Women’s college basketball 2018-19 preseason player rankings Sabrina Ionescu leads way

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Who are the most talented women’s college basketball players in the country? Who are the front-runners for national player of the year? After tallying the votes from Charlie Creme, Graham Hays and Mechelle Voepel, espnW ranked the best players in the nation. (All stats are for the 2017-18 season unless otherwise noted.)

1. Sabrina Ionescu, Oregon, G, 5-foot-11, junior

2017-18: 19.7 PPG, 6.7 RPG, 7.8 APG

Being No. 1 means you’re a player everyone can’t take their eyes off of, and Ionescu fits that description better than anyone else in the college game. When she doesn’t have the ball in her hands, you’re waiting for her to get it. Even though she’s technically not the Ducks’ point guard, Ionescu won the Nancy Lieberman Award last season because of her playmaking. Her Pac-12 single-season-record 298 assists were second-most in Division I in 2017-18, and she was the league’s player of the year. Ionescu had six triple-doubles as a sophomore and an NCAA-record 10 total. The Ducks were Pac-12 regular-season and tournament champs and reached their second consecutive Elite Eight. Ionescu spent time with the U.S. senior national team in September before the World Cup, and making that squad seems a near-certain part of her future. — Mechelle Voepel


2. Asia Durr, Louisville, G, 5-foot-10, senior

2017-18: 18.7 PPG, 2.3 APG, 41.5 3-point field goal percentage

Durr will be among the top picks in the WNBA draft next spring, but her game is pro-ready right now. Facing the basket with the ball in her hand, no player in the country is more explosive. She can beat opponents by herself. Durr can score in every way imaginable, from a blistering left-handed drive to a smooth midrange game to seemingly unlimited range. Coach Jeff Walz might play Durr at the point more frequently this season to help get her better prepared for the WNBA (and to keep the ball in her hand). Nothing should scare opposing defenses more. — Charlie Creme


3. Katie Lou Samuelson, UConn, G/F, 6-foot-3, senior

2017-18: 17.4 PPG, 4.5 RPG, 47.5 3-point field goal percentage

There’s a good reason the 3-pointer is her signature; the quick release and almost unlimited range from that tall frame set her apart from almost anyone else in the sport at the moment. But every 3-pointer Samuelson made a season ago could have counted as two points, and she still would have ranked near the top of the American Athletic Conference in scoring. Sure, she and the rest of her teammates might have demons to exorcise from the Final Four, but it is only by the standards of the uniform she wears that Samuelson has anything left to prove as a college player. — Graham Hays


4. Arike Ogunbowale, Notre Dame, G, 5-foot-8, senior

2017-18: 20.8 PPG, 5.4 RPG, 38.2 3-point field goal percentage

Ogunbowale was always an exciting and confident offensive player. After last season’s Final Four, the entire world knows it. Her two buzzer-beating, game-winning shots against UConn and Mississippi State helped earn the injury-plagued Irish their second national championship. At times, Ogunbowale carried Notre Dame — and she didn’t mind the responsibility. She shouldn’t have to do that this season, but she remains the Irish’s best offensive player, their No. 1 option in crunch time and, perhaps, the most offensively versatile guard in the country. — Charlie Creme


5. Teaira McCowan, Mississippi State, C, 6-foot-7, senior

2017-18: 18.2 PPG, 13.9 RPG, 2.1 BPG

She wasn’t on this list a season ago. Maybe that’s our fault. It’s also a reflection of how quickly McCowan went from being one of the biggest players in women’s college basketball to a player with a bigger influence than almost anyone else. Forget anything else that happened: She had a combined 61 points and 62 rebounds in the regional final (UCLA), national semifinal (Louisville) and national championship game (Notre Dame). That qualifies as a unique talent. She would be top-20 strictly for defensive presence and rebounding, but that isn’t all she does. — Graham Hays


