Friday, March 17, 2017  SUBSCRIBE   
Starkville anticipating impact from NCAA tournament
Restaurants and hotels in Starkville are preparing for a weekend of visitors when Mississippi State University hosts the first two rounds of the NCAA women's basketball tournament. MSU's women's basketball team received the two seed in their respective bracket and was rewarded with home court advantage for the first and second rounds of this year's tournament. The university also hosted the first and second rounds of last year's tournament. Jordan Gillentine has been the general manager at the La Quinta Inn since its opening in 2012. Gillentine and his team have been preparing for several months for this tournament. With spring break this week, college towns like Starkville can see business stall. Gillentine said it helps to have MSU's athletic program be successful and bring more visitors to the area. "I speak for everyone here in Starkville when I say that we love when our teams are doing well...," he said.
New 4-H, Extension building in Lowndes County still without phone service
Plans for the Lowndes County 4-H chapter and the county's Mississippi State University Extension Service offices are on hold -- literally. County Engineer Bob Calvert told supervisors at Wednesday's board meeting that a walk-through of the new office building, part of a proposed $2.5 million horse-park facility, revealed the building is close to "move-in" status, with one exception. "AT&T hasn't put in the phone service yet," Calvert said. "And really, there's not much point in moving in until you get phone service. You can't run your computers or anything." County Administrator Ralph Billingsley said he has been in communication with AT&T since late January. "We're continuing to talk to them to try to get this resolved as soon as possible," Billingsley said.
Study: Toyota making impact in Mississippi through facility investments, jobs
Toyota Mississippi is making a major impact on the Magnolia State through significant job numbers, payroll and capital and philanthropic investments, a national study recently found. The Center for Automotive Research, a national think tank, found in 2015 one out of every 150 workers in Mississippi was employed as a result of Toyota manufacturing, sales, logistics or support operations. "Toyota's decision to locate in Blue Springs has generated 6,700 careers -- direct and indirect -- for Mississippians, as well as millions in private investment contributed to making Northeast Mississippi a better place to live, work and raise a family," said Glenn McCullough Jr., Mississippi Development Authority executive director.
Issues are on the table for this year's Delta Council meeting in May
Author David Cohn once wrote that "the Mississippi Delta begins in the lobby of the Peabody Hotel and ends on Catfish Row in Vicksburg." If Cohn's description is indeed true, then the Delta Council might be considered the storied region's heartbeat. Based in Washington County, Delta Council is the area's foremost economic development group representing 18 northwest Mississippi counties. Harry Simmons serves as current Delta Council president. Delta Council presidents serve only one year and are appointed each May at the group's annual meeting on the Delta State University campus. This year's meeting is May 29. Many compare the one-day meeting to other Mississippi political gatherings, including the Neshoba County Fair. He's hopeful that the surprise election of President Donald Trump will be beneficial to the region, but is taking a wait-and-see attitude. "I think the potential is there for some good things," he said. "But the political process can be very complex, as I've seen during my tenure as Delta Council president."
Public school backers demand 'Seat at the Table'
Hundreds of students, parents and supporters of public schools in Mississippi crowded the Capitol on Thursday to demand inclusion as the Legislature drafts a new school funding formula. The late morning rally kicked off after both the House and Senate had adjourned for the week -- earlier than their normal schedule for a Thursday. Several legislators joined the crowd for the community rally dubbed "A Seat at the Table." "First and foremost, I demand a seat because the decision to change the education funding formula is the most important piece of legislation this Legislature has done in 20 years," said Leslie Fye, a public school parent and president-elect of the Starkville Foundation for Public Education. "As such, I object to the process for the most important decision in 20 years being rushed and being made behind closed doors."
Locals help lead pro-education rally at Capitol
Eighth grade Tupelo Middle School student J.T Grist told a crowd of hundreds Thursday in the Mississippi Capitol he does not think it is fair that students across the state do not have the same opportunities as those afforded to students in his hometown. Jack Reed Jr., a businessman and former mayor of Tupelo, told the same crowd that support for public education should not be a partisan issue because of its importance to the progress of the state. Referencing the fact that Sens. Chad McMahan, R-Guntown, and Hob Bryan, D-Amory, who both represent Lee County, were at the pro-education rally, Reed said, "It shouldn't even be bipartisan. It should be non-partisan. It is an economic issue." But Leslie Fye, a mother of two children in the Starkville-Oktibbeha Consolidated School District, said matter of factly she could not trust some Republican politicians in the state.
