Vic Schaefer has quickly built one of the premiere women’s hoops programs in the entire nation during his 5 short seasons in Starkville. After taking over a 13 win team back in the 2011-2012 season, the former Associate-Head Coach of the 2011 National Championship winning Texas A&M Aggies has installed his philosophies and values into the Bulldogs program. The result? A magical season that ended with Mississippi State winning 34 games, knocking out Kelsey Plum and 3rd-seeded Washington to get to the program’s first ever Elite Eight, and then following that up by beating Baylor in an amazing overtime game to reach the Final Four. Oh, and they played the best game in the sport’s history when they ended the longest streak in major American sports in the National Semifinal.
Sure, the season ended in a loss, but Schaefer has this program way ahead of schedule. Mississippi State is built to be a consistent national contender for years to come.
Who is gone?
After the amazing season, there will be losses that will need to be replaced. Lock-down defender Dominique Dillingham, starting forward Breanna Richardson, forward Ketara Chapel, and center Chinwe Okorie have all completed their senior seasons in Starkville. Dillingham was the heart and soul of the defense. Her intensity and effort were shown on every play and upped the level of the whole team. Replacing her will be tough, but Schaefer believes he has an answer in an incoming freshman.
Richardson had a solid season for the Bulldogs. The 6-1 forward averaged 7.3 points and 4.6 rebounds over the course of the best season in school history. Richardson was not the flashiest player, but she always played with effort and had the ability to knock down shots in key moments. Chapel added needed front-court depth off the bench. The forward averaged 3.0 points and 2.2 rebounds this season. Finally, Chinwe Okorie finished up a brilliant senior campaign in Starkville. The senior started at center for the majority of the season, averaging 7.5 points, 5.4 rebounds, and 0.6 blocks per game. The Nigerian native was ruled ineligible during her freshman season, so speculation has risen that the Bulldogs are looking to potentially get their center back for next year’s campaign. If granted another season, look for the 6-5 center to have an even better season next year.
Who is back?
Coming off the best season in the program’s history, Vic Schaefer and Mississippi State are looking to build on their success and to not be complacent. Schaefer is determined to bring home a national title to Starkville, and he is bringing back a team that will have the talent and the experience to do so.
The Bulldogs are fortunate to return their core to next season’s lineup. The team’s leading scorer Victoria Vivians, the tournament superstar Morgan William, and the 6-7 SEC Sixth Woman of the Year Teaira McCowan will all be back for another run at a SEC and National Championship.
Vivians should only improve. The 6-foot guard has the talent to be an elite scorer for the Bulldogs. After an up-and-down season shooting, expect the third-team All-American to come back better than ever. Morgan William had an impressive season, evident by being selected to the AP Honorable Mention All-American team, but Itty-Bitty truly burst onto the scene during March Madness. The point guard put herself in Mississippi State history with her 41 point, 7 assist, and 0 turnover performance in the Elite Eight against 1-seed Baylor to push State to their first ever Final Four. William’s legendary shot to defeat UConn will be played over and over again for years to come, solidifying her place in Mississippi State lore forever. After an off-season with all the confidence in the world, William should be even better come next season. McCowan was always solid throughout the season, but the 6-7 center really showed her potential in her 20 point fourth quarter performance against Washington in the Sweet Sixteen. Coming off a season as the SEC Sixth Woman of the Year, McCowan will be a main focal point for the Bulldogs in 2017-2018.
In addition to the “Big Three”, Blair Schaefer, Roshunda Johnson, Jazzmun Holmes, Jacaira Allen, and Ameysha Williams will all be back. Schaefer added a nice offensive spark for the Bulldogs off the bench. Her three-point shooting and high energy was welcomed throughout the season. After averaging 19.5 points in the two tournament games she started, expect Schaefer to play a bigger role next season. Roshunda Johnson arrived to Starkville with big hopes. The former Big 12 All-Freshman member played her first season in Starkville this past season. Off the bench, Johnson averaged 6.3 points and is also expecting a bigger role next season. Jazzmun Holmes and Ameysha Williams will see more minutes in the future. Holmes appeared in all but one game, averaging 2.7 points. The experience she gained in the championship game should only benefit her going forward. Allen brings needed size to the back-court with her 5-10 height. The upcoming sophomore will be vying for a rotation spot. Williams will add depth to the front-court. The 6-3 forward will be in competition to replace Richardson and Chapel. Redshirt-freshman center Zion Campbell, who saw action in 16 games, stands at 6-3 and will also look to be in the front-court rotation.
