Someone needs to check in on ESPN because the organization has clearly lost its mind on this one.
On Thursday, Charlie Creme and Mechelle Voepel of the Worldwide Leader ranked the top 25 women’s basketball players heading into the 2021-22 season. As you might have guessed, Kentucky’s Rhyne Howard made the cut, but it’s her positioning that has us questioning what ESPN classifies as the “top” players in the country. The rising senior Wildcat didn’t even make the top 5, coming in at No. 6.
Kim Mulkey has moved on, but NaLyssa Smith is back at Baylor and leads our first offseason player rankings for next season.https://t.co/yCOBGDZ4W5
— ESPN Women’s Hoops (@ESPN_WomenHoop) April 29, 2021
Finishing ahead of Howard, in order, were NaLyssa Smith (Baylor), Aliyah Boston (South Carolina), Paige Bueckers (UConn), Cailtin Clark (Iowa), and Haley Jones (Stanford). For starters, Jones didn’t even make an All-American Team last season while Howard was a First-Teamer by most outlets. The consensus for over a year now has been that Howard would be the No. 1 pick in next season’s WNBA Draft, and she even won SEC Player of the Year over South Carolina’s Aliyah Boston, who ESPN ranked four spots ahead of Howard.
From ESPN’s own explanation, it would appear they’re holding Kentucky’s second-round exit against Iowa in the NCAA Tournament against Howard’s own individual talent. Since she didn’t win NATIONAL PLAYER OF THE YEAR, that apparently means five players are now better than her.
While it’s difficult to say Howard didn’t have an exceptional junior season — she improved in nearly every statistical category from the previous year except points per game — it wasn’t what most anticipated. She won no national player of the year awards and Kentucky was eliminated in the second round of the NCAA tournament. Still, Howard remains one of the most gifted and versatile offensive players in the country heading into 2021-22. She averaged 25.5 PPG in Kentucky’s four postseason games, despite Kentucky’s early exits in both the SEC and NCAA tournaments. Howard will once again will be among the favorites for most national player of the year awards. She just needs more help around her. — ESPN
Now it’s fair to say that Kentucky didn’t perform in the postseason the way fans had hoped, but the explanation above doesn’t hold up for what the argument is here. How does needing more help make her status as the best individual player in the country any weaker? From a pure talent standpoint, it’s been established for some time now that Howard is top two or three, if not the best. But then again, ESPN also ranked an incoming freshman, Azzi Fudd, as the 23rd best player without her even stepping foot on a college court yet, so maybe I’m getting mad over nothing here.
But at the same time, this is some pretty obvious disrespect, and another reason for Howard to come out swinging in the fall.