Top black lawmaker 'sick' of Mississippi rebel-themed flag
A leading black lawmaker in Mississippi says she is "sick" of the Confederate battle emblem on the state flag and it's time for change. Rep. Sonya Williams Barnes, who is chairwoman of the Legislative Black Caucus, says the flag represents hatred. The Democrat from Gulfport made an impassioned speech Thursday in the state House -- a day after a white lawmaker, Republican Rep. William Shirley of Quitman, stood in the same spot and waved a small state flag and a small white flag. Shirley had tried unsuccessfully several times to require universities to fly the Mississippi flag, the last in the nation that includes the Confederate battle emblem.
State flag ill will continues in House
The state flag, and its controversial Confederate emblem, continued this week to be a source of debate and ill will in the state House. On Thursday, Rep. William Shirley, R-Quitman, without speaking walked to the podium and waved a small state flag and a plain white flag. He wouldn't explain what he was doing, but many took it as a sign that he was going to stop trying to amend budget and other bills to try to force state universities to fly the flag or lose public funding. On Thursday, Rep. Sonya Williams-Barnes, D-Gulfport, chairwoman of the Mississippi Legislative Black Caucus, took a "point of personal privilege" and addressed the House about the flag, and Shirley. Williams-Barnes said Shirley and others in the chamber laughed and joked about the flag issue on the floor, which she said was "hurtful." She vowed to work to "remove this horrific symbol of hate from my state."
Gaming Commission votes no on two casino applications
Less than four hours after the Mississippi Gaming Commission again denied site approval for casinos in Biloxi and Diamondhead, representatives of RW Development said they were "shocked" by the decision and vowed to immediately appeal. The statement by RW Development capped an already dramatic day with the players assembled at Hard Rock Casino Biloxi for the March Gaming Commission meeting. The commissioners left after the meeting without commenting on their decision. Richard Bennett, who chairs the House of Representatives Gaming Committee, said he approved of the votes and is glad the commission is being consistent.
Federal Judge Henry Wingate barred from handling new cases
Federal Judge Henry Wingate is temporarily barred from handling new civil cases until he reduces a backlog of pending motions and civil cases. Chief United States District Judge Louis Guirola Jr. filed an addendum to the court internal rules earlier this month in which he said a majority of the Board of Judges had temporarily excused Wingate from new civil cases assignments. Wingate will once again be allowed to handle new civil cases when he reduces his cases to a number less than or equal to other active district judges in the Southern District of Mississippi. During the time Wingate is prohibited from new civil cases, cases that would have normally been assigned to him instead will be randomly assigned to senior judges, who have retired but still handles some cases.
Trump Seeks to Ax Appalachia Economic Programs, Causing Worry in Coal Country
President Donald Trump has proposed eliminating funding for economic development programs supporting laid-off coal miners and others in Appalachia, stirring fears in a region that supported him of another letdown on the heels of the coal industry's collapse. The 2018 budget proposal submitted to Congress by the White House on Thursday would cut funds to the Appalachian Regional Commission (ARC) and the U.S. Economic Development Administration. The Washington-based organizations are charged with diversifying the economies of states like West Virginia and Kentucky to help them recover from coal's decline. "Folks that live in Appalachia believe that the ARC belongs to them," said federal ARC Co-Chair Earl Gohl, bemoaning the proposed cut. "It's really their organization." In addition to all of West Virginia and part of Kentucky, the ARC covers parts of Alabama, Georgia, Maryland, Mississippi, New York, North Carolina, Ohio, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, Tennessee and Virginia.
Trump's budget cuts deep in rural America
The White House budget blueprint unveiled Thursday calls for a 21 percent cut to USDA discretionary spending, threatening to hit programs that invest in rural infrastructure, target rural public radio and demolish food-aid programs that buy up farmers and ranchers' commodities. The proposed deep slashes to spending, among the largest of any federal agency aside from the EPA and the State Department, has prompted immediate criticism that President Donald Trump turned his back on the very voters who came out in droves to support his campaign. As a result of those concerns, farm-state lawmakers, including House Agriculture Chairman Mike Conaway and Rep. Rodney Davis (R-Ill.), were quick to point out that the budget is merely a wish list from the president and Congress will have final say in what 2018 funding looks like when they craft appropriations bills.