Who is coming in?
Vic Schaefer understands that recruiting is an important aspect in building an elite program.
In the 2017 recruiting cycle, Schaefer and his staff signed 5-star guard Myah Taylor. The Olive Branch native is expected to immediately come in and compete for a starting spot. The 3-time (!) Mississippi Gatorade Player of the Year put up 21.6 points, 7.5 assists and 7 steals en route to bringing Olive Branch a 6A State Title. Taylor possesses a unique combination of elite athleticism, a deadly jump shot, and the ability to take over basketball games.
Taylor is not the only 5-star that is expected to contribute next season.
Jordan Danberry, a former 5-Star and Arkansas Gatorade Player of the Year, transferred from the Razorbacks to the Bulldogs and will be eligble in the upcoming spring semester. While in Fayetteville, Danberry showed off her 5-star skill-set by leading the team in assists in conference play, despite playing limited minutes as freshman. Adding a player of Danberry’s caliber to next year’s squad can be lethal.
To add to the 5-stars coming in, Mississippi State also signed guards Terry native Nyah Tate and Bre'Amber Scott out of Little Rock. While both 3-stars, Tate and Scott both add different elements that Schaefer and his staff love. Tate, an All-State performer, has the ability to play both guard positions. The 6-foot combo-guard adds some versatility to Schaefer’s game plan. While Tate is more of a scorer, Scott is known for her defense. In fact, Schaefer believes Scott can come in and play with Dillingham’s intensity. Both guards add something different, but needed to the team.
Former Auburn forward Jonika Garvin transferred from Palm Beach State College to Mississippi State. The 6-foot forward will have the chance to compete alongside Ameysha Williams to potentially start at the 4. Whether or not Okorie is granted another year, Garvin will provide some post depth for the Bulldogs.
Mississippi State is also expecting to land Australian 6-1 forward Chloe Bibby. The WNBL player committed to Vic Schaefer and the Bulldogs back in December. Per Australia basketball site Pick and Roll, Bibby explained her decision:
“I seriously think that they’re on the rise at the moment,” Bibby explained. “The players they’re producing are high-quality, hard-working players. I think just everything that the coach at Mississippi State can offer me, he’s a defensive coach, he works really hard, and it’s a great conference.”
There has been little talk of Bibby since her commitment, but if the foreign forward ends up in Starkville, Mississippi State will add a high-level player that has competed at the highest level. She will give the Bulldogs much-needed post depth, along with a player that can score the ball. Bibby played for Australia in the U17 Fiba World Championship, and she is currently a part of the Dandenong Rangers professional team.
Way-too early Starting Five
Morgan William (G, SR)
Roshunda Johnson (G, R-SR)
Victoria Vivians (G, SR)
Ameshya Williams (F, SO)
Teaira McCowan (C, JR)
It will be interesting to watch how Schaefer uses his lineups next season. Mississippi State has a plethora of talented guards, but need to find someone to replace Richardson at the 4. Chinwe Okorie, if back, would greatly help the front-court, but Schaefer never used McCowan and Okorie together. So, expecting McCowan starts, Ameshya Williams is the likely candidate to enter the starting five. The true sophomore will need to mature quickly for the Bulldogs to be playing their best come conference play. Another option for Schaefer to play with is a four-guard lineup. This option would surround McCowan with shooters and allow them to play at a quicker pace. Whatever Schaefer decides to do, the Bulldogs are set up very nicely.
The expectation and the standard has been set: compete for national championships. Although Mississippi State had a great season and earned a 2-seed, not many outside the locker room believed that State would make it to Dallas, much less beat UConn during the ride. Vic Schaefer has this program ahead of schedule; the next step is to build upon the solid foundation. With leaders such as Morgan William and Victoria Vivians back, along with another talented recruiting class, the expectation will to be playing in Columbus, Ohio for another opportunity at a title.
Vic Schaefer has built this program to be one of the nation’s elite. So, now it’s time to pay him.
Get ready for another exciting season. Praise the Lord and Go Dawgs!