March Madness: Aliyah Boston, Caitlin Clark and the National Player of the Year debate

National Player of the Year contenders are judged on their entire body of work from the season’s first tip, but it’s the NCAA tournament that makes superstars and can often provide the final sway for a voter.

The 2022-23 race is again largely viewed as a two-player one between two very different styles of players in Iowa guard Caitlin Clark and South Carolina center Aliyah Boston. Villanova’s Maddy Siegrist is also a highly viewed contender, with Indiana’s Mackenzie Holmes in the conversation and Angel Reese still in some chatter as well.

Yahoo Sports homed in on the numbers, from basics to advanced to ultimate value, for Boston, Clark and Siegrist. Memorable moments and production also matters, so highlights from their seasons are also included. All stats from Her Hoop Stats.

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Aliyah Boston (South Carolina, 6-5, Sr., F)

Averages: 13.3 ppg (333rd, 90th percentile), 9.7 rpg (37th), 1.8 apg (991st, 71st%), 0.5 spg (29th%), 2.0 bpg (30th). Shoots 56.8% (97th percentile) in 25.8 mpg (64th percentile)

Totals: 426 points (313th, 95th%), 310 rebounds (ranks 18th), 57 assists (84th%), 15 steals (54th%), 64 blocks (ranks 17th)

Advanced (all percentiles): 21.2% usage (66th), 1.11 PPP (99th), 57.1 EFG% (94th), 19.1 TRB% (98th), 10.2 TOV% (97th), 6.9 blk% (97th)

Value (ranks): 7 win shares (sixth), 4.4 off WS (28th), 2.6 def WS (ninth)

South Carolina forward Aliyah Boston is again a leading candidate for National Player of the Year. (Kevin Langley/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)
South Carolina forward Aliyah Boston is again a leading candidate for National Player of the Year. (Kevin Langley/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

Notable moments: Boston had her best statistical game in South Carolina’s biggest and most crucial win. She scored 26 points with 11 rebounds, two assists and two blocks against UConn in February. She’s scored more than 20 points four times and has 20 double-doubles, ranking sixth in Division I. She was a perfect 8-of-8 against Vanderbilt and has six games shooting 80% or better, including 7-of-8 against Maryland.

NPOY case: Boston’s raw numbers are all down from her Naismith award season as a junior. She’s averaging three fewer points (20% of her previous average), three fewer rebounds (22%) and half the steals, dropping from the 78th percentile to 29th percentile this season. She has seen jumps in points per play, effective field-goal percentage and assist-to-turnover ratio (1.46, 89th percentile).

Those drops are largely due to the help around her as defenses collapse in and focus on the 6-foot-5 senior center. Senior guard Zia Cooke and SEC Sixth Player of the Year Kamilla Cardoso are huge assets to this undefeated South Carolina team and pulled the pressure to score off of Boston.

Boston is the best player on the best team in the nation and has the footwork, consistency and defense to win a second National Player of the Year award.

Caitlin Clark (Iowa, 6-0, Jr., G)

Averages: 27 ppg (third), 7.5 rpg (167th, 95th percentile), 8.3 apg (first), 1.4 spg (439th, 87th percentile), 0.6 bpg (594th, 83rd percentile), 34 mpg (95th percentile)

Totals: 864 points (second), 239 rebounds (101st, 17th among guards), 267 assists (first), 46 steals (94th%), 19 blocks (91st%)

Advanced (percentile, unless noted): 35.7% usage (ranks 10th), 1.04 PPP (97th%), 56.1 EFG% (93rd%), 47.5 ast% (ranks first)

Value: 8.8 win shares (third), 7.4 off WS (second), 1.5 def WS (292nd)

Notable moments: Clark has four triple-doubles this season, underlining how crucial she is to every aspect of the Hawkeyes, and has 10 overall, placing her second all-time in Division I women’s basketball behind Sabrina Ionescu. Her most recent was a monster 30-point, 17-assist, 10-rebound showcase in the Big Ten title game against Ohio State, a 3-seed in the tournament. It came a week after her off-center, buzzer-beating three against Indiana, seeded first in the NCAA tournament and No. 2 overall. Her four best games are against some of the best in NC State (45 points), Maryland (42p/7r/8a) and Indiana twice (35p/10a and 34p/9r/9a).