New protest bills: Stamping out 'economic terrorism' or chilling free expression?
After watching protests erupt around the country against police shootings, tougher immigration laws, and the Trump administration, Arizona state Sen. John Kavanagh reportedly came to a conclusion: "This stuff is all planned" by "ideologues" and "anarchists," he told the Arizona Capitol Times. In response, Senator Kavanagh sponsored a bill patterned on the kind of racketeering laws usually reserved for the Mafia: Anyone involved in a protest could be guilty of a felony if things get out of control, "whether or not such person knows [the] identity" of the person actually breaking a law. The new bills come during a time of large-scale protests not seen since the civil rights era, as well as an emerging strategy to use economic pressure, through boycotts or more immediate actions, to force change. At a time of extreme political polarization, Republican-led statehouses are probing the boundaries of what constitutes constitutionally-protected protest versus what makes a mob.
U.S. warns of military option if North Korea continues push for nuclear weapons
Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said Friday that "all options" were available to deal with North Korea's emerging nuclear threat, including a military strike if necessary to safeguard the region and American forces stationed here. "Certainly we do not want for things to get to a military conflict," Tillerson told reporters here. "We've been quite clear on that in our communications. But obviously if North Korea takes actions that threaten the South Korean forces or our own forces, then that will be met with an appropriate response. Let me very clear: The policy of strategic patience has ended," he said, referring to the Obama administration's policy of trying to wait out the North Korean regime while pressing it with economic sanctions and covert actions.
Mississippi College Board seeks more financial oversight
Mississippi's College Board wants to increase oversight over the finances of the state's eight public universities. The board voted Thursday to spell out expectations for university finances, after Jackson State University ran into financial trouble because of overspending. The College Board ultimately pressured JSU president Carolyn Meyers into resigning in October, and the university is now looking at budget cuts to reduce spending and rebuild reserves. The board must vote on the policy again before it's enacted. Higher Education Commissioner Glenn Boyce will be able to recommend financial targets to individual universities as part of budget planning.
UMMC gets green light to work with, buy other hospitals
The House on Thursday sent a bill to the governor to allow the University of Mississippi Medical Center to purchase or partner with other private or public hospitals and operate more like a business than a public institution. Final passage came after some debate over whether the bill represents a move toward socialized or monopolized medicine. The bill's author, Rep. Jason White, R-West, told colleagues the Senate had "greatly watered down" the bill and that hospitals which had opposed the measure were appeased. Its original provisions to exempt any UMMC joint ventures from public records and open meetings laws, some state and federal anti-trust regulations, certificate-of-need rules, and sales and ad valorem taxes were removed. The bill passed the House 93-17 and heads to Gov. Phil Bryant, who is expected to sign it, supporters said.
Mississippi's Only Academic Hospital Cuts Jobs to Fix Budget
The University of Mississippi Medical Center is cutting jobs to deal with a budget shortfall. Medical center leaders said Thursday they are reducing faculty compensation, cutting 195 jobs and eliminating 85 vacant positions. The $32.7 million deficit comes in part from changes to Medicaid funding. With more than 10,000 employees and a $1.7 billion budget, the medical center includes hospitals, plus medical, dental and health-related schools. Dr. LouAnn Woodward, who heads the medical center, says Thursday that the cuts will have little impact on patient care. The cuts will impact employees in all facets of the organization, including the health system; the academic, research and service areas; and the faculty.
U. of Mississippi Medical Center cuts 195 jobs, eliminates 85 positions in budget cut
The University of Mississippi Medical Center on Thursday announced it is cutting 195 jobs and eliminating another 85 positions in action to address a recent $32.7 million budget cut, part of budgets ordered by Gov. Phil Bryant. The Medical Center has identified $24 million in savings through a combination of reduced spending and enhanced revenues to be realized by June 30, the end of the fiscal year. That includes the job reductions, all spread proportionately across the organization. In addition, a number of faculty took pay reductions. "The people who lost their jobs are good, hard-working people who will be missed as team members, and we appreciate their service," said Dr. LouAnn Woodward, vice chancellor for health affairs and dean of the School of Medicine. "We have arranged outplacement services to assist them with job searches, benefits or transition to retirement, when applicable," Woodward said.