6. Kalani Brown, Baylor, C, 6-foot-7, senior

2017-18: 20.1 PPG, 10.2 APG, 65.0 field goal percentage

In a world in which self-awareness is too often lacking, Brown knows exactly what she is on the basketball court. A dominant presence from 7 feet and in, she likes to set up on the low block, catch, turn (usually to her right) and score repeatedly with her left hand over physically inferior opponents. That simplicity and her perfection of it have made Brown into an All-American. With no experienced true point guard on the Baylor roster, Brown might need to produce more, but it will all be done from her comfort zone in the paint. — Charlie Creme


7. Napheesa Collier, UConn, F, 6-foot-1, senior

2017-18: 16.1 PPG, 7.4 RPG, 3.3 APG

She might always look calm, but there’s a fire burning inside. UConn coach Geno Auriemma said Collier has a “motor” that’s going constantly. She keeps improving things she knows will be crucial at the next level, such as her passing. Collier relished the time she had in September training with the U.S. senior national team before the World Cup. Her shooting percentage came back closer to earth last season: 58.3 percent after an amazing 67.8 her sophomore year. But she’s still one of the most efficient players in college. — Mechelle Voepel


8. Megan Gustafson, Iowa, F, 6-foot-3, senior

2017-18: 25.7 PPG, 12.8 RPG, 67.1 field goal percentage

Gustafson went from good to great as a junior. She led the country in scoring and field goal percentage and finished fifth in rebounding. Her post game is about quickness and efficiency and is the ideal fit for Iowa’s up-tempo, spread offense. Gustafson will outrun most other bigs and has become an uncanny finisher. She spent the offseason working on a jumper, which should make her even more WNBA-ready and that much more dangerous this season. It’s hard to imagine Gustafson being better in 2019, but if she is, Iowa could make a run at a Big Ten title. — Charlie Creme


9. Sophie Cunningham, Missouri, G, 6-foot-1, senior

2017-18: 18.5 PPG, 4.7 RPG, 3.0 APG

For the second year in a row, she was fourth in the SEC in scoring. The Tigers finally won their first SEC tournament game since joining that league in 2012, but then they fell in the SEC quarterfinals and the NCAA tournament first round. They also lost their top two rebounders from last season, so Cunningham has her work cut out to make her senior season her best at Missouri. She has been a strong leader for the program; she’ll need to pick up her rebounding a bit and try to cut down on turnovers, but she’s an elite scorer. — Mechelle Voepel


10. Ruthy Hebard, Oregon, F, 6-foot-4, junior

2017-18: 17.6 PPG, 9.0 RPG, 66.0 field goal percentage

When Hebard misses a shot, it’s news. During a 10-day, four-game stretch last season, she made an NCAA-record (for both women and men) 33 straight field goal attempts. She had five games in which she didn’t miss a shot and led the Pac-12 and was second in the country in field goal percentage. Hebard’s range is 5 to 7 feet from the rim, but her soft hands and unflappable style make her the perfect target for passes from Sabrina Ionescu and the rest of Oregon’s guards. — Charlie Creme


11. Lauren Cox, Baylor, F, 6-foot-4, junior

2017-18: 15.3 PPG, 9.7 RPG, 92 blocked shots

Cox was the Big 12’s best sixth woman as a freshman, then she blossomed as a starter last season. She really clicked as a duo with center Kalani Brown, making the Lady Bears’ inside game one of the country’s best. Baylor has more inexperience at the guard position this season, making the post players’ communication all the more important. Cox was the Big 12 defensive player of the year as a sophomore, as she led the league in blocked shots and was third in rebounding. She also shot 51.6 percent from the field and averaged 2.9 assists. — Mechelle Voepel


12. Chennedy Carter, Texas A&M, G, 5-foot-7, sophomore

2017-18: 21.5 PPG, 3.5 RPG, 4.7 APG

With the transfers of Anriel Howard and Danni Williams, the Aggies belong to Carter, a position she likely relishes. The ultra-confident underclassman — she was last season’s consensus national freshman of the year — wants the ball in her hands and doesn’t shy from any big shot. She will score in bunches and miss plenty, too. How well Carter balances her ball dominance as Texas A&M’s only proven scorer and gets seven new teammates involved will determine if the Aggies are serious contenders in the SEC. — Charlie Creme


