Sunday, April 7, 2024

Greatest 40 Women's College Players of All-Time and Why Catchings is STILL No. 1

Post note: Caitlin Clark and the Iowa women fueled a third straight record TV audience, while South Carolina became the first undefeated champ since 2016 UConn. Iowa drew 10 million viewers for the Elite 8, then 12 million for the Final 4, and a Sunday record 19 million average viewers peaking at 24 million viewers, according to the New York Post.

Caitlin Clark's amazing record 18 points in the first quarter fueled questions as to if she is the greatest ever. 

#1 Greatest Ever - Tamika Catchings

As we lay out the greatest 40 players of all time we believe it's clear Pat Summit's Tennessee star Tamika Catchings was the greatest ever, and once you factor defense and turnovers we rank Clark the third greatest point guard of all time behind only UConn's Sue Bird (from 2002) and Clark's opposing coach from Sunday, Dawn Staley (UVa, 1990s, now South Carolina coach) and just ahead of the first great point guard - Old Dominion's Nancy Lieberman from 1980. The two were together two weeks ago.

Greatest 10 of All-Time

The top 10 players are our two 1st teams below - including the best 5 already in our Value Add Basketball Game - (listed PG to C): Caitlin ClarkMaya MooreSheryl SwoopesTamika CatchingsBreanna Stewart. Then the 5 players whose cards and teams will be added - Sue BirdDiana TaurasiElena Delle DonneCandace ParkerRuth Riley.

The greatest centers and point guards are so good, that we should note that if we just picked the top 10 regardless of position, and whether or not they were in the game yet, then point guard Dawn Staley and centers Brittney Griner and Chamique Holdsclaw would make our all-time Top 10.

Still, Clark is the greatest college offensive guard the game has ever seen - and here are our top 40 players of all-time.

List of 40 Greatest Ever

The list of the greatest 40 women's players ever  ended up dividing into the 20 who already have cards in the free Value Add Basketball Game - and those who do not but will be added to the game as a result of making this list.

It's good to know who the 2nd through 40th greatest players ever are though - so here is the rest:

Here are the cards of the players already in the game in order of greatness by position (Point Guard to the left, then Shooting Guard, Small Forward, Power Forward and finally to the far right of each group, the Center).

Then here are the 20 greatest players not yet in the game, but who will be added so that the 40 greatest college players of all time will all be in the Value Add Basketball Game.

You will notice the players on the second list are dominated by players from the 1990s and early 2000s. That is because many of those stats were not available until recently so there are very few of those teams from above - but now we can catch up and add them. The number by the team indicates where we rank each of these stars team among the 16 all-time teams we will add to the 40 great teams already in the game - with UConn 2002 being the best (1) and led by the best backcourt of all time. For example, once created we likely play Delaware 2013 as our 15-seed with the one superstar Elena Delle Donne against the Tennessee 2007 team we rank as the 2-seed among these teams with Candace Parker and her back-to-back national champs.

1st All-American, All-Time    Pos    HtSchoolSeasonNotes
Sue BirdPG-15'9Connecticut (1)2002Could be No. 1 team once added, best backcourt ever beyond debate..
Diana TaurasiSG-26'0Connecticut (1)2002See Sue Bird
Elena Delle DonneSF-36'5Delaware (15)2013One women team finally went Sweet 16.
Candace ParkerPF-46'4Tennessee (2)2007Summit's took 2 more in a row.
Ruth RileyC-56'5Notre Dame (6)2001Title as inside with PG Niele Ivey outside.
2nd All-American, All-TimePosHtSchoolSeasonNotes
Dawn StaleyPG-15'6Virginia (5)1991Dominated TN (28, 11, 6 Ast, 3 Stl) for OT in title game.
Katie SmithSG-25'11Ohio St. (9)1993Best freshman season ever to lead OSU to title game.
Nnemkadi OgwumikeSF-36'2Stanford (4)20121 of 4 straight runner up seasons, 3 lost by single digits.
Clarissa DavisPF-46'1Texas (13)198926.3 pts, 9.9 reb on Elite 8 run.
Lisa LeslieC-56'5USC (7)199421.9, 12.3 combined with FR Tina Thompson (14.2,10.5) for Elite 8.
3rd All-American, All-TimePosHtSchoolSeasonNotes
Lindsay WhalenPG-15'8Minnesota (12)2004Led run to title game with only one 6-foot & 1 WNBA teammate.
Becky HammonSG-25'6Colorado St. (16)1999Sweet 16 run.
Seimone AugustusSF-36'1LSU (8)2005With Fowles dominated inside in 2nd of 5 straight Final 4s.
Sue WicksPF-46'3Rutgers (14)1988 
Tina ThompsonC-56'3USC (7)1994See Lisa Leslie.
4th All-American, All-TimePosHtSchoolSeasonNotes
Nykesha SalesPG-16'0Connecticut (3)1995Teamed up with Rebecca Lobo (17.9, 9.8, 3.7 ast) for 1st of many titles.
Cappie PondexterSG-25'11Rutgers (10)2005One Elite 8 run with 5 future WNBA players.
Angel McCoughtrySF-36'1Louisville (11)2009Great career ended with national runner-up.
Rebecca LoboPF-46'4Connecticut (3)1995See Nykesha Sales
Sylvia FowlesC-56'6LSU (8)2005See Seimone Augustus.