After sudden $32 million budget cut, UMMC eliminates 280 jobs
The University of Mississippi Medical Center announced Thursday it will eliminate 280 jobs statewide as part of its plan to close a $32.7 million budget shortfall. UMMC expects the financial action plan to save the medical center around $24 million through a combination of reduced expenses and increased revenues. The cuts, which will take place over the next four months, include eliminating 195 jobs and 85 vacant positions. "When you look at academic medical centers like us all across the country, as well as many other health care entities, they are all kind of facing these challenges, these battles, finding ways to increase revenue through efficiencies and other ways to control costs to continue to focus on quality and still continue to achieve our missions," said LouAnn Woodward, vice chancellor of UMMC. "So this is quite a challenge."
195 jobs, 85 positions cut at U. of Mississippi Medical Center
University of Mississippi Medical Center officials on Thursday announced a decision to layoff 195 workers in an attempt to cope with a $32.7 million cut in revenue from the state. That cut is so big "it's impossible for any organization mid-year to absorb that and continue on, business as usual," said Dr. LouAnn Woodward, vice chancellor for health affairs and dean of the School of Medicine. Another 85 open positions also are being cut to address the shortfall, of which $24 million hospital leaders said was unanticipated. In addition, 439 faculty members at the teaching hospital have taken pay cuts. The cuts come at the same time UMMC is going forward with its $180 million expansion of Batson Children's Hospital, now at the heart of a $100 million fundraising campaign.
Trustees approve UA purchase of lease agreements for University Town Center, Publix on the Strip
The executive committee of the University of Alabama System board of trustees on Thursday approved plans by UA to purchase the leases for University Town Center and Publix for $14.7 million as part of a right-of-first-refusal provision with the company that currently holds the leases. The committee acting on behalf of the full board approved UA purchasing the leasehold interests for the Publix grocery store and tenants of University Town Center on the western edge of campus for $14.7 million from Inland Western Tuscaloosa University LLC. UA owns the property and leased the 4.4 acres to Inland. The deal is expected to close by April 4, UA Vice President of Financial Affairs Lynda Gilbert said. The purchase will allow the university to regain control of an important part of campus, Gilbert said, providing revenue and allowing it to determine tenants.
Auburn University to select new president Monday
Auburn University will select its 19th president at a called board of trustees meeting Monday. President Jay Gogue announced in September his plan to retire as soon as Auburn selected a new president. A 14-member committee headed by Birmingham businessman and Auburn Trustee Raymond J. Harbert is leading the search for the university's next president. The executive search firm R. William Funk and Associates was hired to handle the search.
U. of Tennessee police link 2016 election with jump in assaults
Assault reports at the University of Tennessee's flagship campus in Knoxville more than doubled in 2016, and officials there tied the increase to the election that pitted President Donald Trump against Hillary Clinton. Sixty-four assaults were reported at UT in 2016 compared to 28 in 2015, according to an annual log of campus crime released Thursday by the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation. In an email, Lt. Mike Richardson with UT police teased a possible connection with the unusually close and controversial campaign. "Assaults many times are driven by emotion," Richardson wrote in an email. "2016 was a year that involved a very (contentious) election season, which involved numerous protests in many forms and involved heightened emotion on both sides. We cannot say specifically...every incident was related to this cause, but this could give a reason for such increases."
Arkansas Is Poised to Shield Public-College Police From Records Requests
Arkansas legislators have overwhelmingly voted to provide the campus security forces of public colleges and schools with broad exemptions from the state's freedom-of-information law. The unusual measure, which the State Senate voted on Tuesday to approve and send on to Gov. Asa Hutchinson, declares a host of records kept by campus police and security offices at public colleges to be confidential and exempt from open-records requests. They include any information that, if disclosed, "could reasonably be expected to be detrimental to the public safety," including records dealing with campuses' emergency or security plans or assessments of risks. Also covered is information related to the size or composition of the security forces employed by public colleges. The Associated Press reported last month that the University of Arkansas began advocating for the measure in response to a 2015 request for information on the police officers assigned to a football game.
