Women's NCAA tournament 2022: Top 25 players in the women's bracket

The debate over who should be the national Player of the Year has been as spirited this women's college basketball season as the one over which team might hoist the 2022 NCAA trophy.

South Carolina junior Aliyah Boston and Iowa sophomore Caitlin Clark will no doubt headline every All-America team -- and they lead the way in our ranking of the top players in the women's NCAA tournament, as voted on by ESPN's Charlie Creme, Alexa Philippou and Mechelle Voepel.

Twelve players have been featured in all three of ESPN's top 25 player rankings this season (denoted below with *). Not much has changed at the very top of the list from our last ranking on Jan. 12, but one big name was added: UConn's Paige Bueckers, who was No. 1 in ESPN's preseason list but was omitted from version 2.0 after being sidelined by a knee injury.

Some top players were eliminated from these rankings when their teams were not included in the NCAA bracket. And Tennessee's Jordan Horston -- who received enough votes to make the cut -- was taken off the list as her status for the tournament is uncertain due to a fractured dislocation of her left elbow suffered Feb. 17.

From potential first-round picks in April's WNBA draft to impact underclassmen, these are the 25 best players in the Big Dance. Stanford, UConn and Louisville each put two players on the list.

1. Aliyah Boston*, South Carolina Gamecocks

Forward | 6-foot-5 | junior

Her SEC-record double-double streak is at 24, and she was named SEC Player of the Year and the league's top defender, averaging 16.8 points, 12.0 rebounds and 2.6 blocks. Boston's leadership has been stellar all season. The unexpected loss to Kentucky in the SEC final gives her another chance to demonstrate it going forward in the NCAA tournament as the Gamecocks seek a second straight Final Four. -- Voepel

2. Caitlin Clark*, Iowa Hawkeyes

Guard | 6-foot-0 | sophomore

Clark, the Big Ten Player of the Year, leads Division I in scoring (27.4) and assists (7.9), and helped propel Iowa to the Big Ten regular-season and conference tournament titles, the first time the program won both in the same season. The Hawkeyes, who made the Sweet 16 last year, are on a seven-game winning streak entering NCAA tournament play. -- Voepel

3. NaLyssa Smith*, Baylor Bears

Forward | 6-foot-4 | senior

Making a late push to reenter a national player of the year conversation that seemed to forget her, Smith racked up averages of 32 points and 16 rebounds in Baylor's final three regular-season games as the Bears overtook and overwhelmed the rest of the Big 12 on their way to a 12th straight regular-season crown. -- Creme

4. Haley Jones*, Stanford Cardinal

Guard | 6-foot-1 | junior

The Cardinal ran the table in the Pac-12 on their way to the program's 15th league tournament title, and Jones was a force throughout. The Final Four's most outstanding player last season for national champion Stanford, Jones is second on the team in scoring (13.1) and rebounding (7.9) and leads in assists (3.7). Even on a team with multiple offensive options, she is the go-to at crunch time. -- Voepel

5 Rhyne Howard*, Kentucky Wildcats

Guard | 6-foot-2 | senior

Howard put up her usual sterling numbers, but for more than half the season, she didn't seem to be doing much to help Kentucky win. On Feb. 10, the Wildcats were 9-11 and it looked like Howard's career would end with an early loss in the SEC tournament. Instead, Kentucky began winning again and never stopped. With Howard steering the ship, the Wildcats won their first SEC tournament title in 40 years and ride a 10-game winning streak into the NCAA tournament. -- Creme

6. Naz Hillmon*, Michigan Wolverines

Forward |6-foot-2 | senior

In a world without Caitlin Clark, Hillmon is a two-time Big Ten Player of the Year and one of the most decorated players in the league's history. Nevertheless, she's the best player ever at Michigan and the heartbeat of a program having its most successful season. -- Creme

7. Shakira Austin*, Ole Miss Rebels

Center| 6-foot-5 | senior

Austin (15.4 PPG, 8.9 RPG) has the Rebels back in the NCAA tournament for the first time since 2007, and she has elevated her game into potential WNBA lottery-pick status. Ole Miss was 0-16 in the SEC in 2019-20, the season before Austin transferred there from Maryland. This season, Ole Miss went 10-6 and made the SEC tournament semifinals. -- Voepel

