Is it possible this State team is more successful than the State team that finished 34-5 and slayed Goliath in Connecticut? And made it to the National Championship game. Someone asked Matt Insell, Ole Miss coach, this question. “That’s hard to answer, man. Insell replied, “Better?” “They were in national championship game. They will only be better if they win their title. They are better offensively, I believe. They are still struggling to find their identity defensively. They’re not better yet, but it’s hard to say until tournament time. They are not yet better, but they will. Teaira McCowan is the taller, 7-foot-tall skyscraper of an center. Ask the photographer that she nearly beheaded after blocking a shot in the second period Thursday night. McCowan stopped an Ole Miss player from driving the lane and put up a shot. Most of the 7,161 cheering crowd would have been happy to have ended the game. McCowan’s expression was clear: “Did you just do that?” Later, she would add, “I impressed myself.” In just 26 minutes, she made 12 of 13 shots, grabbed 13 rebounds, scored 25 and blocked three more shots. She’s better. She is an All-American. Insell was a campaign manager for McCowan after her junior season. He’s not wrong, and I can see why. Better? Victoria Vivians is definitely better. She is a career 37% shooter. This season she has hit 55 percent of her shots and averages 19 points per game. In addition, she is a better rebounder than defender. It looks so effortless the way she moves around the court. She is an All-American. Better? Blair Schaefer is the coach’s daughter. She is even better. She is a former reserve, but she now starts, scores almost 10 points per game, and is, as her dad demands, “our glue.” Morgan “IttyBitty” William, the point guard, is still a delight to watch. There are many other parts that make up the No. 1 team. 3, or 4. 4 in the country in major polls. Better, as a group? No. This team still has some way to go. Vic Shaefer, who is an expert on the subject, believes that they are stronger offensively but not yet as good defensively. He said that the Ole Miss game was a significant step forward. Only 16 of 60 shots were made by the Lady Rebels. Someone must have been watching them. From this perspective, depth is the main problem. Remember that McCowan was often on the bench, 6-5 Chinwe Okorie. This year, State isn’t as deep in the interior. Guard Dominique Dillingham, forward Breanna Richardson, and other key players of the school’s winningest team last season are gone. Let’s take a look at Thursday night. State scored the first 14 points of the game. With a minute and 35 seconds remaining in the first quarter, it was still 19-6. McCowan was leading 28-11 with 6:23 left in the second quarter. McCowan was 30 feet from the bucket when she received her second foul. Vic Schaefer got wild and received a well-earned technical violation. McCowan was then forced to be sat for the rest of the period. Ole Miss was able to outscore the Bulldogs by six for the rest of the half, thanks to State’s two All-Americans sitting on the bench. Ole Miss droves were allowed to use the lane. State’s offense was not as effective without McCowan at the paint and Vivians around the perimeter. The Bulldogs suddenly looked average. Vic Schaefer said, “Our depth wasn’t as good as it had been.” McCowan and Vivians being back in the second half, State reassessed itself and won going away. Nevertheless, we saw an 18-0 team for six minutes. It was not difficult to see that the team seemed vulnerable. State will play teams like Tennessee, South Carolina, Texas A & M. They will undoubtedly try to exploit that vulnerability and force McCowan to the ground and give her every chance to foul. Vic Schaefer believes that 6-1 freshman Chloe Bibby and Zion Campbell, a sophomore, are capable of providing the needed depth in the interior. Maybe. But one cannot help but wonder what the impact of losing Ameshya Williams (scheduled to be McCowan’s backup) will have on the long-term. Williams quit unexpectedly just one game into the season. Vic Schaefer stated that Williams and Iggy Allen (guard), were two of our best players and could have been starting. “It’s affected our depth without doubt,” Vic Schaefer added. “I don’t dwell on it, it has hurt us,” Vic Schaefer said. This is the truth: There are 348 other college basketball teams that would love to have only one weakness. To support this important work, you can make a regular donation to our Spring Member Drive today. Our reporters give a human face to policy’s impact on everyday Mississippians by listening more closely and understanding their communities. To ensure that our work is aligned with the priorities and needs of all Mississippians, we are listening to you. Click the button below to let us know what you think.