New Arkansas promise grant looks to boost work force but with restrictions
The free community college programs picking up steam across the country generally allow students to study whatever they want. But a new free community college initiative in Arkansas is looking to push students into the areas where the state has work force needs. To some free-college advocates, the initiative is more restrictive and limiting than other Promise programs, as the efforts are called. Last week, Arkansas Governor Asa Hutchinson signed an act creating the Arkansas Future Grant, or ArFuture. Hutchinson is Republican and both houses of the state's Legislature are led by Republicans. The first grants would be available this fall. The grant doesn't require a minimum high school grade point average to qualify but goes to any traditional or nontraditional student -- meaning recent high school graduates and adults -- who enrolls in a science, technology, engineering or math field, or another high-demand field, at any of the state's community or technical colleges. As a last-dollar grant, ArFuture would go to students only after they've received federal and state aid. Grant recipients must participate in a mentor or community service program, and after graduation, they must work full time in Arkansas for at least three years.
Attorney pushes for closer look at U. of Florida's top leaders
Gainesville attorney Huntley Johnson took his conflict with the University of Florida's top lawyer, Jamie Keith, to the UF Board of Trustees on Thursday, questioning Keith's competence and ethics. Meanwhile, Eighth Circuit State Attorney Bill Cervone said he has received information from another source that raises "concerns" about Keith's office. An investigation is not underway, Cervone said, but said he couldn't rule one out. In his statement to the UF trustees, Johnson included quotes from written complaints about Keith from employees of her office, previously reported by The Sun. He also cited UF documents detailing the hiring of a consultant to work with Keith. Johnson frequently represents athletes accused of disciplinary offenses, pitting him against the UF's general counsel's office. He believes that Keith's office is investigating him, based on public records he's obtained.
Texas A&M's budget could be slashed by $29 million
Texas A&M University could see $29 million in cuts to its current state funding over the next two years under the latest draft of the Texas Senate's state budget. Under the Senate's newly adjusted budget announced Wednesday, each university in the state would receive a 6 to 10 percent reduction of its current 2016-2017 funding levels. The Senate's updated budget proposal marks a shift from its first draft, which caused concern throughout the higher education community for its total removal of special-items funding -- a critical financial component for many regional universities. Texas A&M's College Station campus would account for more than half of the so-called equity adjustment contributed by universities, paying in nearly $77 million of the total amount.
U. of Missouri reveals plans for covering budget cuts
The School of Medicine and campus operations will make the biggest contributions to cover a $17 million gap between budgeted spending and available revenue on the University of Missouri's Columbia campus. MU released figures Thursday showing how unrestricted reserve funds would be used to make up for lost state revenue withheld in January by Gov. Eric Greitens. Under a formula announced by interim Chancellor Hank Foley Wednesday at a general faculty meeting, each unit on campus is being taxed based on its ability to shoulder additional burdens. The decisions only address the immediate shortfall in the budget year that ends June 30. The gap in the coming fiscal year is expected to grow to as much as $50 million, because of continued state funding cuts and declining tuition revenues. The size of the budget shortfall means the university will likely have to cut employees.
Proposed federal budget would imperil Pell and low-income students, critics say
The document outlining the Trump administration's first budget, released in a bare-bones outline Thursday, states that the White House plan "safeguards" the Pell Grant program and would leave the key financial aid source for needy students on "sound financial footing for the next decade." But many advocates for low-income students say the opposite is true. By taking about a third of the program's multi-billion-dollar surplus and cutting other college access programs, they assert, the new administration would jeopardize Pell's long-term sustainability and harm the prospects of low-income students. What the White House is calling its "skinny budget" -- a broad outline of the detailed 2018 fiscal proposal due from the administration later this spring -- seeks an overall cut of 13 percent of the Department of Education's funding from the current year.
Where Will the Government Look for Thousands of New Border Agents? On College Campuses
The Trump administration wants to hire 5,000 new Customs and Border Protection officers, and colleges are a prime recruiting ground.At a University of Maryland University College career fair last week, the scene was familiar: Students and recent alumni of the flagship's online college, dressed in their professional best with blazers, name tags, and business cards, lingered before tables of recruiters, who gave out free merchandise and spoke of job opportunities. The longest line of job seekers was at the U.S. State Department's table -- ironic, since hiring at the department is still stalled under a partial freeze signed by President Trump. Right across from that table, only a handful of prospective hires waited to speak with representatives of an agency with sunnier employment prospects --- U.S. Customs and Border Protection. In a corner, next to a table for the Washington Nationals, a border-patrol agent and a CBP officer, whose job is to maintain security at ports of entry, stood dressed in full uniform, ready to recruit.
