If forced to pick one of the three Final Four teams not named UConn that has the best chance of winning it all, Mississippi State would be the one.
Vic Schaefer has built quite a team over in Starkville, Mississippi. The Bulldogs have had an even better regular season than last year’s team, which made the National Championship game after a huge upset of UConn.
The only way to improve on last year’s postseason outcome would be to win the whole dang thing, but a very good Louisville team stands in the way followed by either Notre Dame or a UConn team that is bigger, better and more experienced than the one they beat last year and, oh by the way, super pissed at them.
MSU is battle-tested, though. Making it through the SEC regular-season slate undefeated and taking their only loss in the SEC Tournament final is a remarkable achievement—a level of dominance that many didn’t think was possible in the highly competitive conference. It’s not a record-breaking winning streak or a string of championships, but what they’ve accomplished in the past 18 months puts them a clear tier above the pack.
And they’re picking at just the right time. Louisville and Notre Dame are really good, but they don’t have MSU’s résumé success.
The inside-out punch of Teaira McCowan and Morgan William has been destroying as of late and Victoria Vivians has been a consistent force as well. Each of these three stars brings something unique to the table, and together they’re the reason Vic Schaefer’s squad can challenge any starting lineup. They really bring it on both sides of the ball.
Morgan William is a diminutive point guard who has stepped her game in a big way in March, as SB Nation’s Mississippi State site For Whom The Cowbell Tolls wrote earlier this month:
William has been sensational, plain and simple. The 5’5” point guard has taken her game to another level, one that has set a new standard in women’s college basketball. The point guard’s role has changed, as one must have an arsenal of weapons in their game.
William is no slouch in big moments either— in last year’s Final Four she hit the game-winner to take down Goliath and end UConn’s record-setting 111-game winning streak. This year, she only averaged 8.2 PPG during the regular season but has been a dynamo in the postseason.
McCowan is a dominant low-post threat. She’s coming off a 23-point, 21-rebound performance in the Elite Eight after stringing together some really good games earlier in the tournament as well. Louisville has a couple of solid bigs but if the Bulldogs can make it through, they could have a distinct advantage down low with McCowan.
Vivians is the all-out scorer who can help the Bulldogs put teams away. She scored 24 points against Texas A&M and paces her team with 19.6 PPG. The Bulldogs are much more than those three, however. Senior guard Roshunda Johnson does a little bit of everything, averaging 11.7 PPG and leading the team in 3-point shooting percentage. If two of William, Vivians, Johnson, and sharpshooter Blair Schaefer are clicking, it should lead to victory over Louisville, and Notre Dame should they meet in the final.
If they win and end up facing UConn, it will take some shooting luck and for their low-post dominance to translate on both ends of the floor while also opening things up in the perimeter offensively. If they can get Napheesa Collier and/or Gabby Williams in foul trouble, it could spell trouble. It’s possible. We learned that last year.
Mentally, Mississippi State has to know they have an advantage over the field. The Bulldogs put together and executed a strategy for beating UConn, and were the first in over two years to succeed. They’ve cruised through the competition this season and absolutely have what it takes to cut down the nets in Columbus.
This article is the second in a series on each of the Final Four teams and what they have going for them in their national championship bid. Read here for the breakdown of Notre Dame.