5 reasons why Angel Reese DISAPPEARED from the Naismith Women’s Player of the Year finals. Reese was better last season?

LSU’s Angel Reese was left off the Naismith finalist list, while USC’s JuJu Watkins made the list. Here’s a look at why.

When the Naismith Award finalists list appeared on Tuesday, the familiar name of Angel Reese was missing. Admittedly, only four players in the nation are chosen for the shortlist, but Reese’s omission was still notable. The top player for defending national champion LSU, Reese was the Southeastern Conference Player of the Year and had a third consecutive All-American season.

But on closer examination, it’s clear why she was missing from the Naismith List.

5 reasons why Angel Reese was snubbed from Naismith finalist list

South Carolina has dominated the SEC and perhaps kept Angel Reese from the Naismith Award finalist list.

South Carolina has dominated the SEC and perhaps kept Angel Reese from the Naismith Award finalist list.

#5, It’s South Carolina’s season

If there’s been a single foundational story of this season, it’s South Carolina. The Gamecocks haven’t just hung at No. 1 all season. They’re unbeaten and nearly unchallenged. While the Gamecocks don’t have a Naismith finalist, they’ve cast a season-long shadow over the game, certainly encompassing the SEC.

While LSU was preseason No. 1, it almost immediately took second place behind South Carolina by losing its season opener to Colorado. That’s not only in the league standings but in terms of college basketball interest. Angel Reese, Flau’jae Johnson and Kim Mulkey had their moment in the sun before the season.

The Tigers and Reese haven’t shown any reason to replace South Carolina in the top spot. South Carolina beat LSU on the Tigers’ home floor, and the Gamecocks beat them again in the SEC Tournament final.

#4, Reese was better last season

It’s easy to forget that Reese wasn’t a finalist for the award in 2023. That list included winner Caitlin Clark, Aaliyah Boston, Elizabeth Kitley and Maddy Siegrist. But the bigger story here is that Reese’s 2024 season wasn’t as good as her 2023 season, when she was the Most Outstanding Player of the NCAA Tournament. If the 2023 season didn’t get her on the finalist list, it’s hard to argue for 2024.

In 2023, Reese averaged 23.0 points per game and 15.4 rebounds per game for the national title-winning LSU Tigers. This season, aside from missing four games, Reese’s averages have dropped to 18.7 ppg and 13.2 rpg. Her shooting percentage has dropped from 52.5% to 47.9%. She’s turned the ball over more (2.5 turnovers per game from 2.2), although she’s never been a ball handler.

Reese’s 2024 productivity is nothing to put down. She’s been an All-American and a double-double machine on a team in perhaps the toughest league in college basketball.

Plus, LSU added three stars: DePaul transfer/forward Aneesah Morrow (an honorable mention All-American this season after being an All-American twice at DePaul), Louisville transfer Hailey Van Lith and prep phenom Mikayla Williams, the SEC Freshman of the Year. And center Aalyah Del Rosario joined Williams on the All-SEC Freshman team.

In addition to being the SEC Player of the Year, Reese was named a semifinalist for Naismith Defensive Player of the Year and made the All-SEC Defensive Team for the second consecutive season. Even if her numbers were relatively down, she still led the SEC in scoring and rebounding and is only the second player in league history to do so. And she was named to the AP All-America team for the second year in a row.

But Reese has had a noticeably weaker season than she did a year ago when she also didn’t make the Naismith list.

#3, LSU isn’t the nation’s best team this year

A season ago, Reese was a beast on the nation’s top team. LSU hasn’t sniffed that spot this time around. After being selected preseason No.1, LSU (30-5) hasn’t risen above No. 7 during the regular season. They were ranked eighth in the final poll this season.

Relatively speaking, LSU has had a rougher season than a year ago, but a year ago, observers thought the Tigers benefited from a weak schedule. The Tigers began last season ranked No. 16, entered the NCAA Tournament at No. 4 and finished 34-2 with the national championship. LSU was a No. 3 seed in last year’s tournament and is a No. 3 seed again.

Not being on the No. 1 team doesn’t disqualify Reese. One can win the Naismith award outside of being on a top team. But it would be a factor in support of Reese’s candidacy. As it stands, she had a better year last year and her team had a better year last year. She wasn’t a Naismith finalist then, and it seems odd to argue that she should be now.

#2, Off-court distractions hurt Reese’s candidacy.

In November, Reese not only found herself benched in the second half of a blowout win over Kent State but at the center of some team dissension. She was then benched for four games. LSU coach Kim Mulkey, rarely forthcoming with inner-team details, confirmed only that the absence was related to locker room issues.

It’s a hard sell for Reese to be considered one of the top players in the country when her presence was apparently a negative to her own team at one point. While the full details of what happened and why may never be known, the optics of the situation aren’t good. A player who misses over a 10th of the season due to team turmoil isn’t generally considered the nation’s best player.

#1, The 2024 field is historically strong.

It’s not as if the rest of women’s basketball was sitting around while Reese played the 2023-24 season. The current Naismith field is as strong as any. Caitlin Clark is both the defending winner and the sport’s all-time leading scorer. JuJu Watkins is completing a historically strong freshman season. Paige Bueckers is putting together a brilliant comeback campaign.

That leaves only Cameron Brink of Stanford. She’s a brilliant and charismatic player on a team with a No. 1 NCAA Tournament seed. If there’s a spot in the list where Reese could have landed, Brink’s place might be the one. But Brink combines similar offensive production with record-setting shot-blocking. She’s also not embroiled her team in turmoil. Those who selected the field got it right.

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