2021 WNBA Prospects To Watch In The NCAA Tournament
It’s NCAA Tournament time, which means that many people who don’t subscribe to a multitude of streaming platforms like I do are about to get their first chance to see some of the top WNBA prospects in action.
Today, we’re going to look at who some of those top prospects are that you should be watching in this year’s tournament. I’m breaking this up into two segments: prospects you should make sure you watch on the opening weekend of the tournament because their teams are liable to not make the Sweet 16, and then prospects to check out over the rest of the tournament, when things slow down and you can more readily catch whichever games you want to watch.
Other than that division of players based on expected tournament success, this article isn’t a breakdown of the tournament itself, though may I selfishly recommend you check out my tournament preview over at RotoBaller. No, this is about the W, because Winsidr is, to hopefully quote our founder Aryeh Schwartz correctly, “all about the W.”
WNBA Prospects To Check Out On The First Weekend
Charli Collier – Texas (6 Seed)
The Texas Longhorns are an interesting team, but they’ve struggled against top competition this year, making them a team whose shot at making it to the second weekend of the tournament is iffy. So, watch Charli Collier—the projected No. 1 overall pick in this year’s draft—while you can, so you can see why so many people are high on the junior.
A little tease of what you’re getting with Collier: a center whose game extends out to the three-point line and who is a major presence inside on the defensive end. A second-round meeting with UCLA could end Texas’ run, but UCLA isn’t quite as good inside as some of the teams that the Longhorns have struggled against, which could lead to us getting one of those big Collier games that shows why she’s a favorite of draft people instead of one of her rough outings like the Big 12 semifinals against Baylor, when she got in foul trouble early on and never got anything going.
Arella Guirantes – Rutgers (6 Seed)
I’m already getting super pumped for the potential second-round meeting of Rutgers and Arizona, a game that will feature two first-round prospects. Because Rutgers is the lower seed, we’ll talk about Guirantes here and save Aari McDonald for the next section.
Maybe the best shooting guard prospect in this class, Guirantes is a top scorer who has really improved her three-point shooting over the past two seasons. She’s also 52nd in the country in blocks per game and could add some nice perimeter defense to whichever team drafts her. Really just a great three-and-D prospect who could make Rutgers the surprise team of this tournament.
Jasmine Walker – Alabama (7 Seed)
One of the biggest risers since the start of the 2020-21 season, Walker went from being a very good scorer to a great scorer, posting career-highs in points per game, field goal percentage, and three-point field goal percentage. She’s also pulling down 9.6 rebounds per contest. Walker’s ability to be a stretch four at the next level would make her an ideal fit on virtually every team in the W, but Alabama going on a deep tournament run probably isn’t in the cards.
Natasha Mack – Oklahoma State (8 Seed)
Mack’s the best pure big in this class. While players like Charli Collier and Awak Kuier are bigs who’ll be expected to shoot and play away from the basket, Mack’s game is all about the post. Per CBB Analytics, Mack ranks in the 100th percentile in two-point attempts per game, and she shoots 12.5 percent over the Division I average in the non-rim part of the paint, and 8.5 percent above average at the rim. As the season’s worn on, Mack has started taking more mid-range shots as well and relying a little less on attempts at the rim. OSU has a tough seeding situation here, but we should get to see two games of Mack’s elite interior efficiency.
Oh, Mack also leads Division I in blocks per game at 4.1. FOUR POINT ONE. She’s also ninth in rebounds per game. Wherever she winds up being drafted, I have a feeling it won’t be as high as it should be.
WNBA Prospects Who Should Make The Sweet 16
Evina Westbrook – UConn (1 Seed)
Of the four one-seeds this year, only UConn has a player who could be a first-round pick this year, as junior Evina Westbrook could declare early. (Apologies to Stanford’s Kiana Williams, who I have down as a mid-second round option and aren’t writing about for the sake of time. Watch her play, though! Also watch Texas A&M’s N’dea Jones and Baylor’s DiDi Richards and Dijonai Carrington, players who are on top-two seeds and could see their names called in the second round.)
Anyway, Westbrook. The 6-0 point guard isn’t lighting the stat sheet on fire, but she’s a good rebounding and passing guard whose ceiling at UConn is limited by playing next to Paige Bueckers. Westbrook’s someone whose WNBA career could be notably better than her college career, as we might get a chance to see the shooting skill she displayed a couple of years ago when she was at Tennessee.
Dana Evans – Louisville (2 Seed)
My pick for best point guard in this class, Evans leads a Louisville team that will look to make a run to the Elite Eight (or deeper, if you like how they stack up against Stanford).
Evans has seen her shooting numbers fall off over the past few games, but she’s still a high-level scorer who averaged 20 points per game on the season and who shot 35.3 percent from deep. She’s also got one of the best turnover rates, ranking in the 95th percentile. A good shooting ball-handler who doesn’t turn the ball over too much and who makes her teammates better, elevating a Louisville team that’s lost a lot of talent to the W over the past two seasons? And she’s one of the better guard defenders despite only being 5-6? Sign me up.
Aari McDonald – Arizona (3 Seed)
McDonald is the biggest competition for that title of best point guard. Like Evans, she’s a great defender despite being undersized, but McDonald lacks the shooting upside that Evans has. In three years at Arizona, she’s never shot over 30 percent from three. So while Evans can be used as an off-ball spot-up threat with another lead guard, McDonald is going to need to make some huge strides if she’s going to see heavy minutes in the W.
Can she make those strides? Maybe! And she is a good scorer despite her struggles from deep, scoring 23 points per game and shooting 5.8 percent above average on mid-range shots. Couple that mid-range accuracy with her defensive tenacity, and you can see McDonald being a Courtney Williams-esque player in the W.
Rennia Davis – Tennessee (3 Seed)
As a prototype, Davis checks a lot of boxes. Defense? Check. Size? Check. Ball-handling from a big wing? Check. A mismatch at the four? Check.
As a player, Davis has some flaws—shooting, mainly—that keep her from being a slam dunk lottery pick. But even if the shooting never develops, Davis has the size and speed to defend on the inside and the outside, and she can serve as a secondary ball-handler when she’s on the floor.
Michaela Onyenwere – UCLA (3 Seed)
It seems like Onyenwere has slid down some draft boards this season. But she made some strides as a shooter, connecting on 36.7 percent of her threes, and depending on what position teams see her as, she’ll bring some solid things to the table.
That position thing is the interesting part. She could be a great rebounding wing if her shooting improves, or she can be a versatile forward if she doesn’t get better from outside. She’s be a little undersized as a power forward, but there are teams that will look past that. Her athletic profile makes her one of the more intriguing picks in this draft class.
Chelsea Dungee and Destiny Slocum – Arkansas (4 Seed)
I’ll keep this short: Arkansas is a fun, guard-driven team. Both players could be change-of-pace perimeter players in the W. Dungee can heat it up as well as anyone in the league and should sneak into the lower half of the first round, while Slocum is the better ball-handler and can also push the pace and knock down shots.