8. Cameron Brink*, Stanford Cardinal

Forward | 6-foot-4 | sophomore

Brink has been getting it done on both ends for the Cardinal this season, just edging teammate Haley Jones as their top scorer and rebounder while also taking home Pac-12 Defensive Player of the Year. When she stays out of foul trouble, she's a force to be reckoned with, and at her best her inside presence gives an otherwise balanced Stanford squad a meaningful shot at repeating as national champions. -- Philippou

9. Ashley Joens*, Iowa State Cyclones

Forward | 6-foot-1 | senior

While the numbers aren't quite as good as a season ago, Joens has done something even bigger: lead the Cyclones to their best Big 12 season ever. Averaging 20.0 PPG and 9.2. RPG is hardly a down season, especially when Joens also became Iowa State's all-time leading scorer in mid-February. -- Creme

10. Paige Bueckers, UConn Huskies

Guard | 5-foot-11 | sophomore

Since returning from a knee injury that sidelined her for 19 games, Bueckers is still having good and bad days, both mentally and physically, though the Huskies didn't need her much to cruise to a Big East tournament title. UConn's newfound depth takes some of the load off her shoulders if she's not at 100 percent, but her unparalleled court vision and playmaking ability, plus her consistent shooting and ability to get a bucket when her team needs it, might make the difference between the Huskies achieving their goals this spring and going home empty-handed. -- Philippou

11. Elizabeth Kitley*, Virginia Tech Hokies

Center | 6-foot-6 | junior

Kitley (17.7 PPG, 10.0 PPG) took the next step in her career, being named ACC Player of the Year and leading Virginia Tech to the league semifinals for the first time in program history. She wasn't able to play in the ACC tournament semifinal loss to NC State because of a shoulder injury, but she is expected back for the NCAA tournament. -- Voepel

12. Angel Reese, Maryland Terrapins

Forward | 6-foot-3 | sophomore

After missing half of her freshman season with a foot injury, basketball fans have finally seen the Angel Reese they were promised. In an otherwise up-and-down year for the Terps, Reese has been a bright spot, leading Maryland in scoring, dominating the glass on both ends and standing out on defense. Reese is in elite company as one of the handful of players, including Ayoka Lee and NaLyssa Smith, who average at least 17 points and 10 rebounds per game. -- Philippou

13. Elissa Cunane*, NC State Wolfpack

Center | 6-foot-5 | senior

The Wolfpack are defined by Cunane, who has led them to three consecutive ACC tournament titles and two No. 1 seeds in a row. Her discipline, efficiency, high IQ and unselfishness have become the way of the program. The offense, rated second in the country by Her Hoop Stats, runs through Cunane, who also anchors the sixth-ranked defense. -- Creme

14. Ayoka Lee, Kansas State Wildcats

Center | 6-foot-6 | junior

Lee set the NCAA D-I single-game record with 61 points on Jan. 23, and she was averaging a double-double going into the Big 12 tournament. When she gets the ball where she wants it, Lee is near automatic as a scorer. Defensively, she is strong and takes up space in the paint, blocking around three shots per game. Her mobility might not be the best, but she has logged a lot of minutes as the Wildcats' centerpiece player. -- Voepel

15. Khayla Pointer, LSU Tigers

Guard | 5-foot-7 | senior

Pointer has been the definition of dependable for new LSU coach Kim Mulkey, leading the Tigers in scoring (19.0), assists (5.2), steals (1.7) and minutes played (36.9). The seniors are the heart of LSU this season, and Pointer leads the way there, too. -- Voepel

16. Emily Engstler, Louisville Cardinals

Forward | 6-foot-1 | senior

Few players on this list are more versatile than Engstler, who emerged as a difference-maker in her first year with the Cardinals after transferring from Syracuse. Her gritty defense -- she is tied for the third-most defensive win shares in the country, according to Her Hoops Stats -- is the straw that stirs the drink for this staunch unit. But she's also an adept distributor, the Cardinals' top rebounder by a mile and is one of their best 3-point shooters. -- Philippou

