An inside look at my ACC postseason women's basketball ballot

Duke guard Jordyn Oliver rises to shoot over the outstretched hand of Notre Dame star Olivia Miles.
Duke guard Jordyn Oliver rises to shoot over the outstretched hand of Notre Dame star Olivia Miles.

After five long months, we’ve finally made it to the most important time in the college basketball season: postseason awards.

For the second-straight year, I am a member of the ACC Blue Ribbon Panel, the collection of media members which, along with the conference’s head coaches, votes on its preseason and postseason awards. And so I must once again remind you that this conference has decided my input counts just as much as people like Kara Lawson, reigning WNBA Finals MVP Chelsea Gray and four-time AP Coach of the Year Muffet McGraw.

The ACC released its official honors here Tuesday evening, so let’s just dive into my ballot already, from All-ACC to Coach of the Year. It’s more than fair to disagree with any of my picks, but just remember one thing: You can’t say I don’t watch the games.

All-ACC First Team

My ballot:

  1. Olivia Miles, Notre Dame
  2. Ta’Niya Latson, Florida State
  3. Elizabeth Kitley, Virginia Tech
  4. Celeste Taylor, Duke
  5. Sonia Citron, Notre Dame
  6. Makayla Timpson, Florida State
  7. Georgia Amoore, Virginia Tech
  8. Taylor Soule, Virginia Tech
  9. Saniya Rivers, N.C. State
  10. Alyssa Ustby, North Carolina

Olivia Miles snags my ACC Player of the Year vote, and not just because she’s the best player on the conference’s regular-season champions. She remains the best playmaker in the country, creates shots at the rim for herself at will, draws a ton of fouls and has become a really impactful defender. Among teams above .500 in conference play, Miles is one of two starters with a net rating above 16.0, per CBB Analytics. And her consistency gave her the edge over Florida State point guard Ta’Niya Latson, who was pretty cold the past few weeks.

The difference between those two and reigning ACC Player of the Year Elizabeth Kitley, for me, was how much their teams depended on them against how much they depended on their teams. Miles and Latson were both their teams’ engines, and without them playing well, their teams had little hope; Kitley, on the other hand, gets consistently good looks because of her teammates’ passing and Virginia Tech head coach Kenny Brooks’ play designs.

Celeste Taylor was a no-brainer, as the conference’s best defender regardless of position and a consistently efficient scoring threat for a Duke team that rarely made things easy on her; that she placed eighth in overall voting is mind-boggling. 

The rest of my First Team included players with some limitations who were still elite in their roles: Sonia Citron and Makayla Timspon ranked fifth and second in the conference in true-shooting, per CBB Analytics, and were its second-best perimeter defender and best rim protector, respectively; Georgia Amoore had a down year shooting, but was still an elite playmaker and shot-creator while playing solid defense; Taylor Soule was almost single-handedly the reason the Hokies’ defense jumped from “good” to “great,” and she was incredibly good as a play-finisher; Saniya Rivers keeps flashing the potential to be one of the best players in the country; Alyssa Ustby’s guard skills at the forward position are make North Carolina’s offense click in a way that was brutally apparent the past couple weeks.

All-ACC Second Team

My ballot:

  1. Maddy Westbeld, Notre Dame
  2. Shayeann Day-Wilson, Duke
  3. Elizabeth Balogun, Duke
  4. Chrislyn Carr, Louisville
  5. Diamond Johnson, N.C. State
  6. Eva Hodgson, North Carolina
  7. Hailey Van Lith, Louisville
  8. Taylor Valladay, Virginia
  9. Reigan Richardson, Duke
  10. Jewel Spear, Wake Forest

The ACC expanded its Second Team to match the length of its First, giving us an opportunity to honor a few more names. The first seven I found fairly easy, from a two-way player with skill at size in Maddy Westbeld, a point guard who kept an entire offense afloat for a couple weeks in Shayeann Day-Wilson, one of the more impactful glue players in the conference in Elizabeth Balogun and a quartet of great shooters or shot-creators on teams that desperately needed their offensive contributions in Chrislyn Carr, Diamond Johnson, Eva Hodgson and Hailey Van Lith.

I was frankly surprised that Boston College’s Dontavia Waggoner wasn’t nominated for All-ACC. She would have easily made the middle of this team for me, but she was only nominated for Most Improved and All-Defense. On the other hand, it’s hard to believe that Carr and Hodgson did not make the official cut despite being the best offensive player on their respective teams. And how Balogun did not earn any sort of recognition either is inconceivable.

