WNBA

These Seniors Should Have Your Attention

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As the college season approaches, we’re bringing you our top teams and players to watch. Monday, we listed a few teams that will be fun to watch. Today, we tackle a stacked senior class that should light up the college game this year, and make waves in the WNBA next year.

Rhyne Howard, Kentucky

The versatile 6’2 guard will probably be the number one overall pick in the WNBA draft. In her junior season, Howard averaged 20.7 points and 7.3 rebounds per game. She also led the team with 91 assists and was second in steals with 61. Howard has the ability to score at all three levels and is a fantastic on-ball defender. She was voted SEC Freshman of the Year in 2019 and SEC Player of the Year in 2020 and 2021.

Howard should continue to improve as she aims to become the number one pick. She could end up putting some eye-popping stat sheets this season for a team that will need her to be the best player on the floor in most SEC games.

NaLyssa Smith, Baylor

The one player that could stand in the way of Howard going number one is NaLyssa Smith. One of smoothest, most talented players in the country, Smith gets better every season and took home a lot of hardware last season. At 6’4”, she is able to do many things well on the court. In 31 games, she averaged 18 points and 9 rebounds while shooting an incredible 56% from the floor. Smith finished top 25 in the NCAA in six categories: double-doubles, field goals made and percentage, free throw attempts and makes, and total points.

Smith has the talent to be the number one pick in the draft, but this season she plays for a new coach Nikki Collen and a team without DiJonai Carrington, DiDi Richards. She should continue to show off her talent, but it will be interesting how the season plays out for her and her team.

Elissa Cunane, NC State

A possible top 3 pick in the WNBA draft, Cunane has been a dominant force in the collegiate ranks and that should continue this season. She led her team to the number one overall ranking, winning the ACC Tournament, being a one seed in the NCAA Tournament, and a 22-3 record. She also was named a semi-finalist for both National and Defensive Player of the Year. Cunane averaged 16.3 points, 8.3 rebounds and shot 53.3% last season.

Cunane normally operates out of the post, but can occasionally step out and shoot the three. It wouldn’t be a surprise to see her shoot more this season. Her team should be fighting to be the top team in the ACC once again and looking to push for a national title. She will start the season against powerhouse South Carolina, so it will be interesting to see how she does up against a loaded team early in the season.

Ashley Joens, Iowa State

Joens is a prolific scorer. She averaged 24.2 points, 9.5 rebounds, and shot 46.3 percent from the field. With another season coming, she can add on to her case for possibly being the best player to ever play at Iowa State. She shot 88.3% from the free throw line, which is fourth all-time at Iowa State for a single season. She broke the ISU single-season record in points as well, leading the Big 12 in scoring for the second season.

Joens scored 30 points four straight games last season: 33 against SDSU, 33 against TCU, 32 against number one South Carolina, and 35 against Iowa. The most versatile scorer in the class, Joens can score at every level, and her ability to get to the free throw line is such an underrated skill. This season could be an all timer.

Naz Hillmon, Michigan

The first player in the program’s history to receive All-America honors has brought Michigan to new heights, leading them to their first Sweet 16 berth. The consensus 2021 Big Ten Player of the Year averaged 23.9 points, 11.4 rebounds and shot 62.3% from the field. She certainly has an argument for being the most prolific scorer in the class with Joens.

Hillman set a Michigan record (men and women) scoring 50 points and 16 rebounds against Ohio State last season. She has had an amazing career at Michigan. The team hopes to get further than the Sweet 16, and this could be the year they do so.

Christyn Williams, UConn

Williams had high expectations coming in to college basketball as a freshman, and has had a bit of an up-and-down career. This year, she has a chance to turn all of that around. She averaged 16.3 points and saved her best games for the NCAA Tournament, scoring 27 against Iowa, 21 against Baylor, and 20 against Arizona.

Williams’ talent has always been apparent. She has struggled with a lack of confidence or aggressiveness at times. This year will be huge for her to continue to improve with the WNBA possibly being on the horizon.

Shakira Austin, Ole Miss

The Maryland transfer balled out in her first season with Ole Miss. She averaged 18.6 points, 9.1 rebounds, 1.8 blocks, 1.6 steals and shot 51.9% from the field. Austin is capable of doing just about everything on the floor. She posted 13 games scoring 20 or more points, 14 games with double-digit rebounds and 14 games with multiple blocks. Austin is a talented player, and if teammates around her have made some leaps, Ole Miss could end up playing in the tournament this season instead of the WNIT.

Destanni Henderson, South Carolina 

Henderson spent the beginning of her summer playing with the 2021 FIBA Americup team, where she won a gold medal. She is one of the more underrated guards and players in the country and looks to be set for a big season in Columbia, South Carolina. She averaged 12.2 points, 4.7 rebounds and 5.1 assists while shooting a career high 43% from the field and 41% from three. Henderson has increased her points, assists, rebounds and three-point shooting every year and should take another leap with even more talent around her for her senior season.

Rae Burrell, Tennessee

Burrell took a leap in her junior season, starting every game and averaging 16.8 points and 4.6 rebounds per game. She shot 45.8% from the field, 40.2% from three and 82.5% from the free throw line, all of which were career highs. Burrell has a lot talent and a load of potential. She should continue to get better at every level in her senior season and could very well be a first round pick in the WNBA draft.

About Tariq McDowell

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