17. Aneesah Morrow, DePaul Blue Demons

Forward | 6-foot-1 | senior

Morrow burst onto the national scene after putting up ridiculous numbers for any player regardless of conference, let alone a freshman: 21.7 points, 13.8 rebounds, 2.7 steals and 1.8 blocks per game, along with what was at the time a nation-best streak of 23 consecutive double-doubles. She plays with a relentlessness and competitiveness that help her dominate inside and on the glass -- despite being a guard at heart -- and make her a must-watch player in March. -- Philippou

18. Hailey Van Lith, Louisville Cardinals

Guard | 5-foot-7 | sophomore

It took some time for Van Lith to get going, particularly from the 3-point arc, but she has played some of her best basketball of late, averaging 18.6 points per game in Louisville's final six regular-season contests. If she can play like she did in Louisville's recent rout of Notre Dame (20 points, including 4-of-5 shooting from 3, 6 rebounds and 5 assists), the Cardinals could be a force in March. -- Philippou

19. Grace Berger, Indiana Hoosiers

Guard | 6-foot-0 | senior

With a nose for the ball and a precision old-school midrange game, Berger has been the headliner in the Hoosiers' success that relies more on chemistry than stars. She helped navigate Indiana through a long COVID-19 pause and month without last year's leading scorer, Mackenzie Holmes, and became this season's top point producer and team leader in assists. -- Creme

20. Kierstan Bell*, Florida Gulf Coast Eagles

Guard | 6-foot-1 | junior

Bell already has said she will enter the WNBA draft. Bell has been ASUN Player of the Year in both her seasons since transferring from Ohio State. A tall, strong guard, she missed nine games with a knee injury but returned in late February and hasn't slowed down since. -- Voepel

21. Jacy Sheldon, Ohio State Buckeyes

Guard | 5-foot-10 | junior

The Buckeyes have emerged from last year's self-imposed postseason ban to becoming Big Ten co-regular-season champions largely because of the growth of Sheldon's game. She finished in the top 10 in the conference in points, assists, steals and free throw percentage, and she teamed with Taylor Mikesell to form one of the most productive backcourts in the country. -- Creme

22. Christyn Williams, UConn Huskies

Guard | 5-foot-11 | senior

Williams has had her share of ups and downs throughout her UConn career, even during her senior season at times. But last year, she turned a corner in the postseason, emerging as a two-way threat to help the Huskies advance to their 13th consecutive Final Four. This season, she once more seems to be kicking it into high gear at just the right time, with her strong performance in the Big East tournament earning her Most Outstanding Player honors. -- Philippou

23. Rori Harmon, Texas Longhorns

Guard | 5-foot-6 | freshman

Harmon took over the Big 12 tournament, helping Texas to the title and an NCAA No. 2 seed. She averaged 22 points, 4.3 assists and 3.7 rebounds in three victories and was the tournament's most outstanding player. She had no turnovers in the semifinal or final, despite playing every minute of both games, one an overtime contest. -- Voepel

24. Maddy Siegrist, Villanova Wildcats

Forward | 6-foot-1 | junior

Despite being a consistent and prolific scorer since the day she arrived on campus, Siegrist has remained underrated nationally. She just won Big East Player of the Year and has led the league in scoring each of the past two seasons. Only five times in her career has she failed to score at least 10 points in a game. -- Creme

25. Madi Williams, Oklahoma Sooners

Guard/forward | 5-foot-11 | senior

Williams leads Oklahoma in scoring and rebounding, and she is effective both as a spot-up shooter and slasher to the rim. The Sooners are known for their fast pace under new coach Jennie Baranczyk. When they get late in the shot clock and just need someone to create, Williams does it. -- Voepel

Also receiving votes: Zia Cooke, South Carolina; Lorela Cubaj, Georgia Tech; Monika Czinano, Iowa; Azzi Fudd, UConn; Shaylee Gonzales, BYU; Destanni Henderson, South Carolina; Mackenzie Holmes, Indiana; Cate Reese, Arizona; Nyara Sabally, Oregon