September 17, 2009 11:59:00 AM
Adam Minichino - firstname.lastname@example.org
Mississippi State women''s basketball coach Sharon Fanning-Otis believes her program has the potential to make history this season.
At least one national basketball publication believes in the Lady Bulldogs, too.
Lindy''s College Basketball magazine has Mississippi State ranked No. 25 in its poll of the nation''s best teams.
MSU joins Southeastern Conference rivals Tennessee (No. 4), LSU (No. 17), and Vanderbilt (No. 20) in Lindy''s poll.
The Lady Bulldogs play eight games against teams ranked in Lindy''s poll this season, including a Nov. 22 home date against Maryland, which is ranked No. 19.
MSU also will play No. 18 Texas and No. 8 Rutgers in November at the Paradise Jam in the Virgin Islands, at No. 13 Xavier, Vanderbilt (home and away as part of the SEC''s 16-game schedule), Tennessee (on Jan. 10 at home), and at LSU (Feb. 28).
Georgia, another SEC opponent, is ranked No. 23 in Athlon Sports'' 2009-10 College Basketball preview issue.
Fanning-Otis received a contract extension in the offseason after guiding the Lady Bulldogs to a 23-10 finish and the second round of the NCAA tournament. The trip to the NCAA tournament was the program''s first since the 2002-03 season.
Fanning-Otis welcomes the ranking and wants the community to help the Lady Bulldogs realize their potential.
"This team is going to be a quick team and a fun team to watch," said Fanning-Otis, whose team was last ranked in the Associated Press poll on March 17, 2003, the final poll for that season. "The fans are going to have to be a part of that success. The fans have to expect this is going to be the best women''s basketball team that has been at Mississippi State. They have to understand they are going to be the sixth player and that they are the difference-maker."
Fanning-Otis said it is imperative for the area''s basketball fans to come out Nov. 22 (time to be determined) and support the team when it plays host to Maryland.
She said she saw last season how crowds home and away energized her team, especially at home against the University of Mississippi and on the road at Alabama. She said the fans need to provide even more energy at the Humphrey Coliseum for the game against Maryland and for all of the team''s 16 home games.
"For us to make history they have to be there," Fanning-Otis said.
MSU returns five players (four seniors) who started at least 10 of the team''s 33 games last season.
Senior guard Alexis Rack, a first-team All-SEC pick, and classmates Armelie Lumanu and Chanel Mokango, members of the All-SEC Defensive Team, and Tysheka Grimes will give the Lady Bulldogs the experience they will need to compete in the SEC.
MSU also figures to have plenty of backcourt depth with the expected return of senior Marneshia Richard (missed all of 2008-09 with a knee injury), junior Mary Kathryn Govero, and sophomore Diamber Johnson.
The returning players from last season helped MSU defeat No. 6 seed Texas 71-63 in the first round of the NCAA tournament before it lost to No. 3 seed Ohio State 64-58 in the second round at Nationwide Arena in Columbus, Ohio.
The defeat capped a campaign in which MSU recorded the third most victories in a season.
This season, Fanning-Otis said her players can''t be scared or intimidated by the expectations it will face. She said she liked how her team laid it on the line down the stretch and into the postseason last season, and hopes the players can raise their levels this season to take on a bigger challenge.
She hopes the team chemistry on this year''s team will be equally as strong and that the Lady Bulldogs can take the next step.
"We want to be a top-10 team. We want to be No. 1," Fanning-Otis said. "We expect to be better. To get to someplace someone has to recognize you. We realize that with success comes greater preparedness from other teams and expectations. Some people relax and some are more focused. What we have to do is fight to train and to put out our best effort. We have the opportunity to make ourselves better. Hopefully our maturity will help us take the next step."
MSU will kick off the season Nov. 8 with an exhibition contest against Monticello. The Lady Bulldogs will open the regular season with home games against Arkansas-Pine Bluff (Nov. 13), East Tennessee State (Nov. 15), and Utah Valley (Nov. 18) before it will play host to Maryland.
MSU women''s basketball will offer reserved season tickets for $80 and a general admission season ticket for $25. Also, all high-school aged kids and under will be admitted to every home women''s basketball game.
Tickets are on sale now and can be purchased by calling 1-888-GO-DAWGS or by going to www.mstateathletics.com/tickets
n MSU men also ranked: Lindy''s has the MSU men''s basketball team ranked No. 21, while Athlon Sports has the team ranked No. 15.
In Lindy''s, MSU is ranked behind SEC rivals Kentucky (No. 8) and Tennessee (No. 12) and ahead of South Carolina (No. 24).
In Athlon Sports, Kentucky is ranked No. 5 and Tennessee is ranked No. 8 and Vanderbilt is No. 16.
Adam Minichino is the Sports Editor for The Commercial Dispatch.