2016-2017 Women's College Basketball Preview | Jackson Free Press | Jackson, MS

2016-2017 Women's College Basketball Preview

Victoria Vivians Photo courtesy MSU Athletics

Victoria Vivians Photo courtesy MSU Athletics

The women's college basketball season tips off on Friday, Nov. 11, with a full slate of action.

Most of the women's teams in Mississippi didn't have much success last year. Mississippi State University was the only Division I school in the state to reach the NCAA Tournament. The other five Division I schools finished with a losing record.

This season, the other women's teams are hoping to crash the NCAA Tournament or NIT, and MSU is hoping to make a deep run. The three SWAC women's basketball teams in this season must win the conference tournament if they want to go dancing.

Mississippi State University Bulldogs

It could be a special season for the Mississippi State University women's basketball team. The Bulldogs return all five starters from a team that went 28-8 and won 11 SEC games.

MSU reached the conference title game and the Sweet Sixteen of the NCAA Tournament in one of the best seasons in school history. Unfortunately, it ended with a blowout loss to the University of Connecticut.

Along with all five starters returning, MSU brings back nine letter-winners from a season ago. For the first time in school history, the media picked the Bulldogs to finish second in the SEC.

How far the Bulldogs go this season will largely depend on junior guard Victoria Vivians' play. In the preseason, she earned All-SEC honors, and last season she averaged 17.1 points, 5.8 rebounds and 1.7 steals per game. She is also a two-time winner of the Gillom Trophy.

MSU is ranked in nearly every preseason poll, including No. 10 in the Associated Press Poll, No. 11 in the Amway Coaches Poll, No. 10 in the United States Basketball Writers Association Poll and No. 12 in the ESPNW poll.

The expectations are going to be sky high this season for the Bulldogs, but head coach Vic Schaefer will keep this team focused. He is entering his fifth season with the Bulldogs, and he has a 90-46 record as head coach.

Schaefer and the Bulldogs have a chance to make a run at the Final Four if the pieces fall just right. If he can lead MSU to the Women's NCAA Tournament, it will be the Bulldogs' third straight appearance and fourth straight postseason appearance overall.

University of Mississippi Rebels

The University of Mississippi women's basketball team has nowhere to go but up. Last season, UM finished 10-20 overall and 2-14 in SEC play. The Rebels finished in dead last in the SEC with that record, but with four starters returning in the 2016-2017 season, the team should improve overall and in conference play.

Last season's leading scorer, junior guard Shandricka Sessom, who averaged 15.6 points per game, returns this year. She was also a finalist for the Gillom Trophy last season. The Rebels welcome transfers Chrishae Rowe and Taylor Manuel, and the team also brings in freshmen Shelby Gibson, Bree Glover and Kate Rodgers. The three players helped the Rebels to a top 25 recruiting class in the nation and the second best in the SEC.

The Rebels didn't get any love from the preseason media, as media picked them to finish last in the conference. Head coach Matt Insell will have the talent to turn things around and move this team up the standings. As he enters his fourth season with the Rebels, Insell has a 41-54 overall record. He is still looking for his first Women's NCAA Tournament berth with UM. He did lead this team to the Women's NIT during the 2014-2015 season.

Though the team is on probation for NCAA violations, it could still impact the conference with upsets. It has the potential for a trip to the Women's NIT if things fall correctly.

University of Southern Mississippi Golden Eagles

The University of Southern Mississippi finished in a three-way tie with Rice University and the University of Alabama, Birmingham, for eighth place in Conference USA. USM finished with a 14-16 overall record and 7-11 in C-USA.

The Golden Eagles will rely on senior guard Brittanny Dinkins, who averaged 11.1 points per game last season. USM will feature guard and forward Jayla King, who averaged 7.5 points last season. Southern Miss brings in two freshman and two transfers that will help right away.

Joye Lee-McNelis is entering her 13th season as head coach of the Golden Eagles. She has compiled a 192-183 record during her tenure with USM. She has never led this program to the Women's NCAA Tournament but has taken three teams to the Women's NIT.

This team should be better than last season but may not finish as a NCAA tournament team. These Golden Eagles will have a shot at reaching the Women's NIT.

Jackson State University Tigers

JSU looks to improve on last year's squad, which finished 8-10 in SWAC play and 14-16 overall.

This year, the Tigers will need to lean on guard Derica Wiggins. Last season, Wiggins averaged 12.2 points per game, leading the team in scoring. Head coach Surina Dixon enters her fifth season with the Tigers. She has a 55-64 record as head coach with JSU but is still looking for her first postseason berth of any kind with the program.

In the preseason media poll, JSU was picked to finish in sixth place again. JSU must win the conference tournament to reach the Women's NCAA Tournament but could earn a bid to the Women's NIT.

Alcorn State University Braves

Alcorn State finished last season with an 11-19 overall record and tied for sixth place in the SWAC with Jackson State. The Braves won their opening game of the SWAC Tournament to Mississippi Valley State University before falling in their next game to Southern University.

ASU returns center Henrietta Wells, who averaged 5.1 points, 2.9 blocks and 5.3 rebounds last season. The media named her as first-team All-SWAC and Co-Defensive Player of the Year, along with Southern University's Cortnei Purnell.

The media picked the Braves to finish fifth in the SWAC this season. Alcorn State must win the conference tournament to reach the Women's NCAA Tournament but could earn a bid to the Women's NIT.

Mississippi Valley State Delta Devils

Mississippi Valley State finished dead last in the SWAC last season. The Delta Devils went 3-26 overall and 1-17 in SWAC play.

MVSU returns guard Christina Reed, who averaged 16.5 points last season, and forward Ashley Beals, who averaged 15.5 points. Reed was selected preseason first-team All-SWAC, and Beals earned second-team All-SWAC honors. The Delta Devils welcome Jessica Kerns as the program's fourth women's basketball coach. She spent last season as an assistant coach at Furman University and was head coach at Lincoln University in Pennsylvania from 2011 to 2015. She finished there with a 51-65 overall record.

In the preseason, the media picked MVSU to finish the season in ninth place. The Delta Devils must win the conference tournament to reach the Women's NCAA Tournament. Even a trip to the Women's NIT might be unlikely for this squad.

The Rest

Mississippi College was picked to finish last in the Gulf South Conference. This team hopes to improve on last season's 5-20 overall record and 3-19 in conference play.

Delta State University was picked to finish second the GSC this season. Last season, DSU won the conference title and returns five players from that team.

Belhaven University continues to transition to the Division III and can't win the American South Conference. Last season the team finished 8-17 overall, but this season three players were named to the ASC preseason watch-list.

Millsaps College brings in former player Justin LeBlanc to lead the women's basketball program. Last season, this program reached the title game of the Southern Athletic Association Tournament.

Tougaloo College women's basketball team finished with a 2-20 record last season and 1-11 in conference play. One area this team can improve is on the road, where they went 0-11 last season.

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