NCAA Women: Top 5 Aussie Freshmen

With a number of Under 19 World Championship and FIBA Oceania representatives among the players making their way to college for the first time in 2017, the level of Australian freshmen in the women's side of NCAA basketball is extremely high this season.

Our top 3 have all secured places in programs that have either challenged for a national title already, or are expected to in the very near future. The others have secured scholarships at solid programs where they will almost surely make an impact from the outset.

We run through the preseason Australian Top 5 incoming freshman women for the 2017-18 NCAA Division I season. A number of other players did make extremely strong cases for a spot in this list, but the line has to be drawn somewhere.

5 | Mackenzie CLINCH HOYCARD | Hawaii

Western Australian players are few and far between in women’s college basketball, but Hawaii now have two on their roster, with Mackenzie Clinch Hoycard joining redshirt freshman Amy Atwell in Manoa. A member of the extended Gems squad during the selection process for this year’s Under 19 World Championships, Clinch Hoycard was one of the stars of the Western Australia Under 20 side this year, finishing third in scoring for the team with 10 points per game and leading the team with 7.3 rebounds per contest, equal with Pepperdine recruit Mia Satie. With Hawaii returning just one regular starter from last year’s frontcourt, Clinch Hoycard has a real opportunity to secure a position in the rotation from the outset.

Clinch Hoycard’s rebounding ability combined with her height will be a welcome addition to the Hawaii roster. Whilst there are a number of players on the roster with decent enough rebounding numbers, their rebound margin ranked in the bottom half of the nation. The Hawaii defence is decent despite the team’s 12-18 record last season, so it may come to pass that if a player like Clinch Hoycard can secure a few second-chance baskets and improve the team’s scoring, as well as keep opposition teams off the glass, things might move in an upwards direction for the Rainbow Wahine sooner rather than later.

4 | Genna OGIER | Fresno State

A late call-up to the Gems side which dominated the 2016 FIBA Oceania U18 side, Ogier still managed to chip in 4.8 points and 3.4 assists in just 9.7 minutes of action per game as the Australians demolished the competition, defeating New Zealand 107-52 in the final and winning each of their other games by triple figures. Ogier most recently played her club ball for Kilsyth in SEABL, where her minutes were up and down throughout the year, occasionally playing in excess of 30 minutes, but then also playing under 15 minutes in a number of games. In the end, Ogier finished with 3.7 points and 3.6 rebounds per game for a Cobras team which reached the East Conference final before going down to Geelong.

Ogier was also involved alongside Chantel Horvat, as well as a number of now-WNBL players, in the title-winning Victorian Under 20 team this year, shooting 39% and averaging just in excess of five points per contest. At 6’1, Ogier is one of just three players on the Fresno State standing over 6 foot tall, with one of those being the team’s only recognised centre. Whilst height doesn’t automatically translate to basketball skills, there is very little experience in the Fresno State front court, and any advantage Ogier has over her competition for minutes could prove invaluable at this point.

The Bulldogs have also lost star centre Bego Faz Davalos, who took advantage of graduate transfer rules to move to Duke and become immediately eligible to play, meaning it could be a baptism of fire for both Ogier and the remainder of the Fresno State frontcourt. However, it is a challenge that the players will no doubt face together, and if they can come together to replace the loss of Faz Davalos, things could still very easily work out well from the outset for Ogier.

3 | Anneli MALEY | Oregon

Anneli Maley spent the latter half of the 2016/17 WNBL season with the Adelaide Lightning and showcased to the wider Australian basketball public what those in the know had been aware of for a long time - she is a rebounding machine par excellence, chalking up 4.2 boards per contest, slightly more than even her 3.9 points per game. To that point, it is interesting that Maley is listed as a guard on the Oregon roster, and it will almost certainly come to pass that Maley spends more time on the perimeter than she has in the past, especially with Oregon’s starting front court stacked with class. However, Maley is much more than a rebounder, which she has proved in this year’s SEABL competition.

Playing for the Dandenong Rangers, Maley shot a respectable 38% from both beyond the arc and overall from the field to tally an average of 9.2 points alongside 9.2 rebounds per game in a season interrupted by Under 19 World Championship commitments. Maley averaged 10.7 rebounds per game in that tournament alongside 3.1 points per game as the Gems finished sixth following tight defeats to both Russia and France, each of which came down to the last possession of the game.

