Members of the Mississippi State women’s basketball team pose with a Southeastern Conference sign after the team’s victory against Texas A&M clinched the program’s first SEC regular-season title. Photo by: Jim Lytle/Special to The Dispatch Buy this photo.
March 12, 2018 10:06:02 AM
STARKVILLE -- The awards continued to stack up Sunday for the Mississippi State women's basketball team a day before it learned its next opponent for what it hopes will be a six-game stretch run to the 2017-18 season.
Teaira McCowan and Victoria Vivians added to their individual honors when ESPNW named the junior center a first-team All-American and the senior guard a third-team All-American. MSU joined Connecticut as the only schools with multiple players on the list.
The honors are the latest MSU has received on the heels of an undefeated regular season and a third-straight trip to the championship game of the Southeastern Conference tournament. MSU (32-1) claimed its first SEC regular-season title thanks to a 16-0 run through the SEC. It beat Kentucky and Texas A&M before losing to South Carolina 62-51 on March 4 in the championship game of the SEC tournament in Nashville, Tennessee.
Despite the loss, ESPN's Charlie Creme projects MSU to be a No. 1 seed for the NCAA tournament. The 64-team field for the annual event will be announced at 6 tonight (ESPN). MSU will celebrate the announcement with a NCAA tournament Selection Show at Humphrey Coliseum. Admission is free. Doors will open at 4:45 p.m.
With American Athletic Conference regular-season and tournament champion Connecticut and Atlantic Coast Conference tournament champion Louisville virtual locks to be the No. 1 seeds in the Albany and Lexington regions,
respectively, the biggest unanswered question for MSU remains which region it will be sent to. Creme has MSU in the Kansas City Region and Notre Dame as the No. 1 seed in the Spokane Region.
Baylor (31-1), which won the Big 12 Conference regular-season and tournament titles, figures to be the only team that might deny MSU a No. 1 seed. Following MSU's loss to South Carolina, Baylor moved past MSU to No. 2 in The Associated Press and USA Today Coaches polls. Those rankings don't factor into the NCAA tournament selection committee's criteria for picking the 64-team field. Still, the NCAA women's tournament considers attendance as an ingredient when it determines destinations for seeds at its predetermined sites. It might believe Kansas City is a better host site to draw fans for Baylor than MSU.
Creme, who works as ESPN's bracketologist, has had MSU as a No. 1 seed in the Kansas City region for the past several weeks. NCAA RPI rankings have Connecticut at No. 1, Notre Dame, which lost to Louisville in the ACC tournament title game, at No. 2, Louisville at No. 3, Baylor at No. 4, and MSU at No. 5. RealTime RPI.com, Warren Nolan.com, and Collegiate Basketball News also have those five teams ranked the same way.
Warren Nolan.com has the ACC as the top-rated conference followed by the SEC, the Big Ten Conference, and the Big 12.
The differences between MSU and Baylor are slight when it comes to Strength of Schedule (SOS), which is one factor the NCAA tournament selection committee uses to seed the teams. The NCAA has MSU with a 21 SOS, while Baylor has a 24. In Collegiate Basketball News, MSU has a 26 SOS, while Baylor has a 28. In Warren Nolan.com, MSU has a 21 SOS, while Baylor has a 23.
Baylor suffered its only loss to UCLA on Nov. 18. Despite that fact, the NCAA tournament selection committee could use a season-ending injury to point guard Kristy Wallace as a factor when it determines the No. 1 seeds. Wallace suffered a torn anterior cruciate ligament in her right knee in a victory against West Virginia on Feb. 26.
MSU is 11-1 against teams in the top 50 and 9-0 against teams ranked 51-100, according to Warren Nolan.com. It has a non-conference SOS of 33. Baylor is 6-1 against teams in the top 50 and 13-0 against teams 51-100. It has a non-conference SOS of 63.
Regardless of whether it is a No. 1 or a No. 2 seed, MSU will play host to the first and second rounds of the NCAA tournament as a top-16 seed. As of Sunday afternoon, less than 500 all-session reserved tickets remained for the first and second rounds. MSU is 16-0 at home this season. It averaged a program-best 7,113 fans and shattered its all-time mark for attendance in a season with 113,814.
MSU is 4-0 at home in the NCAA tournament the last two seasons. In 2016, MSU was a No. 5 seed, but it earned the right to play host to the first and second rounds due to a conflict with Michigan State's home venue. MSU defeated Chattanooga 60-50 and Michigan State 74-72 to advance to the Sweet 16, where it lost to eventual national champion UConn 98-38. In 2017, MSU beat Troy and DePaul in Starkville en route to a program-record 34-win season. Victories against Washington and Baylor sent MSU to the Final Four, where it beat four-time reigning national champion UConn 66-64 in overtime to end the Huskies' NCAA-record 111-game winning streak. South Carolina defeated MSU 67-55 in the national championship game.
This season, MSU beat South Carolina 67-53 and Kentucky (twice) in the regular season to complete the first undefeated regular season by a SEC team since Tennessee in 1998. MSU's Vic Schaefer earned SEC Coach of the Year honors for leading to the team to the second-longest winning streak in SEC history.
McCowan, who is averaging a career-best 17.7 points and 13.2 rebounds per game this season, was named first-team All-SEC and SEC co-Defensive Player of the Year.
USA Today named Vivians a first-team All-American. She also was a first-team All-SEC pick. She is averaging 19.6 ppg. and has scored double figures in 32 games. She also had her most efficient season on offense, shooting 48.5 percent from the field, 39.5 percent from 3-point range and 81.4 percent from the free-throw line.
NOTES: The clear bag policy and regular game-day security procedures will be in place for fans who attend the NCAA tournament Selection Show at the Hump. ... MSU players will sign autographs on the concourse from 4:45-5:45 p.m. The NCAA prohibits the sale of items signed by student-athletes. Student-athletes will sign only the SEC Champions posters available at no cost on the concourse. ... All-session reserved tickets cost $35 for adults and $15 for youth age 17 and under and MSU students with a valid student ID. Tickets can be purchased at www.HailState.com/Tickets or by calling the MSU Ticket Office at 1-888-GO-DAWGS. If any tickets remain, individual session reserved tickets will go on sale at 8:30 a.m. Friday. The tickets will be $20 for adults and $10 for youth and MSU students.
Follow Dispatch sports editor Adam Minichino on Twitter @ctsportseditor
Adam Minichino is the Sports Editor for The Commercial Dispatch.