston went for 16 points and 16 rebounds in a mid-December win over Maryland. That was Boston's third double-double in what is now a streak of 19 straight. The numbers are officially 16.8 points, 11. 9 rebounds, 2.7 blocks and an SEC-leading 54.0 field goal percentage, but Boston's value goes well beyond the numbers. According to Her Hoop Stats data, the 6-4 junior is the most efficient player in the country and the one who contributes the most to winning. South Carolina is deep and talented, but winning the national championship will depend heavily on the play of the favorite for national player of the year.
Rhyne Howard, the 2020 and 2021 SEC Player of the Year, was supposed to show up somewhere on the list, but Pointer, making the most of her extra season, has just been too good in leading LSU well beyond any preseason expectations.
Taking advantage of the NCAA's extra year, the 5-9 Hodges has cashed in with the best season of an already spectacular career. Her 17.9 points and 11.8 rebounds lead the conference, and she's tied with Baylor's NaLyssa Smith for eighth in the country with 17 double-doubles.
With Neal-Tysor leading the way, the first-place Bears are looking to reach their fourth NCAA tournament in five years.
The Islanders would have been the No. 1 seed in the Southland tournament in 2020 had it not been canceled because of the pandemic. This season is shaping up as a second chance for a program that has never made an NCAA tournament. Westbrook was just a freshman role player on that team. Now the 6-1 junior is Texas A&M-CC's star and the only player in the conference to average a double-double (12.8 PPG, 10.7 RPG).
After a solid freshman season, Moore made a huge jump in her second season and led the Southland in scoring.
When South Dakota's top three scorers elected to use the extra season granted all players by the NCAA because of the pandemic, the Coyotes were considered the favorites to win the Summit. Lamb and Hannah Sjerven were also destined to be in the Player of the Year mix. Lamb is the choice in a wide-open field because of South Dakota's success, her consistency and the connection between the two. Only twice all season has Lamb failed to score in double figures. Her 15.3 points per game and 82.5 free throw percentage lead the team. Her 20 points against Oklahoma, 25 against Northwestern and 20 more at Creighton just add to Lamb's résumé.
The league leader in assists and second in scoring, Alnatas' candidacy would have benefitted from the Roos getting closer to South Dakota and South Dakota State in the standings.
Sun Belt Conference
UTA has not made an NCAA tournament in 15 years. In her one season as a Maverick, Jacobs is hoping to change that. The former junior college All-American has twice scored 30 points in the past month as UTA tries to keep pace with Troy. The 6-2 Jacobs tops the Sun Belt in scoring (20.4 PPG), field goal percentage (54.9%) and free throw attempts (142). Her 6.0 rebounds and 2.1 steals per game also lead UTA.
The 6-1 junior forward is the Sun Belt's leading rebounder and has helped Troy to first place in the conference standings.
Her 16 double-doubles are the 10th most in the country. Williams-Holliday is also close to finishing off a quadruple crown: She leads the SWAC in scoring (19.1 PPG), rebounding (11.5 RPG), field goal percentage (56.5%) and blocked shots (2.8 BPG) as the Tigers run away from the rest of the conference. Jackson State has now won 30 consecutive games against SWAC opponents.
Once a top-10 recruit, Green spent two years at Tennessee and another at Texas A&M before having a dominant season as a Golden Lion.
When Olaeta joined the Lancers for the 2017-18 season from her home country of Spain, the program was still in Division II. When CBU moved to the WAC the following season, the upgrade in competition never seemed to affect her. Last year, she was voted the conference Player of the Year, and it appears she's about to do it again. A fifth-year senior who specializes in distributing the basketball, Olaeta averages a full two assists more than the next best passer in the conference. Her 7.0 assists per game are good for fifth highest in the country. She's also averaging a career-high 15.0 points per game while also hitting a career-high in 3-point accuracy (40.4%).
First in the league in rebounding and second in scoring wasn't quite good enough for Williams to surpass Olaeta.
West Coast Conference
Not only are Gonzales and Paisley Harding one of the best backcourts in the country, they are probably the two best players in the WCC. As a hybrid point guard/shooting guard, Gonzales is the ideal catalyst for BYU's spread-out-and-attack offensive approach. She is among the league's top five in scoring (18.9 PPG), assists (4.6 PPG), field goal percentage (52.5%) and steals (2.3 SPG). Last year, Gonzales shared this award. Unless it's with her backcourt mate, she likely won't have to this season.
Top competition: Paisley Harding, BYU Cougars (16.9 PPG, 3.3 RPG, 2.6 APG)
BYU's success this season as the likely WCC champion and a top-10 team in the NET all began the day Harding decided to return for one more season.