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SEC Preview: Mississippi State has a score to settle in 2018-19

A three-point loss to Notre Dame for the NCAAW Championship last year has the Bulldogs eyeing vengeance. But the South Carolina Gamecocks and the Tennessee Lady Volunteers also have something to prove.

Notre Dame v Mississippi State
Teaira McCowan (#15) and the Mississippi State Lady Bulldogs have a score to settle.
Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images

Can the Teaira McCowan-led Mississippi State Bulldogs dominate the Southeastern Conference (SEC) again? Or will the University of South Carolina Gamecocks, under the tutelage of Dawn Staley, resume their status as SEC darlings? Either way, the Tennessee Lady Volunteers and others won’t make it easy, as the SEC is somewhat up for grabs.

Teams in the SEC

Here are the teams in the SEC, followed by their conference and overall records, according to the 2017-18 standings:

  1. Mississippi State Bulldogs — 16-0, 37-2
  2. South Carolina Gamecocks — 12-4, 29-7
  3. Georgia Lady Bulldogs — 12-4, 26-7
  4. Tennessee Lady Volunteers — 11-5, 25-8
  5. Missouri Tigers — 11-5, 24-8
  6. Texas A&M Aggies — 11-5, 26-10
  7. LSU Lady Tigers — 11-5, 19-10
  8. Alabama Crimson Tide — 7-9, 20-14
  9. Kentucky Wildcats — 6-10, 15-17
  10. Auburn Tigers — 5-11, 14-15
  11. Arkansas Razorbacks — 3-13, 13-18
  12. Florida Gators — 3-13, 11-19
  13. Vanderbilt Commodores — 3-13, 7-24
  14. Ole Miss Rebels — 1-15, 12-19

Biggest storylines heading into the season

The Mississippi State Bulldogs have unfinished business.

The reigning SEC champions and NCAAW Championship runners-up came up three points shy of winning it all against Notre Dame in 2017-18. But the Bulldogs are predicted to repeat as winners of the SEC this season as well, thanks in large part to Teaira McCowan, who handily won SEC Women’s Preseason Basketball Player of the Year honors and helped the team to “the best season in school history, with 37 wins, the program’s first SEC regular-season title and a second straight trip to the national championship game.”

But the Bulldogs are not satisfied. In fact, they want to avenge their championship loss to the Fighting Irish. McCowan, a senior, said during a media day interview that the team was “a little disappointed” about last season’s outcome and head coach Vic Schaefer thinks she can drive Mississippi State to to the trophy. “She’s special,” Schaefer said of McCowan. “I’m excited about her senior year. She’s going to have to take her game to another level.”

If words from the coach aren’t enough, McCowan’s record has an impressive story to tell. During her junior year, she tallied an SEC-record 544 rebounds and 29 double-doubles, and she averaged 20.8 points and 18.2 rebounds per game in the NCAA Tournament. If McCowan stays healthy and plays as she did last season, the Bulldogs have a chance at a return performance to the championship round.

All eyes will be on the South Carolina Gamecocks.

Any coach who enjoyed illustrious playing careers in college and the pros, brought home gold medals with Team USA as a player, is head coach of the USA Basketball Women’s National Team and guided the squad to a third consecutive FIBA World Cup last month will have all eyes on her. And that’s the position Dawn Staley finds herself in. Beyond being a high-profile coach is the talent she has cultivated into polished, WNBA-ready professionals, like the Dallas Wings’ Allisha Gray (WNBA Rookie of the Year and All-Rookie Team in 2017) and Kaela Davis (2017 All-Rookie Team).

But no player is more closely linked to Staley than A’ja Wilson of the Las Vegas Aces: the 2018 WNBA Rookie of the Year by unanimous vote and All-Star selection in her first season. But Gamecocks fans should not look at the current roster for “the next A’ja Wilson,” because she is a once-in-a-generation phenom whose likeness soon will be memorialized in statue form at the University of South Carolina. But senior Doniyah Cliney and junior Tyasha Harris figured big in South Carolina’s run towards another NCAAW Championship last year, and they’ll be looking to come up big in 2018-19 and prove themselves in their own right.

A few teams hoping for dark-horse status will try to make things interesting.

During media day, Vanderbilt Head Coach Stephanie White said she hopes to lead the Commodores from the bottom of the standings to the middle. “Our biggest goal is to get into the middle of the pack,” White said. “It’s an opportunity for us to challenge ourselves and raise our standards.” The former WNBA coach who led the Indiana Fever to two straight WNBA Finals (2015, 2016) will have her work cut out for her, given that she’ll be working with a 10-woman roster. But she has a strong center in 6-foot-5 Mariella Fasoula of Greece, a transfer from Boston College. Fasoula has international competition experience, most recently for the Greek national team in the FIBA Women’s World Cup in Spain, and her Vanderbilt teammates have confidence in her ability to elevate the team, considering her experience competing against WNBA talent in international tournaments. With White and Fasoula, the Commodores could meet, or best, their goal.

At Tennessee, there is a persistent reminder of the victorious glory days under the incomparable Pat Summitt, whose imprint on the game of basketball is nothing short of legendary. But the Lady Volunteers finished fourth in the SEC last season and were bounced in the second round of the NCAA Tournament, falling to Oregon State, 72-67. Neither Holly Warlick, Tennessee head coach, nor the players were pleased with that result. So, look for the Lady Vols to come out swinging in 2018-19, with hopes of reclaiming their former glory.

Game information

Season openers

Here’s how the SEC’s top two teams will kick off the 2018-19 season:

South Carolina Gamecocks (2) vs. Alabama State Hornets

The Gamecocks get going against Lander in an exhibition game on Nov. 2, but here’s the first game that counts:

When: Friday, Nov. 11 at 4 p.m. ET

Where: Dunn-Oliver Acadome, Montgomery, AL

How to watch: Gamecocks Online

Mississippi State Bulldogs (1) vs. Southeast Missouri State

The Bulldogs kick of their season in an exhibition against Central Missouri on Nov. 2, and here’s the first game that counts:

When: Tuesday, Nov. 6 at 7 p.m. ET

Where: Humphrey Coliseum, Starkville, MS

How to watch: SEC Network+ and

Notable contests

South Carolina Gamecocks vs. Baylor Lady Bears

When: Sunday, Dec. 2 at 7 p.m. ET

Where: Colonial Life Arena, Columbia, SC

How to watch: ESPN2

Why to watch: The Lady Bears topped the Big 12 conference last season with an 18-0 record, and went 33-2 overall. Baylor was the proving ground for Brittney Griner. South Carolina was the proving ground for A’ja Wilson. Game on.

Mississippi State Bulldogs vs. Oregon Ducks

When: Tuesday, Dec. 18 at 10 p.m. ET

Where: Matthew Knight Arena, Eugene, OR

How to watch: ESPN2

Why to watch: The Ducks dominated the Pac-12 last year with a 16-2 record (33-5 overall). A trophy-starved Bulldogs squad will be battling a powerhouse Oregon team led by Sabrina Ionescu. Miss this one and regret it for the rest of your days.

Click here to visit the SEC website.