Which players have the potential to catapult their respective programs to conference championships and deep NCAA tournament runs this 2022-23 women’s college basketball season?
We’ve ranked the under-the-radar, up-and-coming players who have the potential to have breakout seasons. Players expected to be on our upcoming top 25 player rankings were not considered for the list, which was finalized with input from ESPN’s M.A. Voepel and Charlie Creme. And transfers who might be on the verge of breakout seasons on their new teams — Kylee Watson, Taylor Jones, Taylor Soule, for example — were already included on our top 30 impact transfers.
The 10 players below are potential X factors in how far their teams might go this March or April. They are a mix of players expecting more playing time with teammates having departed, experienced starters whose importance might often go underappreciated, and players hoping to fulfill a need for their team or add a new dimension to it. And by the season’s end, maybe some featured here will make an appearance on our ranking of the top 25 players in the country, which will be updated throughout the season.
Rankings were determined by a mix of what a standout season from each player would mean to their respective team and preseason expectations for each program.
1. Aaliyah Edwards, 6-3, F, Jr., UConn Huskies
2021-22 stats: 7.9 PPG, 5.1 RPG, 52.1 FG%, 24.9 MPG
As an upperclassman on a team fairly short on collegiate playing experience, and especially in the aftermath of 2020-21 national player of the year Paige Bueckers‘ season-ending ACL injury, Edwards has little choice but to have a breakout year if the Huskies want to return to a record 15th consecutive Final Four. Guards Azzi Fudd and Caroline Ducharme will be tasked for holding down things in the backcourt with Bueckers out, but it’s been a minute since UConn has had an imposing post presence. Behind Edwards’ trademark tenacity and the opportunity granted with fellow post at Olivia Nelson-Ododa’s graduation, now is as good a time as any for Edwards to take the leap so many envisioned for her since she first arrived in Storrs.
2. Olivia Cochran, 6-3, F, Jr., Louisville Cardinals
2021-22 stats: 8.6 PPG, 5.1 RPG, 51.4 FG%, 22.3 MPG
Jeff Walz’s squad will have a new look after the departures of three starters from last season (Kianna Smith, Chelsie Hall and Emily Engstler) and an influx of transfers. As one of two returners to the starting five alongside star Hailey Van Lith, Cochran will be looked upon to be more productive consistently for the Cardinals as they seek to return to a second straight Final Four. She had some big moments in the NCAA tournament, but can Cochran both set the tone defensively inside and evolve into a bigger offensive threat as a junior? Cochran told reporters she focused this offseason on getting in the best shape of her life and on expanding her versatility, as she’ll be playing more of the 4 this year.
3. Hannah Jump, 6-0, G, Sr., Stanford Cardinal
2021-22 stats: 9.2 PPG, 39.7 3FG%, 23.6 MPG
With the graduation of Lexie Hull, Lacie Hull and Anna Wilson, plus the transfer of Jana Van Gytenbeek, the Cardinal are looking to replace north of 45% of their 3-point shooting from last season, when Stanford advanced to back-to-back Final Fours before falling to UConn in the national semifinal. That means 3-point ace Jump — who has shot 39.7% or better from 3 each of her first three seasons in Palo Alto — will be expected to be even more of a go-to shooter for the Cardinal. Jump’s playing time has grown each year in the program — from 10.5 minutes per game as a freshman to 16.0 to 23.6 this past year, when she also garnered 13 starts. Especially as one of the team’s four senior leaders, coach Tara VanDerveer will ask Jump to make the jump as a consistent offensive threat alongside stars Haley Jones, a fellow senior, and Cameron Brink.
4. Shyanne Sellers, 6-2, G, So., Maryland Terrapins
2021-22 stats: 7.8 PPG, 2.6 APG, 41.6 FG%, 26.5 MPG
People are already expecting Diamond Miller to do big things after a slew of players transferred from Maryland this offseason. Add this reigning Big Ten sixth player of the year and all-conference freshman to the list. With five of the Terps’ seven regular contributors gone from last season (either to the WNBA or to the transfer portal), Sellers might have to take on an outsized role as a sophomore with so many new faces in College Park. Not only do incoming transfers stand the chance of being hit-or-miss, but Sellers showed tremendous potential throughout her freshman season, playing the third-most minutes on the team and starting 10 games. Additionally, she stands out with her versatility as a big guard and sizeable growth on the defensive end, where she led Maryland with 56 steals.
