Not even three years ago, Mississippi State was one of the best teams in college girls’ basketball, as it had been for a few years.
The team has reached unprecedented levels under the guidance of head coach Vic Schaefer, who joined the program in 2012. Under his guidance, they have gradually improved each season and made the sport one of the most important aspects of the MSU. The program has finished second nationally in consecutive seasons and has sunk into the NCAA tournament for four consecutive seasons. Schaefer himself was recognized by five different organizations as National Coach of the Year while he was in charge of the Bulldogs.
MSU reached the NCAA Final Four for the first time in school history during the 2016-17 season, then knocked out the undefeated UConn Huskies on an incredible Morgan William buzzer-beater in overtime. Although they lost the national championship to South Carolina, the state of Mississippi came back in force the following year. They finished the 2017-18 regular season undefeated and once against they reached the Final Four. The victories were much easier for the Bulldogs, and unsurprisingly, they reached the national championship for the second year in a row. There, they lost to Notre-Dame in a long winning match at the end of the time limit. In 2019, State reached the Elite Eight of the NCAA tournament. The 2020 playoffs were never played due to the pandemic, but the team still finished with a 27-6 record. Although the players are graduating or being drafted, the program has always been poised to attract some of the country’s top talent.
Then everything stopped.
Schaefer suddenly left Mississippi state for the University of Texas in the summer of 2020. While the sudden change was shocking, there was still hope for the Bulldogs – they still had an extremely strong team. talented. That hope quickly turned to dismay as MSU finished the 2020-2021 season 10-9 without any playoff appearances under new head coach Nikki McCray-Penson. Meanwhile, the Schaefer Longhorns went 21-10 to reach the Elite Eight.
This season, the Bulldogs head to the SEC with a 9-3 record under interim head coach Doug Novak. They’ve struggled in some games but have an incredible group of athletes that includes Rickea Jackson, Myah Taylor, and Anastasia Hayes. While these players may not be at the level of some of Schaefer’s former Bulldogs, there is no reason they should lose to teams like Troy.
What Happened to the State of Mississippi? The answer lies in coaching. As evidenced by his success in Texas, the Bulldogs nabbed a single coach at Schaefer. Since then, neither of the two coaches has known how to put on his big shoes. They don’t have the same methods, discipline levels, or means of executing a game plan – all that a successful team needs. Every player struggles from time to time, but the team as a whole can’t do their best when they don’t get what they need from the coaching staff.
Can things change before the conference? The players have the ability, but without stronger coaching and proper discipline, it will be difficult to compete with many SEC teams. Going forward, the program may rebound, but it will take years to rebuild what collapsed after Schaefer’s departure.