The following are the links to the players listed at the top because they already have Value Add Basketball Game cards. 

Links to 1st team (listed PG to C): Caitlin ClarkMaya MooreSheryl SwoopesTamika CatchingsBreanna Stewart

Tamika Catchings was the greatest high school, college and pro player of all-time. The card below from her freshman year shows she is the only player to ever be elite at everything and her overall value is higher than every other player. 

Steals are the most important single thing you can do for your team and as a freshman she had 100 steals. The most important ratio in hoops is trying to turn it over no more than TWICE as much as you steal the ball - and Catchings did the unheard of thing of having more steals than turnovers for her entire WNBA career. 

Then you add her as elite shot blocker for a non-center and top 10 in scoring her freshman year despite the first effort always being to get it to her star center Chamique Holdsclaw. Then you add the ability to be one of the best in the country at drawing fouls but also can pull back and hit threes - another rare combo. Add high percentages hitting 2s, 3s and free throws and being elite offensive and defensive rebounder and once you've added it all up she is the best women's player in history.

As far as we know, she recorded the only quintuple double in basketball history.

Here is how I went through the process.

To solve this for myself I went through all 40 great teams in the Value Add Basketball Game to see what the cards, which are very precise as far as adjusting for eras in which players played, and the level of opponents faces and most importantly how good the defense is. I reached the following conclusions.

1) Caitlin Clark would be my starting point guard if picking an All-American team from the players on the 40 great teams in the game, and ironically I believe the 2nd best point guard in the game is Nancy Lieberman from the earliest team in the game - the Old Dominion University 1980 team.

2) Tennessee's Tamika Catchings is the greatest player in the game. There is a valid argument that either the 1st, 2nd or 3rd Team All-time center I list below (her teammate at Tennessee Chamique Holdsclaw., Brittney Griner of Baylor 2012 or Breanna Stewart of UConn 2016 is the greatest as they are three of the seven players to win multiple Player of the Year Awards. But I've always believed you are ranking players based on their actual value ABOVE THE REPLACEMENT AT THEIR POSITION and based on that and everything Catchings does on her card I believe she is the best college player of all time. Since Stewart nudges out the other two centers for 1st team, it is no surprise I rank Pat Summit's 1998 Tennessee team as nudging out UConn 2010 and 2016 as the best team in the game. However, I believe the 2002 UConn team yet to be created was even better to likely be the best of all-time..

3) Below you can see the cards of the players i select by position (Point Guard left, Center furthest right for 1st, 2nd, 3rd and 4th team). 

The Greatest 20 Players Without Cards Listed Below:

Further research beyond the existing teams in the game indicated that about half of the greatest college teams of all time are already in the game, and the other half were not. I try to keep only one team per school in the game though I will give in and pick a 2nd or now even a 3rd team from one school if they are just that good - but this practice means that I left out many of the greatest UConn teams of all time just like on the men's side I left out many of the greatest UCLA teams of all time. We were also missing a lot of stats from teams in the 1990s and early 2000s so some of those teams were left out just for a lack of stats - but luckily college basketball reference has not filled many of them in so I pulled the remaining greatest players of all time and pulled the stats I will use to make another dozen teams to include them all in the game - and based on previewing their stats, here is what I conclude.

4) When I finish making the cards for all the greatest players, Caitlin Clark will be the third greatest college point guard of all time - and ironically was only the 2nd greatest of all-time on the court for the title game.

Sue Bird from 2002 UConn is the Michael Jordan of point guards of all time. Honestly the second best point guard of all time might have been her teammate Diana Taurasi when Bird was taking a break and Taurasi brought the ball down the court instead. However, ignoring that for a second, I believe the second greatest point guard of all time and when I finish the additional teams is Dawn Staley - the championship coach of South Carolina - from the year she ran point guard for UVa in the 1991 title game where she scored 28 points with11 rebounds, six assists and three steals before fouling out in overtime as the Vols won. That was the middle of three Final Four teams Staley ran.

Clark is likely the greatest offensive guard in the history of the game, but like with Pistol Pete and LSU, when evaluating overall play you need to factor in defense as well - and the +7 on Clark's card is the result of the calculations that like Alabama on the men's side this year they were very weak defensively. 

On the men's side Alabama tried to buck the trend that only top 25 defensives at have ever won titles, and the same factor stopped Iowa Sunday. You can observe just how astronomically better Bird's defense has always been, including not turning the ball over a lot like I have mentioned Clark does - but to keep it simple consider the average scoring margin. Iowa averaged winning this year 91-72, but 19 points. Bird's 2002 UConn team averaged winning 87-53 - by 44 points a game - as she suffocated opposing point guards.  Like many bell curves, I believe Clark is the 3rd greatest college point guard of all time - and yet I believe she is nowhere near as good as Bird.

To put the UConn 2002 backcourt in perspective, imaging you were arguing over whether Jordan or Kobe were the greatest guard of all time - only with the twist that in college Kobe was the shooting guard at UNC when Jordan was the point guard. You could literally have an argument on whether or not Taurasi is the greatest player of all time - and then change the argument to, "actually, do you believe she was the best guard on her team or was that Bird?"

Cards will be made for the players in the lower list, combining into 16 teams since a few have more than one player. We put a number in parenthesis by each team to show where we would seed them in a 16-team tournament once the cards are created, with Connecticut (1-seed) vs. Colorado State (16-seed) as one opening round game.

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