13. Kaila Charles, Maryland, G, 6-foot-1, junior

2017-18: 17.9 PPG, 8.1. RPG, 50.3 field goal percentage

Charles didn’t get as much publicity as some of those ahead of her on this list, but did anyone successfully take on a bigger challenge a season ago? All Maryland lost was its three most productive players from the previous season, and yet it was business as usual. Charles can cross you over from the wing and drive to the basket or find a mismatch and post up on the block. She can bring the ball up the court or pile up rebounds. Charles can do everything. And she did. — Graham Hays


14. Brianna Turner, Notre Dame, F, 6-foot-3, senior

2016-17: 15.3 PPG, 7.1 RPG, 61.9 field goal percentage

Turner’s entire career has been a mix of brilliance and injury frustration. Shoulder problems slowed her early seasons in South Bend, and then an ACL tear suffered in the 2017 NCAA tournament forced her to miss last season’s title run. Turner looked healthy during Notre Dame’s August foreign tour, and that is bad news for the rest of the country. She has good post moves and offensive rebounding instincts, and Turner is a force on the defensive end. She has a chance to pass Ruth Riley as Notre Dame’s all-time blocked shots leader. — Charlie Creme


15. Destiny Slocum, Oregon State, G, 5-foot-7, redshirt sophomore

2016-17 at Maryland: 11.5 PPG, 6.0 APG, 3.0 RPG

It has been a long wait for an encore from the 2016-17 WBCA Freshman of the Year, who sat out last season after transferring from Maryland. In that lone season, she showed a pass-first inclination that didn’t get in the way of a willingness to take big shots. That might sound familiar to fans who got used to Sydney Wiese. And before ever playing a game for Oregon State, Slocum spoke to the entire freshman class during an orientation event. Some people are just leaders. — Graham Hays


16. Kristine Anigwe, Cal, C/F, 6-foot-4, senior

2017-18: 16.7 PPG, 8.8 RPG, 56.9 field goal percentage

Nagging injuries and fatigue slowed Anigwe last year, and she had the least productive season of her career. That still meant 11 double-doubles and an honorable mention All-America nod despite consistent double teams. She remains one of the top pure low post threats in the game, and with more experienced guard play in Berkeley this season, Anigwe should have more room to get back to the 20 PPG she averaged her first two seasons. — Charlie Creme


17. Kenisha Bell, Minnesota, G, 5-foot-9, senior

2017-18: 20.0 PPG, 5.4 RPG, 6.8 APG

Bell led the Big Ten in assists and was fifth in scoring last season, when she was first-team all-Big Ten and on the league’s all-defensive team. The Minneapolis native spent her freshman year at Marquette before returning to her hometown school. She set a school record last season for made free throws (187) and attempts (255). This season, she has a chance to learn from the best guard in program history — and one of the best ever in the WNBA — in new Gophers coach Lindsay Whalen. — Mechelle Voepel


18. Kitija Laksa, South Florida, F, 6-foot-0, senior

2017-18: 21.1 PPG, 3.4 RPG, 96.5 free throw percentage

Last season Laksa had two 40-point games and five 30-point games. Against Southern she made 11 consecutive 3-pointers. She missed only four free throws the entire season. After a summer playing for her native Latvia in the FIBA World Cup, Laksa could be even better. Perimeter shooting is the foundation of her game, and few have a purer stroke. With running mate Maria Jespersen gone and the point guard spot a bit in flux, Laksa might have to do a little more of everything else. — Charlie Creme


19. Allazia Blockton, Marquette, G, 6-foot-0, senior

2017-18: 19.1 PPG, 6.2 RPG, 2.8 APG

She was the Big East player of the year in 2017-18, shooting 51.6 percent from the field and setting the school single-season scoring record with 648 points. She is 226 points from becoming the first Marquette player to score 2,000 in a career. Blockton, a Milwaukee native, is part of a class of six seniors hoping to have their best year yet for Marquette, which shared the Big East regular-season title last season with DePaul and advanced to the second round of the NCAA tournament. — Mechelle Voepel