NPOY case: Clark is one of the most electric scorers in the game and most dynamic passers, joining the likes of Ionescu as guards who dazzle to break through social media clutter. She’s raised her field goal, 3-point field goal and effective field goal clips more toward those of her freshman year.

She averages 3.4 made 3s a game, ranking first, and 8.9 attempted 3s, ranking second. Her 108 3s and 285 attempts rank first and her range is basically the entire half-court. She’s also one of the best at getting to the free-throw line, ranking third with 202 makes and 243 attempts (83.1% ranks top-third in the nation).

Clark’s turnover numbers are the worst in D-I (ranking 0th percentile), but offset by so many assists that her assist-to-turnover ratio ranks in the 98th percentile (2.17). She’s also in the 93rd percentile in defensive rebounds rate (20.8%), though overall her defense is lacking.

A finalist last season, Clark appears to be most media entities’ favorite for breaking through and hoisting the POY trophy this time around. Beyond the gaudy offensive numbers, her most useful point in the “pro” list is that Iowa (26-6) would be in serious trouble without her. She provides most of the offense through not only scoring, but finding teammates largely in transition and otherwise.

Maddy Siegrist (Villanova, 6-2, Sr., F)

Averages: 28.9 ppg (first), 9.3 rpg (48th), 1.5 apg (64th percentile), 1.1 spg (72nd percentile), 1.2 bpg (133rd, 96th percentile). Shoots 51.8% in 35.2 mpg

Totals: 984 points (first), 317 rebounds (14th), 51 assists (80th percentile), 36 steals (88th percentile), 41 blocks (80th, 98th percentile)

Advanced: 37.6% usage (ranks fifth), 1.14 PPP (ranks 14th), 55.3 EFG% (91st percentile), 5.4 TOV% (ranks fourth)

Value: 10.7 win shares (first), 8.6 off WS (first), 2.1 def WS (37th)

Notable moments: Siegrist scored a season-high 50 points on a season-high 76.9% shooting clip (20-of-26) against Seton Hall last month. She has never scored fewer than 21 points, which she did against UConn in the Big East championship game as well as against Marquette and Marist.

NPOY case: Siegrist, much like Clark, is incredibly important to Villanova and has the win share numbers to show it. She shoots more 3s than Boston and is a 37.3% shooter from there.

Her case for National Player of the Year takes a hit when looking at her games ranked best to worst in scoring and efficiency. Her worst shooting games, all of which came in under 41%, were largely against top talent in Iowa State, Baylor and DePaul. UConn kept her under 43% all of three games.

Angel Reese (LSU, 6-3, So., F)

Averages: 23.4 ppg (fifth), 15.5 rpg (second), 2.2 apg (80th percentile), 1.7 spg (92nd percentile), 1.4 bpg (97th percentile); shoots 54% overall in 33.3 mpg

Totals: 701 points (fifth), 464 rebounds (second), 65 assists (87th percentile), 50 steals (95th percentile), 42 blocks (71st)

Advanced: 29.4% usage rate (96th%), 1.05 PPP (98th%), 54.1 EFG% (89th%), 24.1 TRB% (fourth) led by 20.4 ORB% (fourth)

Value: 9.6 win shares (second), 6.7 off WS (third), 3.0 def WS (first)

Notable moments: Reese’s season highs are 36 points against Ole Miss, 28 rebounds against Texas A&M and 86.7 FG% against Lamar. She broke Sylvia Fowles’ LSU-record consecutive double-double streak and has 28 in 30 games.