5. Sara Puckett, 6-2, So., G/F, Tennessee Lady Vols
2021-22 stats: 6.4 PPG, 43.4 FG%, 3.5 RPG, 21.2 MPG
The anticipation surrounding the Lady Vols — who not only return Jordan Horston and Tamari Key but will incorporate a host of big-time transfers, including Rickea Jackson — hasn’t been this high in years. But if Kellie Harper’s squad wants to contend with reigning national champion South Carolina in the SEC, and later on advance past the Sweet 16 for the first time since 2016, it would greatly help if they have a shooter who can hit from the perimeter. Enter Puckett, who showed she can knock down big shots in big moments by hitting the go-ahead 3 to put Tennessee up over Belmont in the second round of the NCAA Tournament with less than 20 seconds remaining. Puckett will need to improve her freshman-season accuracy from 3 (29.9%) if she wants to truly assume that role, but despite her youth she already seems to have the confidence of her teammates and Harper.
6. Alyssa Ustby, 6-1, G, Jr., North Carolina Tar Heels
2021-22 stats: 12.9 PPG, 8.6 RPG, 44.5 FG%, 31.8 MPG
Headlined by rising star Deja Kelly but also Ustby, the Tar Heels return 85% of their scoring from last year, the second-best mark in the ACC. Ustby — a second-team All-ACC pick who has started most games since she got to Chapel Hill — was the Tar Heels’ second-best scorer while also leading the squad in both rebounds and steals as a sophomore. North Carolina is expected to be a contender in the ACC, with fans remembering how they gave eventual champion South Carolina the toughest shot it took in the NCAA tournament (a 69-61 loss). That was the storied program’s first Sweet 16 appearance since 2015, but for Courtney Banghart’s group to keep moving in the right direction, the Tar Heels need more players other than Kelly to help it along.
7. Lauren Ware, 6-5, F, Jr., Arizona Wildcats
2021-22 stats: 5.7 PPG, 4.2 RPG, 1.1 BPG, 21.7 MPG
Ware’s sophomore season with the Wildcats was bumpy, in large part because she suffered a dislocated kneecap in early December that caused her to miss over a month of gameplay. She started all but one game she appeared in 2021-22, making her one of three returning starters for Arizona alongside Cate Reese and Shaina Pellington, but admitted at the time it was difficult physically and mentally to return from injury. Given the players Adia Barnes has surrounding her, Ware doesn’t have to singlehandedly hold things down in the post, but with a healthy season in which she’s able to establish herself more regularly inside and use her height to her advantage — at 6-5 she’s the tallest player on the team — Ware could help Arizona find more success both in the Pac-12 and NCAA tournament following a disappointing 2021-22.
8. Gabbie Marshall, G, 5-9, Sr., Iowa Hawkeyes
2021-22 stats: 6.8 PPG, 39.3 3FG%, 1.7 SPG, 31.7 MPG
Iowa has the luxury of returning all five starters from the previous two seasons, a group headlined by Caitlin Clark and Monika Czinano. So where does Marshall come in? Any pressure she can alleviate from Clark needing to produce from the backcourt would be helpful, and she could be a great recipient of Clark’s dimes off her paint penetration. Marshall has been a strong 3-point shooter since arriving to Iowa, but if she can get closer to her clip from her sophomore season (47.1% on 4.0 3-point attempts per game), then Iowa might really be cooking. For Iowa to advance to its first Final Four since 1993, though, the team will need to play better defense; Marshall can help spearhead that effort, as she hA0073x led the team in steals each of the last two seasons.
9. Camille Hobby, 6-3, F, Sr., NC State Wolfpack
2021-22 stats: 5.1 PPG, 2.6 RPG, 47.7 FG%, 12.2 MPG
Elissa Cunane, one of the most decorated players in Wolfpack history, is gone, as well as three other starters from last year’s Elite Eight squad (Raina Perez, Kai Crutchfield and Kayla Jones). But this could be Hobby’s time to shine after she spent the previous three years waiting in the wings behind Cunane’s brilliance. NC State fans are quick to point to Hobby’s sole career start, when she more than capably put up a career-high 19 points on 9-for-14 shooting against Virginia Tech in January 2021, as proof she’s ready for this moment. “I expect great things from her,” NC State coach Wes Moore said of Hobby at ACC media day. “Camille can score the ball and she’s a competitor. She’s going to work hard, and she’s proven herself … I’ve got confidence in her.”
10. Liz Scott, 6-2, F, Sr., Oklahoma Sooners
2021-22 stats: 6.6 PPG, 47.6 FG%, 4.5 RPG, 15.1 MPG
With Taylor Robertson, Madi Williams and Ana Llanusa back in the fold, the Sooners could readily build upon last year’s successful campaign under then first-year head coach Jennie Baranczyk. One player outside the obvious who could help them take that next step is Scott, who started 24 of 33 games as a junior and boasted back-to-back games last season when she hit a game-winning shot against top 10 teams. She will need to ensure she stays out of foul trouble, which was a problem at times last season, but if Scott manages to stay on the floor, help the Sooners on the glass and be more impactful inside, Oklahoma’s offense will be more diverse and all the more threatening.