When the Mississippi State Men’s Basketball team made it to the Final Four in 1996, I was a 17 year old junior in high school. I’m the only writer on this site who contributes regularly that is old enough to remember it vividly, which either makes me really old or them really young. Or maybe it’s both.
It’s my fondest memory as a Bulldog fan. If the Bulldogs had won the 1998 SEC Championship Game or if the baseball team had won the National Championship in 2013, those would have replaced it. But one of the things I clearly remember from that incredible run to the Meadowlands, was the fact I knew it was all going to come crashing down once the Bulldogs were finished playing in the 1996 NCAA Tournament.
The 1995-96 Men’s Team only returned two players from the Final Four team the previous year. Those players were Bart Hyche and Whit Hughes. Bart Hyche was the second leading scorer on the 1996-97 team, but it was due more to necessity than his talent level.
The only two players the Final Four team lost due to graduation were Darryl Wilson and Russel Walters. Eric Dampier and Dontae Jones left for the NBA, and Marcus Bullard spent the next two years of his life in jail for pistol whipping someone. The losses were too much to sustain anything that was built by the 1995-96 team. The Bulldogs went 12-18 in 1997, and they did not appear in the NCAA Tournament again until the 2001-02 season.
The Women’s team will not suffer the same fate as the men did in their Final Four appearance. The Lady Bulldogs are losing some key contributors after this season. Dominique Dillingham, Chinwe Okorie, Breanna Richardson, and Ketara Chapel will all be missed. But when you consider what the Bulldogs have coming back, there isn’t any reason to believe Vic Schaefer’s team will take a major step back, if they step back at all.
The core of what propelled Mississippi State to this year’s Final Four returns. Morgan William, Victoria Vivians, and Teaira McCowan will be the anchors of next year’s team. Roshunda Johnson likely moves in to start in place of Breanna Richardson, and Blair Schaefer should be the favorite to start in place of Dominique Dillingham.
Jazzmun Holmes will see an increase in playing time next season off the bench, and she’ll be joined by three incoming freshmen. Bre’Amber Scott from Little Rock and Nyah Tate from Terry will give the starters the occasional breather. But one of Coach Schaefer’s most deadly weapons in his arsenal might be a true freshman as well.
Myah Taylor from Olive Branch is a consensus Five Star prospect and is among the most talented players the coach has brought in among a host of highly talented players. While Schaefer will have the inside track to start with Dillingham’s departure, expect Myah Taylor to push for serious minutes off the bench or in a starting role as well.
No one expects the Bulldogs to beat the Huskies this Friday night, assuming UConn wins Monday night, which would seem logical since they have won over 100 games in a row and Oregon is a 10 seed. But if the Bulldogs aren’t able to reach the National Championship this season, they’ll be set up well to take another crack at it in the 2017-18 season and in the years to follow.