March 18, 2017 9:04:19 PM
STARKVILLE -- You'll have to excuse Vic Schaefer for being a few minutes late to his scheduled media conference Saturday.
When you have one day to prepare for an opponent like DePaul, it can be easy to get caught up in watching film of an opportunistic team with a high basketball IQ that has plenty of savvy when it comes to execution on the offensive end.
"They are so talented," Schaefer said. "They have some kids healthy late that I think have made them a different team than they were, and different in a lot of better ways.
"(Coach) Doug (Bruno) has been around a long time. They are well coached. Those kids have a tremendous plan. I think they understand the game. I think their basketball knowledge is really, really good. It is a big challenge."
Second-seeded MSU (30-4) will take on that challenge against seventh-seeded DePaul (27-7) at 1:30 p.m. today (ESPN2) in the second round of the NCAA tournament at Humphrey Coliseum.
The winner of today's game will advance to the Sweet 16 of the Oklahoma City Regional. The regional semifinals will be at 6 and 8:30 p.m. Friday.
MSU will have to contend with an opponent Northern Iowa coach Tanya Warren called a "well-oiled machine" after he team lost 88-67 on Friday. The Blue Demons will spread the floor and will have shooters at every position. Senior forward Jacqui Grant is the team's tallest regular contributor at 6-foot-3, but she isn't a traditional post player like MSU's Chinwe Okorie, who is 6-5, or Teaira McCowan, who is 6-7.
Instead, the Blue Demons will run a five-out offense in which one player -- typically senior guard Brooke Schulte, the Big East Conference Player of the Year, or senior guard Jessica January are the triggers, or facilitators at foul line extended for an offense that relies on motion, cuts, and communication to get good looks.
"We have our hands full at every position," Schaefer said. "We will have some unique matchups in different spots on the floor that we usually don't have. It presents a lot of challenges."
MSU junior point guard Morgan William, who is 5-5, likely will have to contend with January, who is 5-7. January missed a large part of the season due to a broken finger, but she has returned to give the Blue Demons a valuable floor general who leads a style of play that earned the nickname "DePaulBall" from broadcaster LaChina Robinson. The term refers to the Blue Demons' ability to play tough defense, to make an extra pass to find an open teammate, to take and to make 3-pointers, and to play fearlessly.
"We have to play Mississippi State basketball," William said. "We have to keep the ball in front of us because if they go by us we're going to have help side. Once we have help side, they're going to find the open man. Like you said, they have great shooters, so we've got to try to keep the ball in front of us and go from there."
DePaul's style of play also presents a challenge in that its lack of a true post player might put some, if not all, of the Bulldogs in different defensive positions. Junior guard Blair Schaefer, who had a career-high 21 points Friday in a 110-69 victory against 15th-seeded Troy on Friday, said the Bulldogs will have to stay focused and communicate.
Senior forward Ketara Chapel agreed and said the Bulldogs have guarded versatile players in the Southeastern Conference, so they will have to use that experience against DePaul.
"We have to try to get out there and deny those passes so they won't be able to shoot or run their offense through their four," Chapel said. "We have to play out defense."
Coach Schaefer said the Bulldogs watched film Saturday morning to get a taste of what DePaul will offer. He anticipated a focused practice in the afternoon as the Bulldogs finalized a game plan to handle "DePaulBall."
"You have five kids who can stretch you," Schaefer said. "Sometimes you can go back during the season and pick a game and you might find something in there. You can probably do it with this team, but it is not the same team because they had a kid hurt and didn't play a lot, and she is a big part of what they do now.
"I have always known how good they are offensively. What impressed me was how hard they played defensively. I was really impressed with their defensive intensity, their pressure, their full-court (defense). They picked up full-court (Friday), and with their half-court intensity. I was just really impressed with all of that. Their basketball IQ is really good, especially offensively. I think they have a great chemistry and a good feel for one another."
Follow Dispatch sports editor Adam Minichino on Twitter @ctsportseditor
Adam Minichino is the Sports Editor for The Commercial Dispatch.
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