All-Freshman Team

My ballot:

  1. Ta’Niya Latson, Florida State
  2. Tonie Morgan, Georgia Tech
  3. Taina Mair, Boston College
  4. KK Bransford, Notre Dame
  5. Paulina Paris, North Carolina

This was probably the easiest award to pick. Latson would be a Third Team All-American for me if my ballot was due today, and Tonie Morgan and Taina Mair were both quality players who were the only other freshmen to crack their team’s starting lineup and provide demonstrably positive play. KK Bransford’s development throughout the season has been impressive, to the point she is a solid player on a Fighting Irish team that could host NCAA tournament games.

My last pick came down to Paulina Paris and Miami’s Lazaria Spearman. The former was less efficient but played in bigger spots and won her team a couple of games, while the latter was more consistent and efficient. I went with Paris because her play remained impactful over the last couple of weeks of the season. I think Clemson’s Ruby Whitehorn has a bright future as well, but her inefficiency across the board had Paris and Spearman solidly ahead for me.

All-Defensive Team

My ballot:

  1. Makayla Timpson, Florida State
  2. Celeste Taylor, Duke 
  3. Sonia Citron, Notre Dame
  4. Taylor Soule, Virginia Tech
  5. Kennedy Brown, Duke

I said before that Taylor was the conference’s best defender regardless of position, but positions matter, and rim protection is much more valuable than perimeter defense. Timpson simply erasing the rim — opponents shot more than 9% worse at the rim against Florida State when she was on the court than on the bench — without fouling made her an easy choice here. That Citron and Soule’s standout defense included versatility and defensive playmaking made them no-brainers.

My last spot came down to Kennedy Brown and her Blue Devil teammate Reigan Richardson. I think Richardson was a better wing defender this year than Brown was in the post, but positional value pushed me toward Brown. Were Rivers nominated for All-Defense, she would have been my fifth pick.

Sixth Player of the Year

My ballot:

  1. Saniya Rivers, N.C. State
  2. Lauren Ebo, Notre Dame
  3. D’Asia Gregg, Virginia Tech

Rivers placed eighth on my All-ACC ballot for a reason — elite defense, burgeoning shot-creator, and more than a few highlights putting other great defenders on skates off the dribble.

Lauren Ebo was the lone other Sixth Player of the Year candidate who made a few quality starts for their team, and she played big minutes for Notre Dame while consistently providing an imposing interior physicality that added a new dimension to its offense. D’Asia Gregg became an excellent play-finisher for Virginia Tech, but with her coming into that role over time, I didn’t feel she was as impactful over the whole course of the season as Rivers and Ebo.

Most Improved Player

My ballot:

  1. Makayla Timpson, Florida State
  2. Dontavia Waggoner, Boston College
  3. Camryn Taylor, Virginia

Timpson went from being a freshman with flashes of quality play to my Defensive Player of the Year pick and finishing second in the conference in true shooting, per CBB Analytics. The stats mostly tell the story with Waggoner, too: her minutes and attempts tripled, and she became a force in drawing fouls, rebounding and defensive playmaking. The candidates after her weren’t quite as outstanding, but Camryn Taylor developed from a rotation piece into a quality role player.

Coach of the Year

My ballot:

  1. Jeff Walz, Louisville
  2. Courtney Banghart, North Carolina
  3. Kara Lawson, Duke

This was by far the hardest one for me. I think any of these three names plus Brooke Wyckoff and Kenny Brooks are good picks, but I ultimately went with Jeff Walz because I think Louisville has grown the most over the course of the season and outperformed my expectations. The Cardinals had some bad games in October and November (some of which do look better in hindsight), but they avoided giving up and instead have gotten significantly better as the season has gone on, and Walz has yet again maximized a veteran roster.

Courtney Banghart keeping the Tar Heels together through a number of injuries to their best players was impressive on its own. But having 10 players ready to go at any moment, including a true freshman in Paris and a redshirt freshman in Kayla McPherson, whose ninth career game was closing out a win in Durham, is incredible coaching.

And Kara Lawson taking many of the same faces from a disappointing 2021-22 squad, turning around and seamlessly adding some new transfers to finish a game out of an ACC regular season title, all while playing different combinations of 10 rotation players every night? That deserves recognition as well. 

The actual winner, Notre Dame coach Niele Ivey, did well this year, too. But I thought that most of the groundwork for the Irish’s great season was laid last year, a season in which she did earn my first-place vote


Share and discuss “An inside look at my ACC postseason women's basketball ballot” on social media.