Part of the reason Aari McDonald returned for her senior season is so that she can establish herself as the best guard in women’s college basketball, a very obtainable feat.
According to ESPN’s Graham Hays, only one player stands in her way. McDonald was named the No. 2 player in the country by the Worldwide Leader, only behind Kentucky guard Rhyne Howard, the nation’s leading returning scorer.
Per Hays, here is why McDonald can win the National Player of the Year award in 2020-21:
McDonald will follow in the footsteps of Kelsey Plum and (Sabrina) Ionescu as Pac-12 guards with the style and skill necessary to build a national player of the year campaign. She will be one of only four returning players in the major conferences who averaged at least 20 points per game this past season. The 5-6 guard was even Arizona’s second-leading rebounder. Arizona returns its core group from a team that Charlie Creme projected as a No. 3 seed this season. So team success shouldn’t be a problem.
However, Arizona’s talent level could actually work against McDonald, since it means they won’t have to lean so heavily on her, one of the reasons Hayes said she could be held back from winning the NPOY award:
Arizona’s continued emergence as a Final Four contender generally helps McDonald’s case, but there are specific hindrances. McDonald’s scoring average dipped by three points per game this past season, as her share of the team’s overall field goal attempts dropped from 32% to 26%. That’s because Sam Thomas, Cate Reese and others did more. That’s good for Arizona. But when it comes to catching eyes for individual awards, it’s a fine line.
ESPN also listed Arizona as the No. 7 team in its way-too-early preseason rankings, and that was before the addition of Virginia Tech graduate transfer Trinity Baptiste. Safe to expectations are sky high for McDonald and the Wildcats, and they aren’t running from them.
She recently tweeted “we want all the smoke next year.”