Tennessee Bureau of Investigation report: Sexual assaults down at 4 Memphis colleges
One year after five of the seven major institutions of higher learning in Memphis reported increases in sexual assaults, those numbers dropped at every school except the University of Memphis in 2016. That's based on the 2016 "Crime on Campus" report, which was released Thursday by the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation. That mirrors the statewide numbers on sexual assaults, according to the TBI report. From 2015 to 2016, total forcible sexual assaults at the state's campuses decreased by 27 percent. Rapes also saw a 27 percent decrease, dropping from 62 to 45. In 2015, reported sexual assaults increased to varying degrees at the University of Memphis, Rhodes College, Christian Brothers University, Southwest Tennessee Community College and the Memphis College of Art. But in 2016, however, numbers reported to the TBI showed every one of those schools with a drop in that category, except the U of M which increased from six offenses to nine.

Faster pace awaits Mississippi State against Troy in first round of NCAAs
Up-tempo games don't faze Vic Schaefer. In fact, the Mississippi State women's basketball coach offered a warning Thursday to opponents that think his team won't be able to keep pace in up-and-down action. "I think you better be careful about playing my team really fast," Schaefer said. "I think our kids are real comfortable playing in that environment, especially when you have the depth we have. I think we're really, really comfortable playing really fast." But coming off its lowest-scoring game of the season, it remains to be seen if MSU is ready for the high-scoring exploits of the Troy Trojans. That question will be answered at 1:30 p.m. Friday (ESPN2) when second-seeded MSU (29-4) plays host to 15th-seeded Troy (22-10) in the first round of the NCAA tournament at Humphrey Coliseum.
Humpty dance: Road to the Final 4 begins at home
Mississippi State has already had quite a remarkable season. The Bulldogs (29-4) finished second in the SEC and set several school records along the way. But three of the MSU's losses have come in its last five games. The Bulldogs will attempt to get things back on track today as the No. 2 seed hosting 15th-seeded Troy at 1:30 p.m. in the first round of the NCAA tournament on ESPN2. "We've had a really arduous, tough road this year and we were 27-1 at one time," said MSU coach Vic Schaefer. "This team has shown they can do it. It's my job to get them to do it right now. This time of year it's about getting hot. The teams that get hot are the ones that make it the furthest." State is dancing for the third consecutive season and will host the first two rounds of the NCAA tournament for the second straight year.
10 things to know about Mississippi State and its NCAA title chances
Whether you're a die-hard fan of Mississippi State's women's basketball program or just a casual supporter, there is a strong chance you know this much by now: March Madness is set to begin in Starkville on Friday. Second-seeded Mississippi State will play No. 15 Troy in the first round of the NCAA Women's Tournament at Humphrey Coliseum (1:30 p.m., ESPN2). Many have followed MSU's ride all season -- 10,500 showed up at Humphrey Coliseum for the Bulldogs' final regular season game against Tennessee, for example. Now that it is March, that interest in the Bulldogs will likely grow and intensify. Here are 10 things to know about MSU and its chances of making a trip to Dallas, the site of the Final Four.
Mississippi State ready to defend home court in NCAA tourney
Mississippi State's last appearance on its home court was a disaster. Now the Bulldogs have at least one opportunity -- two if things go as planned -- to make things right. No. 2 seed Mississippi State (29-4) hosts No. 15 Troy (22-10) in the first round of the NCAA Tournament in Starkville on Friday. No. 7 DePaul (26-7) faces No. 10 Northern Iowa (24-8) in the regional's other game. The winners will play on Sunday with a trip to Sweet 16 on the line. Mississippi State's last home game was a lopsided 82-64 loss to Tennessee on Feb. 26. The setback -- which came in front of sold out crowd of 10,500 -- cost the Bulldogs a share of the Southeastern Conference regular season title. "There's a little bit of motivation to have some vindication," Mississippi State coach Vic Schaefer said. "Because as everyone knows we did not play well the last time we were in Humphrey Coliseum."
Vic Schaefer committed to Mississippi State's preparedness
Maryann Baker knows a "grinder" when she sees one. As a player at Texas A&M, Baker earned a reputation as a blue-collar worker who grew from a member of the scout team to a standout defensive player who helped the Aggies win a national championship in 2011. Baker's talents grew under the leadership of head coach Gary Blair and assistant coach Vic Schaefer. In that time, Baker had plenty of opportunities to see the commitment Schaefer brought to the program and how his preparation on defense helped the Aggies be so successful. Baker sees the same qualities in Schaefer at Mississippi State. As the program's director of operations, Baker has seen how hard Schaefer has worked to elevate MSU women's basketball from a middle-of-the-road team in the Southeastern Conference to a program that was ranked as high as No. 2 in the nation (USA Today Coaches poll) this season.
