Maddy Siegrist Works In Silence
8:59 AM EST on March 1, 2023
I first watched Maddy Siegrist play basketball last March, when she and an 11th-seeded Villanova team came to town for the NCAA tournament. The women's tournament starts on the campuses of the top 16 teams before everyone convenes at neutral sites for the later rounds, so there were a couple games in lil' old Ann Arbor, and by some accident of the bracket, she ended up in one. I had no real plans to cover these games; still, I trekked over to the arena, mostly to catch up with my pal Mel Greenberg, the great Philly Big 5 basketball scribe. The first-round game proved worth the trek: Villanova upset six-seed BYU, 61-57. This is the part where I'm supposed to tell you that I knew I'd witnessed greatness that afternoon, that I couldn't take my eyes off Siegrist, that her talent dazzled me from tipoff. But I'll tell you the truth about the Maddy Siegrist Experience: I didn't notice a thing.
Afterward, while everyone clacked away at their game stories, an SID came by to hand out some final stat sheets. I looked at mine, puzzled. It recapped a plot I didn't remember: Some junior had put up 25 points, been active on the glass, drawn fouls, made four of five shots in the fourth quarter (including a huge three with five minutes left), and even blocked what would have been a game-tying three at the very end. Anyone who's taken a psych class knows the famous "selective attention" video: There are people in white shirts. There are people in black shirts. You're instructed to count the number of times a basketball gets passed among the people in white shirts. At the end of the exercise, the video asks if you saw the guy in the gorilla costume striding into the frame. If you were carefully counting the passes, you didn't. Then you watch the video again and wonder how you missed it. He was right there, waving his arms! So obvious!
When I rewatched the game at home that night—trying to reconcile fact and memory—of course I noticed her. Somehow Siegrist sustained one level of energy the whole time. I had never seen a player look so unbothered. Basketball is a game of varied demands, but she processed them all in the same rote way. She didn't hunt for spots or shots because everywhere was her spot and every shot was her shot. Quiet should never be confused with invisible. Quiet denotes a special kind of stardom. You take quiet for granted: It's one bucket, and then another one, and then another one, until the rhythm of excellence fades into the background. Quiet won't win National Player of the Year—a certain very loud player made sure of that this weekend—but to ring in March, let me make a little noise for Maddy Siegrist.
A theory of quiet: Valleys bring peaks into focus. In the NPOY race, it might be to Siegrist's detriment that whatever she does looks so effortless, all the time. The NCAA's leading scorer this season, averaging 29 points per game, Siegrist is also the most efficient player in the country by PER. Her stat line, given her workload, makes her a real unicorn: In the regular season, she shot 51 percent from the field, 38 percent from three, and 85 percent at the line, all with a usage rate just over 38 percent, fifth among all D-I players. She has every excuse to be sloppy or imperfect, but she never needs one. The 6-foot-1 Siegrist went four games this month without picking up a single foul. Her turnover rate is among the lowest in the country. Thanks to its new all-time leading scorer, the program has come a long way from the days of being an 11-seed; the latest AP poll ranks the Wildcats No. 11 overall.
Only UConn's Aaliyah Edwards has really capably defended her this year, and even through two games against UConn, Siegrist has preserved her season-long streak of 20-point games. The apparent ease in finding and taking shots owes in large part to Siegrist's high release point, which makes everything equally available to her. In a shot chart of Siegrist's 50-point game against Seton Hall two weeks ago, accomplished on 20-of-26 shooting with zero turnovers, the makes are peppered pleasantly across three levels. This is a 50-piece come by honestly and ethically. Her actual shot is even a little weird-looking, like she's just tossing something up without a care. It only heightens the legend. Zzzzzz. Just another day at the office for Maddy Siegrist. The game made her the Big East's all-time leading scorer.
Without exceptional speed or size, Siegrist is a bit of a mystery as a WNBA draft prospect, though she's vaulted into first-round discussions in the last few months. A recent ESPN mock sent her to the Mystics with the fourth pick and likened her to a shorter Elena Delle Donne, that patron saint of efficiency. But Siegrist has yet to decide whether she will go pro or use her extra year of eligibility, and the draft is still a ways off. Before that is this weekend's Big East tournament, winnable for second-seeded Villanova, given UConn's general injuredness and hexedness. St. John's head coach Joe Tartamella called her one of the greats after her 39-point performance against his team, four days after she set the Big East record. "I’ve been in the league 20 years and I’ve watched Diana Taurasi, Maya Moore, Breanna Stewart and all those guys at Connecticut. They are all different and difficult to stop and she is as difficult as anyone I’ve seen in my time here," he said. The next week, it's off to the big dance, where the Wildcats could make their deepest run since reaching the Elite Eight in 2003. This year, it looks like Villanova gets to host a couple rounds, too.