As the women’s NCAA Tournament tips off Friday afternoon, some of the seniors preparing to enter the WNBA will have a chance to make a lasting impressing.
Many of the top seeds feature high-profile seniors who figure to make an impact in the WNBA next season, and their chance to turn pro will begin on Draft Day: April 14.
Here are the top prospects to watch in the NCAA tournament over the next few weeks.
UCONN – No. 1 Seed, Bridgeport Region
Breanna Stewart is considered to be a lock to be the No. 1 pick in the WNBA Draft. The do-it-all forward/center is averaging 19.2 points and 8.3 rebounds per game this season for undefeated Connecticut.
Stewart is only player in history to be honored as the Final Four Most Outstanding Player three times and has a chance to add on to her record if she can find a way to do it this season as well. Thanks to her incredible regular season, Stewart was selected as the National Player of the Year by the Associated Press — one of many honors in what is shaping up to be one of college basketball’s all-time great careers.
Guard Moriah Jefferson can join teammate Breanna Stewart — and redshirt junior Morgan Tuck — as the first players to ever win four NCAA titles. If she carries over her excellent regular season into the tournament, UConn will have an even better shot at winning it all.
She averaged 12.6 points and 5.4 assists per game for the Huskies one year after being named to the WBCA All-America Team and USBWA All-America Team. She projects to be a top-3 pick in the WNBA Draft this April.
Notre Dame – No. 1 Seed, Lexington Region
Though Madison Cable missed her freshman year with stress fractures in both feet, she made up for lost time due to her intelligence and intangibles on the court, both of which she is known for. In terms of production, she ranks second in school history with a 44% career three-point field-goal percentage (behind Alicia Ratay).
Since Cable can play either backcourt position or the wing, she gives Notre Dame the versatility that the Fighting Irish will need in the tournament and can certainly help a WNBA team in the future.
South Carolina – No. 1 Seed, Sioux Falls Region
Tiffany Mitchell competed for USA Basketball and won a gold medal in the 2014 FIBA 3×3 World Championships in Moscow, and she has been making noise for South Carolina. In fact, the guard set the Gamecocks record for three-point field goal percentage in a season (.541) in 2013-14 and is a projected top-10 pick in the WNBA Draft.
Baylor – No. 1 Seed, Dallas Region
2015 was a big year for guard Niya Johnson, as she was selected to the All-Big 12 First Team and the dean’s list. She also set the single-season Big 12 Conference and Baylor assist records with 322 in 2014-15.
This season, she averaged 8.7 assists per game and a career-high 5.3 rebounds, a sign that her game isn’t done improving and she still has room to develop as a game-changing player. Right now, she is a projected top-15 pick and she can use the tournament to rise up Draft boards.
Texas – No. 2 Seed, Bridgeport Region
Imani Boyette won the Honda Inspiration Award in 2014-15 for her character on and off the court. Strictly speaking on the court, she is one of the best centers in the nation.
Boyette averaged 11.6 points, 8.9 rebounds and 3.0 blocks per game for the No. 2 seeded Longhorns. She is a projected top-10 pick and her 6-foot-7 frame can make her a difference-maker in the WNBA. Her shot-blocking and rim protecting are valuable assets to a team, as is her near-double-double production. Those traits run in her family — her mother, Pam McGree, was the No. 2 overall pick in the inaugural WNBA draft, and her half-brother JaVale McGee plays for the Dallas Mavericks.
South Florida – No. 6 Seed, Bridgeport Region
Courtney Williams set USF’s single-season scoring record with 710 points this season (20.3 per game), which ranked No. 9 in the nation. A prolific scorer, the forward had a 10-game stretch of consecutive 20-points games and also added 7.5 rebounds per game as well.
Along with Mitchell, Williams is also a projected top-10 pick in the draft.
Oregon State – No. 2 Seed, Dallas Region
Jamie Wisner is a sharp-shooting guard who averaged a team-high 17.3 points per game and shot .45% from downtown. Her three-point prowess can help a WNBA team spread the floor and could also help Oregon State advance through the NCAA tournament.
Listed at 6-foot-6, Ruth Hamblin was a monster in the paint this past season for Oregon State. The center averaged 11.9 points, 9.5 rebounds and 3.4 blocks per game as she wreaked havoc down low for opponents.
Her rebounding and shot-blocking can be valuable assets as the tournament progresses, as limiting second-chance opportunities will be key.
Hamblin is projected to be around the top-10 in the WNBA Draft and a great tournament can certainly help her stock rise in a center-heavy draft class.
Other Notable Prospects: Courtney Walker (Texas A&M), Megan Podkowa (DePaul), Adut Bulgak (Florida State), Lexi Eaton (BYU), Sheeresha Richards (Albany), Bria Homes (West Virginia), Tabitha Richardson-Smith (Seton Hall)