20. Anriel Howard, Mississippi State, F, 5-foot-11, senior

2017-18: 12.1 PPG, 12.2 RPG, 1.9 APG

She was second in the SEC in rebounding last season while still with Texas A&M. A graduate student, Howard transferred to Mississippi State for her senior season. That gives the Bulldogs, who lost four starters, an experienced veteran who will be an immediate force on both ends. It won’t be a surprise if this is her best season offensively because the Bulldogs will need scoring after losing so much. Howard has an explosiveness and leaping ability that allow her to play bigger than 5-foot-11, and as her rebounding numbers show, she has a great nose for the ball. — Mechelle Voepel


21. Jessica Shepard, Notre Dame, F, 6-foot-4, senior

2017-18: 15.6 PPG, 8.1 RPG, 56.5 field goal percentage

It was a dream season for Shepard, who got an eligibility waiver to play right away after transferring from Nebraska. The injury-plagued Irish desperately needed her, and she produced. She averaged 19.0 PPG in the NCAA tournament. While Notre Dame’s final victory will be remembered for Arike Ogunbowale’s winning shot, Shepard led in scoring with 19 points on 8-of-10 shooting from the field, with six rebounds. She had 15 points and 11 rebounds in the semifinal win over UConn. Her role might change with Brianna Turner back, but Shepard still will be a big part of the Irish’s hopes of repeating. — Mechelle Voepel


22. Tiana Mangakahia, Syracuse, G, 5-foot-6, junior

2017-18: 17.5 PPG, 9.8 APG, 3.8 RPG

The Australian led Division I in assists last season and was the ACC’s leader in free throw percentage (87.5) while being seventh in the league in scoring and third in steals (2.5). Her 304 assists were an ACC single-season record. After winning eight of their last 10 regular-season games, the Orange had a dud postseason, losing in their only games of the ACC and NCAA tournaments. But Mangakahia regularly put on a show. It will be fun seeing her go against another assist machine in Oregon’s Sabrina Ionescu on Saturday in Eugene. — Mechelle Voepel


23. Alanna Smith, Stanford, F, 6-foot-4, senior

2017-18: 13.5 PPG, 7.0 RPG, 1.8 BPG

Go ahead and list all the players in a major conference who averaged at least 1.7 blocks per game but also averaged at least one 3-pointer per game. Don’t worry about running out of ink. An interior presence and a perimeter asset, Smith is one of the most versatile bigs in the college game. She almost quietly went from X factor to mainstay for the Cardinal a season ago. It took until Marie Gulich’s senior year for many to fully appreciate her. History might repeat itself for another Pac-12 post with international roots. — Graham Hays


24. Crystal Dangerfield, UConn, G, 5-foot-5, junior

2017-18: 9.2 PPG, 4.1 APG, 44.9 3-point percentage

She moved into a full-time starting role last season as a sophomore and was a good facilitator for the Huskies’ offense, plus an effective defender. This season, with Kia Nurse and Gabby Williams gone, UConn will need more scoring from Dangerfield. UConn coach Geno Auriemma is confident that Dangerfield, who was third on the team with 62 3-pointers in 2017-18, can provide that. Last season was a notable step up for Dangerfield, and this season is expected to be an even bigger one. — Mechelle Voepel


25. Caliya Robinson, Georgia, F, 6-foot-3, senior

2017-18: 12.9 PPG, 8.1 RPG, 3.1 BPG

There are some imposing post players ahead of her in these rankings, but no one in Division I begins this season ahead of her in career blocked shots (218). Not that she’s a one-dimensional player — she’s the only returning player in the SEC who ranked in the top 20 a season ago in points, rebounds, blocks and steals. Robinson has even hit double-digit 3-pointers in each of the past two seasons, hinting at even more potential within. — Graham Hays



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