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NCAAW: Janiah Barker, Ta’Niya Latson and other sophomores to keep an eye on in 2023-24

From athletic scoring guards with deep offensive bags to athletically-gifted forwards and prodigious passers, the NCAA’s sophomore class has plenty of talent at every position on the court.

Syracuse v Florida State
How much better can Florida State’s Ta’Niya Latson get as a sophomore in 2023-24?
Photo by Don Juan Moore/Getty Images

It’s often said that the game of women’s college basketball is in good hands, and there’s usually good reason for that. The overall landscape of talent continues to grow, and the freshman class of 2022-23 was chock-full of dynamic and versatile players who seem destined for big things throughout their collegiate careers. While it would be quite the undertaking to list every such player, we’ve highlighted five sophomores who are poised to take over entering the 2023-24 NCAA season.

Janiah Barker (Texas A&M)

Texas A&M v Mississippi State
Janiah Barker
Photo by Eakin Howard/Getty Images

The Aggies may be rebuilding in their second season under head coach Joni Taylor, but in Barker they have one of the most gifted players in the country to build around. Expectations are understandably high for her sophomore season.

At 6-foot-4, Barker does things rarely seen from players of her height: between-the-legs crossover dribbles, stepback 3-point jumpshots and smooth step-through finishes in transition. Barker’s ability to attack and finish with either hand makes covering her in the high post an unenviable task. Defensively, she’s capable of both jumping passing lanes and recording highlight-worthy chasedown blocks.

Much of this is still theoretical, as Barker missed nearly two months of action as a freshman due to a wrist injury and came off the Aggies’ bench when she returned. She’s also got plenty of room to improve in the fundamental areas of the game, particularly free throw shooting (58.1 percent as a freshman) and overall ball security (0.21 assist turnover ratio). Regardless, Barker was named to the 2023-24 Preseason All-SEC First Team by conference coaches, and she’s on the preseason watchlist for the Katrina McClain Award, given annually to the top power forward in the country.

There’s certainly a lot to like about Barker’s game. Now that she’s fully healthy, she’s going to have every opportunity to improve upon her freshman averages of 22.7 minutes, 12.7 points, 5.9 rebounds and 1.1 steals per game. The Aggies may not be ready to compete for the SEC crown just yet, but the 2023-24 season will be their “revenge tour,” and Barker figures to be a major part of that.

Cotie McMahon (Ohio State)

Ohio State v Connecticut
Cotie McMahon
Photo by Alika Jenner/Getty Images

Ohio State made the NCAA Tournament Elite Eight for the first time in 30 years in 2023, thanks in large part to top-notch team conditioning fueling a relentless pressing defense and a fast-paced offensive approach.

No one Buckeye embodied that spirit quite like McMahon. But don’t be fooled—she’s far from a one-way player. As a freshman, McMahon averaged 15.1 points per game on 51 percent shooting from the floor. The physicality with which the 6-foot-0 forward attacked the rim earned her 186 total free throw attempts—third among NCAA freshmen, according to Her Hoop Stats. In her first year in college, McMahon already was a stronger finisher than many upperclassmen, and her impact on a highly-successful Buckeyes team earned her Big Ten Freshman of the Year honors.

The accolades keep coming for McMahon as she enters her sophomore season. She’s been recognized nationally by the Associated Press, named to the publication’s Preseason All-American list as an honorable mention, and has also been tabbed to the preseason watchlist for the Cheryl Miller Award, given annually to the best small forward in the country. Ohio State is one of several programs expected to compete for the Big Ten title, and with last season’s leading scorer, Taylor Mikesell, now graduated, McMahon will be in line for an even larger role as a sophomore.

Flau’jae Johnson (LSU)

NCAA Womens Basketball: Final Four National Semifinals-Louisiana State vs Virginia Tech
Flau’jae Johnson
Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

All eyes will be on LSU heading into 2023-24. The reigning national champions are at the top of the Associated Press preseason Top 25 poll and are bringing in even more talent in both freshmen and transfers.