NPOY case: Reese, who leads the nation in free throws made and attempts (but shoots 70.8%), is a dominant and talented player whose case, unfortunately for her and LSU, does not have the oomph of Clark, Boston or Siegrist. The Tigers played a nonconference schedule of teams near the bottom in NET rating, leaving her performance against the rare top team LSU faced as crucial for her campaign.

Her double-double streak broke against South Carolina when she scored 16 points (fourth-worst of the season) on a season-low 33.3 FG% with a season-low four rebounds. The two games against Tennessee were also among her lower performances.

Snapshot of national awards

Wooden Award

Named for John Wooden and honors his vision of a “total basketball player.” Recognizes the most outstanding player in women’s basketball since 2004 under certain candidate criteria. A blue-ribbon national advisory board selects approximately 15 finalists for POY and All-American team honors. Voting begins at the end of the season and includes tournament games up until just after the Sweet 16 games.

Finalists: Aliyah Boston (South Carolina, Sr., F), Cameron Brink (Stanford, Jr., F), Caitlin Clark (Iowa, Jr., G), Aaliyah Edwards (UConn, Jr., F), Mackenzie Holmes (Indiana, Sr., F), Ashley Joens (Iowa State, Sr., G/F), Haley Jones (Stanford, Sr., G), Elizabeth Kitley (Virginia Tech, Sr., C), Ta’Niya Latson (Florida State, Fr., G), Olivia Miles (Notre Dame, So., G), Diamond Miller (Maryland, Sr., G), Aneesah Morrow (DePaul, So., F), Alissa Pili (Utah, Jr., F), Maddy Siegrist (Villanova, Sr., F), Hailey Van Lith (Louisville, Jr., G).

Naismith Award

Named for Dr. James Naismith, who invented the game of basketball. Recognizes the top women’s player in the nation since 1983 as voted on by a national academy of leading basketball coaches, administrators and journalists. There are top-50 and top-30 watch lists that are narrowed down to 10 semifinalists and four finalists, which are then voted upon by the group.

Semifinalists: Boston, Brink, Clark, Edwards, Holmes, Joens, Kitley, Pili, Angel Reese (LSU, So., F), Siegrist.

The only player in the 10-player Naismith list that is not in the 15-player Wooden list is Reese. LSU confirmed Reese is not eligible for the award because she did not meet all of the criteria. Head coach Kim Mulkey said it could be her GPA that did not meet the requirement. The Wooden Award requires a 2.0, whereas LSU has different qualifications based on semesters completed that begins at 1.8.

Yahoo Sports’ Player of the Year picks

Negley’s pick: It’s always tough to compare different styles of players for an overall best player award. Comparing statistics becomes tricky, because there’s a level of value to all of it and context within each number. Reese and even Boston are the greatest examples of that. Someone who hasn’t watched or paid attention this season could look at those numbers and think Reese is a far superior candidate while Boston is middling. That’s not the case, and Boston is a solid contender for her work leading South Carolina to an undefeated record.

My vote would go to Clark. She’s an offensive threat no matter where she is on the court and she finds pockets of passing windows only the very best in the game can even fathom. More importantly, Iowa would be lost without her. The rest of that starting five is good, but without Clark, I don’t doubt Iowa would be more akin to 11-seed Illinois than a snubbed 1-seed.

Johanna Huybers’ pick: There is no denying what Boston and South Carolina have done this season, and I would not be surprised to see them hoisting the NCAA championship trophy in April. Clark’s importance to Iowa also cannot be overstated. She is also just plain fun to watch anytime she’s on the court. Both have proven why they are the leading candidates for National Player of the Year.

However, my pick is Siegrist. What she has done to put Villanova on the map and lead it to a No. 4 seed in the NCAA tournament is immeasurable in stats alone. She is Villanova’s all-time leading scorer for both women’s and men’s basketball. She’s the nation’s leading scorer and had a 50-point outing against zero turnovers in February. A few stellar outings in the tournament could be the what pushes her over the top.