Oregon flew slightly under the radar last season, securing a #10 seed in the NCAA Tournament that was widely seen as being a couple of spots too low. In the end, it mattered little as the Ducks snuck by Temple in their opener, then upsetting #2 seed Duke and #3 seed Maryland before falling to UConn in the Elite Eight. Neither Maley nor the Ducks will come in under the radar this season, with the team set to challenge for honours in the Pac-12 this season, having been ranked equal second with Alanna Smith’s Stanford side in the preseason Pac-12 coaches’ poll, behind only Chantel Horvat and UCLA.

2 | Chloe BIBBY | Mississippi State

A WNBL grand finalist in 2016/17 with the Dandenong Rangers, Warracknabeal native Chloe Bibby joins a team that also lost a championship game last season, with Mississippi State knocking off Connecticut in an absolute boilover in the Final Four last season before going down to South Carolina in the decider. Bibby was one of the senior members of the 2017 Under 19 World Championship team, taking on the captain’s role after Maddison Rocci went down with injury. Bibby perhaps would have liked to shoot at a slightly higher clip than her 34% for the tournament, but still managed to average 11 points alongside 7.4 rebounds per game throughout the competition.

Bibby was a vital member of the Bendigo side that reached the SEABL grand final before going down to Chantel Horvat’s Geelong side. Slightly ironically, both Bibby and Horvat, who had played similar positions all season, had both left for college by the time the championship decider rolled around. However, prior to leaving for Starkville, Bibby averaged 17.3 points per game, putting her in the top 20 scorers in the entire SEABL competition. The forward also contributed 6.8 rebounds and 1.8 assists per contest to firmly establish herself as one of the most integral parts of the Bendigo side.

Mississippi State may be one of the best teams in the nation, but they remain second in the SEC behind defending national champions South Carolina. Getting by the Gamecocks - as well as the rest of the league - in the chase for a conference championship will be the first goal for Bibby and the Bulldogs, but avenging their defeat in the national title game will also be of paramount importance after defeating what looked like an unstoppable UConn team in the Final Four before going down to South Carolina in the decider last season.

1 | Chantel HORVAT | UCLA

Chantel Horvat may have missed out on a spot in the Gems’ Under 19 World Championship squad, albeit slightly perplexingly, but the former Gems captain has put that behind her and will head to UCLA with an outstanding resume to this point.

An Under 19 World Championship bronze medalist in 2015 alongside fellow Pac-12 players Anneli Maley and Alanna Smith, as well as four more college players in Kristy Wallace, Alicia Froling, Madeleine Dennis, and Alex Sharp, Horvat averaged only 10 minutes per contest in that tournament, but still put up 5.7 points per game as the Gems secured third place with a 69-62 win over Spain in the bronze medal playoff. Since that time, Horvat has spent time in the BA Centre of Excellence program, before playing for her hometown Geelong Supercats in the most recent SEABL season. After averaging 9.4 points per game in 2016, Horvat upped her scoring to 17 points per contest in 2017 to be Geelong’s second-leading scorer behind Opals forward Sara Blicavs as the Supercats took out the title, defeating Bendigo in the grand final.

Although Horvat missed out on selection for the Under 19 World Championships, her class was on show in the 2016 FIBA Oceania Under 18 tournament which served as a qualifier for the World Championships as Australia rolled through the competition to claim the gold medal. Horvat used her ability to get to the rim to shoot 60% from the field throughout the tournament and lead the team with 18.6 points per contest. That ability to get to the basket could see Horvat almost play a similar role to that of current senior Kelli Hayes, a player whose own ability to drive to the hoop last year offered a point of difference to the three point shooting of the now-graduated pair of Nicole Kornet and Kari Korver.

Horvat comes into the UCLA program at an exciting time for the Bruins. Having come up short last season given their position in the top of the Pac-12 coaches’ preseason ranking, the Bruins will be determined to ensure that they turn another preseason #1 spot into a conference title and a deep NCAA Tournament run after reaching the Sweet Sixteen in 2016/17 before falling to UConn.