The improvement Vic Schaefer’s Mississippi State basketball program has been nothing short of spectacular since his arrival in Starkville. A team that had only made the NCAA tournament Sweet 16 once in its history has now gone to back to back National Championship games. Schaefer’s 2018 senior class is reminiscent of another historically dominant team in a different sport, FC Barcelona.
FC Barcelona has been a force to be reckoned with, becoming champions of Spain, Europe, and the world on multiple occasions over the past 10 years. Led by 5x World Player of the Year Lionel Messi, Barcelona dominate their opponents through possession and precision. Their swift passing and patient build up play allowed them to set the pace of nearly every game they played in. Sound familiar?
Schaefer’s 2017-18 Bulldogs shared many of the same qualities. They are dominant in possession, they outplay their opponent by patiently moving the ball around and then making incisive passes through to the basket before making the shot close or throwing it out to a teammate on the perimeter whose defender has left them to defend the paint. Patient, precise, and lethal.
In defense the comparison remains. Barcelona rarely give the other team possession, pressuring constantly and cutting off passing lanes. By winning back possession and maintaining control of the ball the side is able to store their energy for when they need it most, defense. Schaefer’s Bulldogs too are relentless in their efforts to win the ball back. The defensive and offensive strategies are in sync.
Though Basketball is more confined and therefore played at a higher tempo, there are similarities with soccer in terms of free flowing play and decision making. Barcelona in particular have become famous for their masterful passing buildup that starts the moment they win back possession of the ball. They dominate possession time in games, which is hard to do in basketball with the shot clock, but the guards still take advantage of every second given.
Guards Morgan William, Blair Schaefer, and Roshunda Johnson share these similarities with Barca midfielders. Their specialty is creating plays, but they’re not afraid to drive into the paint or unleash a shot from long range, much like Xavi and Andres Iniesta, 2 of the best to ever play the game. Their vision opened up the game for their forwards, top goal-scorers who ranged from David Villa to Luis Suarez.
Speaking of forwards, the true no. 9 position in soccer is difficult to compare with basketball. Zlatan Ibrahimovic, arguably the best modern number 9, resembles a Power Forward in the way he dominates and scores in the goal area. For Mississippi State that role on offense is filled by Teaira McCowan. Not only is McCowan a rock for Mississippi State’s defense, she is a nightmare for the opposition in the paint on offense as well. Averaging 13.5 rebounds in this season, and 6 offensive rebounds, McCowan uses her physicality as well as vision and intelligence to win on the boards and get points down low.
In attack for Barca, Lionel Messi works his magic week in and week out, and creates space for himself and his teammates with his skills on the ball, passing vision, and shooting mastery. He can create for his team, or take on a chance himself. When the game is on the line everyone knows the ball will be at his feet. Victoria Vivians has done the same in her time at Mississippi State. She has the handles and vision of a point guard aiding her at the scoring forward position. Her presence over four years in Starkville has made her a local legend, and she will go down as one of the most prolific players in Mississippi State history.
In fact, the entire team will be remembered as one of the best Mississippi State teams in any sport. Back to back losses in the title game hurts, but fans can rest easy knowing this program isn’t going anywhere. Vivians, William, and Schaefer are graduating, but McCowan and Johnson still have another year, and a talented bench is about to step into the spotlight. If this year is any indication, Schaefer is an expert at coaching players up to a starting caliber. The Bulldogs may have fallen short, but the system remains.