If last year’s Mississippi State team could best be described as dangerous, this year’s squad could be characterized as flat out lethal, following a dominating statement at LSU. Ranked fourth in the nation and undefeated at 17-0, the Bulldogs have become a true contender this season, in that experience combined with star power could put them over the top. Led by a competent and well-versed trio of upperclassmen, it is clear that Mississippi State is on a mission to make its name on and off the court.
In what is dictated through resilience and an overly competitive mindset, the SEC is by far and away the nation’s toughest conference. That said, its new face is that of a Bulldog, with Mississippi State making it look easy as of late. Furthermore, the 2017-18 version of the SEC may just be the most competitive since its inception. Headlined by a “Big Three” of their own, consisting of senior guards Morgan William and Victoria Vivians, along with junior center Teaira McCowan, these Bulldogs emphasized the importance of a veteran presence after their standout 83-70 victory in Baton Rouge.
However, McCowan took control, showcasing what could be deemed as a performance for the ages, putting forth 31 points and 20 rebounds. If able to maintain this level of play, controlling the boards, Mississippi State could be atop the rankings in the very near future. That said, a dominant presence inside is essential in today’s game, hence the Bulldogs’ success thus far.
Having earned the trust of her teammates, McCowan continues to shine brighter in the spotlight when called upon. Moreover, the competition will only increase, leaving room to question her work ethic throughout SEC play. Despite the likely criticism of McCowan’s game, she rarely ever gives up on plays, making the most of every opportunity on both ends of the floor.
In addition, having the requisite pieces around is a plus, especially two senior guards who are a bit more familiar with the game than most. Both Morgan William and Victoria Vivians have been nothing short of sensational this season, as although an inside presence is essential, nothing compares to a star backcourt. Having said that, being able to run the offense with both playing at a level of such could compete with anyone, ultimately setting the stage for another run to cut down the nets.
Vivians, always ready for a challenge is having her best season, averaging a career high in points with 20.4 on the year. The Bulldogs have always been formidable defensively, but something has seemed to click on offense, due in large part to her ability to score at will. Also averaging 6.1 rebounds and 2.2 assists, both career highs, she has proven to have an all-round game. Furthermore, Vivians has improved at the line, increasing her shooting percentage from 76.1 as a junior to 83.9 as a senior.
Handed the keys, she has become the Bulldogs’ primary face. Always playing with a chip on her shoulder, the Mississippi native has become a flat out nightmare for the opposition, not letting up any time soon. Vivians has successfully taken the reigns, exercising a game by game mentality consisting of grit, fortitude, and fearlessness. She is a student of the game, able to exemplify seniority and a desire to win, a gift only so many have in this day in age.
Standing at 5’5 and the other half of the Bulldogs’ superstar backcourt tandem, Morgan William has shown up as a senior leader. Although not having her best season statistically, William has clearly brought out the best in her teammates, including Vivians and McCowan. As demonstrated in what was the biggest shot of the biggest game in NCAA history on both the men’s and women’s side, she has proved to be unfazed by the moment. Feeding off the anxiety of an opponent, William prides herself on “the final dagger”, as she knows a thing or two about how to take control in the final minutes and/or seconds.
More importantly, William’s influence is infectious amongst her teammates. No matter the sport, there is something about getting behind the “little one”. Whether it be fans or her contemporaries and/or coach, William has an extra bit of a following. Not only has that provided an opportunity to get behind her, but an opportunity to get behind Mississippi State. Although not staggering, steady averages of 7.4 points, 1.6 rebounds, 4.5 assists, and a career high free throw percentage of 85.1 have fulfilled her role in the backcourt.
With all three mentioned in the Naismith Award conversation, along with McCowan and Vivians surrounding themselves around the Wooden Award, each are at the top of their game in their own right. Through years of leadership, hard work, and maturity, the Bulldogs’ “Big Three” have created a force to be reckoned with. It goes without saying that they will be tested throughout SEC play, but Mississippi State is well aware of how to show up. There is a new sense of camaraderie and/or team chemistry at Mississippi State, as the Bulldogs’ win over LSU speaks high volumes, laying out a foundation for future SEC match-ups, starting tonight with the Bulldogs play host to rival Ole Miss at 9:00 PM ET.