March 16, 2019 11:33:58 PM
"Different" has turned out to be largely the same for the Mississippi State women's basketball team.
If you remember, MSU coach Vic Schaefer used the word "different" as early as last April 2018 to talk about the prospects for the 2018-19 team. At the time, there was a lot of uncertainty due to the graduation of senior starters Victoria Vivians, Blair Schaefer, Roshunda Johnson, and Morgan William. There was a modicum of concern that the Bulldogs would slip from the high-scoring ways they had grown to love in the last two seasons. There also was a shred of doubt that the Bulldogs could withstand those graduation losses and remain at the top of the Southeastern Conference.
That apprehension turned out to be unfounded because there really wasn't anything different about Schaefer and the Bulldogs this season. You even could argue the Bulldogs have been better in 2018-19 than they were a year ago.
MSU will have a chance to prove that in the next few weeks. At 6 p.m. Monday (ESPN), the Bulldogs will find out their seed and their first opponent when the field of 64 teams for the NCAA tournament is announced.
MSU, which will be a No. 1 or a No. 2 team, will hold a watch party for the NCAA tournament selection show at Humphrey Coliseum. Fans are invited to attend the free event, which will include a celebration of MSU's SEC regular-season and tournament championships. The doors will open at 4:45 p.m.
MSU secured the program's first SEC tournament title last Sunday with a 101-70 victory against Arkansas at Bon Secours Wellness Arena in Greenville, South Carolina. The Bulldogs set records for highest-scoring game and for margin of victory in ending three years of frustration to South Carolina in the same game.
After getting lost in a sea of confetti following the game, Schaefer and his players talked about how 2018-19 turned out not to be different at all from the previous seasons.
When asked where does the leadership come from that sets that example for everyone, MSU senior center Teaira McCowan credited Schaefer. Senior point guard Jazzmun Holmes elaborated on what the victory against Arkansas meant to Schaefer and the program.
"I know coach is going to do whatever it takes to win," Holmes said. "He's going to give us his best, whether we're up by 30 or up by 10. I mean, all of our coaches are going to give their all. I think we just have to play for them, not only for the name on the front of our jersey and the back, we have to play for our coaches because they're going to give their all all the time."
That mindset hasn't changed since Schaefer and his staff arrived in 2012. The drive to be the best has transformed MSU into a program that won 13 games that initial season into one that has advanced to the national championship game the last two seasons.
To his credit, Schaefer praised the work of associate head coach Johnnie Harris, and assistant coaches Dionnah Jackson-Durrett and Elena Lovato, calling them "warriors." The same could be said for director of operations Maryann Baker and student assistant coaches Dominique Dillingham and Ketara Chapel. Their work set the tone for a season that turned out to be nearly identical to the ones before it.
There's no reason to doubt things will change. Schaefer and his staff have arguably their best signing class coming in next season. With the expected return to health of Chloe Bibby from a season-ending anterior cruciate ligament injury and the addition of center Promise Taylor, MSU will be different again, but the pieces appear to have the potential to fit very nicely. More importantly, the Bulldogs also look to have the right players to make the most of those differences.
As for this year's team, MSU showed more signs in its last three victories that it is building stronger chemistry on the offense. The Bulldogs worked through McCowan and showed a greater willingness to probe defenses and not settle for shots. Schaefer might not agree, but the Bulldogs also have improved on the defense after hearing their coach chide them throughout the year. Those are great signs because it's scary to think MSU hasn't had a stretch of games this season where all of the Bulldogs have played their best at the same time. The next few weeks will give MSU a chance to change that as it tries to prove again that the things that have made the 2018-19 team different have made them great just like their predecessors.
Adam Minichino is former sports editor of The Dispatch. You can follow him on Twitter @ctsportseditor.
Adam Minichino is the Sports Editor for The Commercial Dispatch.
1. MSU QB Nick Fitzgerald ready for NFL's big night COLLEGE SPORTS
2. Next stop for Columbus fantastic foursome: college hoops HIGH SCHOOL SPORTS
3. Starkville pitcher hits the strike zone HIGH SCHOOL SPORTS
4. Dawgs wait on Perry's choice COLLEGE SPORTS
5. Rivalry night: No. 9 Bulldogs take on No. 19 Ole Miss COLLEGE SPORTS