Don’t forget about LSU’s returning players, though. Johnson is one of the most instantly recognizable faces of the Lady Tigers’ championship-winning roster, and last season’s Freshman of the Year in the SEC will undoubtedly play a huge role in their title defense.

Named by SEC coaches to the Preseason All-SEC Second Team for 2023-24, Johnson is one of the most athletic lead guards in the country, though she played more off the ball as a freshman. She has good size for the position at 5-foot-10 and she plays even larger than that, recording a block rate of 3.1 percent in her first season at LSU. Johnson also scored in double figures on 20 separate occasions, which is one area to watch as she continues to grow. With Angel Reese, Aneesah Morrow and Hailey Van Lith now at the top of LSU’s offensive hierarchy, will Johnson still be able to get her own offense, and do so efficiently?

The 3-point shot, in particular, will be there for her, as she shot 33 percent from long range last season. While the Lady Tigers were not exactly hunting 3-point shots (19.5 percent 3-point rate; 350th of 361 teams, per Her Hoop Stats), the overall quality of looks should improve this season for Johnson and her fellow backcourt players. Unlike other players on this list, there may not be much room for Johnson’s overall scoring (11 points per game as a freshman) to increase, but her shooting percentages should get better. More on-ball reps as a sophomore also should yield more assists (1.9 per game).

Ta’Niya Latson (Florida State)

Florida State v Notre Dame
Ta’Niya Latson
Photo by Michael Hickey/Getty Images

In terms of players who made an immediate impact on their respective programs, Latson was without peer in 2022-23. She opened her collegiate career with a 28-point performance against Bethune-Cookman, followed it with 34 points against Kent State and never let up, finishing her freshman campaign as a scoring machine (21.3 points per game) and the NCAA Division I Freshman of the Year.

That award, to put it simply, was well-earned. Not only did Latson lead her entire class in scoring, but she attempted more free throws (199) than any other freshman—knocking down 85.9 percent of them—and also racked up 1.6 steals per game. She carried the Seminoles offensively, recording a usage rate of 32.4 percent, and led all freshmen in offensive win shares with 4.4 (Her Hoop Stats).

These accomplishments have put many eyes on Latson as she enters her sophomore campaign, earning her a spot on the preseason watchlist for the Ann Meyers Drysdale Award, given annually to the nation’s top shooting guard. There’s no question that Latson will keep pouring in massive amounts of points as a sophomore. And as long as she’s on the court, Florida State will have a chance in just about any game. The goal for Latson and the Seminoles, then, will be NCAA Tournament success; Florida State was eliminated in the first round of the 2023 tournament, a game that Latson missed due to injury.

Kiki Rice (UCLA)

Kiki Rice
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The highest-ranked guard in the recruiting class of 2022, Rice had an up-and-down freshman season with UCLA, putting up a solid stat line (11.6 points, 4.5 rebounds, three assists and 1.2 steals per game) and showing more than a few flashes of brilliance while also experiencing the consistency issues typical of freshman point guards.

Make no mistake about it though, Rice’s time is coming—it’s only a matter of when she breaks out. At 5-foot-11, she has the build and athleticism of a typical wing player and, combined with her remarkable floor vision and passing ability, Rice has a unique skill set that will truly flourish once the game slows down for her. Pac-12 media seems to agree, having named Rice to the preseason All-Conference Team for 2023-24.

With high-volume scoring guard Charisma Osborne returning to UCLA for a fifth season, it’s not yet clear how big of a role Rice will have offensively as a sophomore. It deserves mentioning, though, that her on-court impact as a freshman was already significant (4.7 win shares in 2022-23; fifth among freshman, per Her Hoop Stats), and once her jumpshooting and finishing at the basket catch up to her floor game, Rice is going to be a force for the Bruins.