October 24, 2012 10:36:25 PM
Adam Minichino - email@example.com
STARKVILLE -- The "Secretary of Defense" may have to wage his battles a little differently this season.
Mississippi State University first-year women's basketball coach Vic Schaefer scanned a two-sheet printout of 10 points emphasis Division I officials will be asked to monitor this season. When asked for his opinion about how his new team was going to handle four areas that could make it more difficult for defenders, Schaefer said he has been down this road before and it will be up to him and his coaches to teach their players better.
"Every year, it seems they're trying to enhance the offensive side of the game," said Schaefer, a day before he is scheduled to join the rest of the Southeastern Conferences coaches in Birmingham, Ala., for the annual SEC Media Day. "The way the game is called a lot of times in November sometimes by February and March it changes a great deal. For us, we're all about playing a certain style of basketball and we'll adapt to the style of officiating.
"That being said, we will honor and respect the rules, but, at the same time, there is a way we want to play. We know what the rules are and we will have to adapt to what the rules are."
Officials will variety of new points as well as monitor incidental elbow contact, freedom of movement. legal guarding, and contact on/by the ball handler/dribbler. The first rule allows for elbow contact above or below the shoulders and says not all elbow contact is a foul. The second point stressed that excessive physicality and the lack of freedom of movement will be enforced by officials. The third point says defenders will be allowed one touch to measure up. The next touch by the same defender will be a foul.
Schaefer, who earned the nickname "Secretary of Defense" for his defensive acumen and ability to get individuals to make life tough for opponents, acknowledged the points of emphasis always are important, and it seems they have made more changes to help players be better on the offensive end. He said he and his coaches have to stress the mentality that playing defense is important, and that they have to work hard to find better ways to teach players how to defend and how to be more fundamentally sound.
History shows Schaefer has made the adjustments. He was part of the coaching staff at Texas A&M University that led the program to the national title.
"I am proud of how we have been able to adapt over the years and still be one of the best defensive teams in the country year in and year out," Schaefer said.
Reaction to getting picked No. 11
Schaefer didn't really know what to say when he was asked for a reaction to having his team picked to finish 11th in a 14-team league.
"I think our league is very good at the top," Schaefer said. "I think our league as a whole is, obviously, the No. 1 league in the country. You're looking at a possibility of seven, eight, nine teams getting into the (NCAA) tournament again if they take care of business.
"Where we are picked is probably where we deserve right now because of our lack of experience coming back, our lack of players who have played meaningful minutes, and a lack of point production coming back."
MSU returns only two starters -- sophomores Kendra Grant (7.3 points per game) and Martha Alwal (5.4 ppg.) -- from a team that went 14-16 last season. Grant and Alwal are the leading returning scorers from a squad that will have to replace the scoring and leadership of guards Diamber Johnson and Porsha Porter. Guard Darriel Gaynor is the only senior on the team.
The University of Kentucky received 20 of 26 first-place votes. The University of Mississippi, the University of Missouri, and the University of Alabama rounded out the bottom the preseason poll.
Scheduling for future years
With an inexperienced squad this season and the anticipation of adding a solid recruiting class filled with college freshman next season, Schaefer said he will try to build a schedule for 2013-14 that will allow his team to build confidence in the first few months.
Entering this season, MSU has missed the postseason for the past two seasons after advancing to the Sweet 16 of the NCAA tournament for the first time in the program's history. That squad, and the 2008-09 team that reached the NCAA tournament, faced questions about its RPI (Ratings Percentage Index) and SOS (Strength of Schedule) when it came time for the NCAA tournament selection committee to pick the at-large teams for the field of 64.
Schaefer said RPI and SOS aren't things he can sell to recruits. Instead, he will use the fact that MSU plays in a challenging conference that will offer difficult matchups every game. He said he will examine improving MSU's SOS when he feels the program is ready to take the next step.
"The RPI and the strength of schedule comes in when you're 7-9 or 8-8 (in the league)," Schaefer said. "It might even come into play when you're trying to secure a top four seed. We're not there yet. I think you're going to get plenty of RPI and strength of schedule with 16 games.
"My schedule sets up where we're going to be challenged every night. I don't think there is anybody on our schedule we can overlook due to the fact we have a very inexperienced and young basketball team."
This season, MSU will face the University of Houston, Hampton University, Louisiana Tech University, Winthrop University (first game in the Hardwood Tournament of Hope in Mexico), Savannah State, University of Southern Mississippi, Florida Atlantic University, Florida A&M University, Jacksonville State University, Northwestern State University, and Troy in its non-conference schedule.
Adam Minichino is the Sports Editor for The Commercial Dispatch.