A 13-foot problem for opponents
The dimensions of the court at Humphrey Coliseum are as they are throughout college basketball. The court is 94-by-50 feet, the three-point line is 20-feet, nine-inches from the basket, the basket is 10 feet from the floor. Those are not the measurements Troy University's players were most aware of today as they meets Mississippi State in the first round of the NCAA Women's Basketball Tournament at "The Hump." Of far more pressing concern is another number: 13 feet. That is the combined height of Mississippi State's centers -- 6-foot-5 senior Chinwe Okorie and 6-foot-7 sophomore Teaira McCowan. By women's basketball standards, they are ominously tall, one of the tallest center tandems in the nation, in fact. On offensive, they have combined to average 16 points and 12 rebounds per game. Defensively, they've blocked 65 shots between them and altered countless others.
Troy eager to accomplish something special against Mississippi State
Breaking records has become the norm in the Troy University women's basketball program. The Trojans have won 20 or more games in three-consecutive seasons for the first time in program history. They also have led the Sun Belt Conference in scoring each of the last five seasons. On March 12, Troy defeated Louisiana-Lafayette 78-64 in the championship game of the Sun Belt Conference tournament to earn its second-straight appearance in the NCAA tournament, and third overall. But setting records hasn't diminished the special feeling Troy coach Chanda Rigby has associated with each accomplishment. In fact, the school's fifth-year head coach has used her program's success to motivate her players to break even more records and to create even more special occasions.
Northern Iowa wants to make most of NCAA tournament invite
Merit from this season aside, history wasn't on Northern Iowa's side. Before this season, the Missouri Valley Conference earned more than one bid to the NCAA women's basketball tournament 10 times and hadn't accomplished the feat in the last three seasons. Forgetting that UNI had two top-25 Ratings Percentage Index (RPI) wins and eight top-100 RPI opponents, it had to question its postseason fate after losing to Drake in overtime on Sunday in the championship game of the league tournament. Twenty-four hours later, UNI was in the tournament. "Monday, to see our name get called," UNI coach Tanya Warren said, "is really the thrill of victory." Given time to celebrate its bid and travel to Starkville, UNI (24-8) is focused on getting another victory at 11 a.m. Friday against DePaul (26-7) in the first round of the NCAA tournament at Humphrey Coliseum.
Schulte has emerged as scoring leader for DePaul
The reigning Big East Conference Player of the Year described herself as a role player. Her head coach saw right through it. "I always believed (senior guard) Brooke (Schulte) was a scorer. We recruited her to be a scorer," DePaul women's basketball coach Doug Bruno said. "One of the unique aspects of her personality and mental makeup, which I really should have understood earlier, but I didn't get it until (senior guard) Jessica (January) went down, most scorers have a scorer's ego. They want the ball and they want to shoot. It doesn't mean they're selfish, but if you coach scorers, they want the ball. Brooke is a service person. It's very unique to have someone that can score as innately as she does, yet still thinks about serving other people. She's in nursing. That's just her makeup." Schulte will lead seventh-seeded DePaul against 10th-seeded Northern Iowa at 11 a.m. Friday in the first round of the NCAA tournament at Humphrey Coliseum.
Selling tickets still only part of issue for women's game
Doug Bruno likes selling tickets. But as much as the DePaul women's basketball coach believes -- like Mississippi State coach Vic Schaefer -- that offense sells tickets, defense wins games, and defensive rebounding wins championships, he understands there is more to the discussion when it comes to helping the sport grow. Starting today and for the next two weeks, ESPN will take the lead in promoting the NCAA women's basketball tournament and the sport to a bigger audience. As a result, Bruno and 63 other Division I coaches have a bigger platform to talk about the ways women's basketball can grow.
State faces 'toughest draw' in NCAA tournament
Sports columnist Rick Cleveland writes for Mississippi Today: "When I called Van Chancellor's cell phone Thursday morning, he didn't answer, so I left a message. This was the first day of the NCAA Women's Basketball Tournament and I figured he was traveling to one of the sites to do TV work. Five minutes later, he called back. 'No man, I'm on the golf course with my grandson,' Chancellor said. 'Not doing any ESPN work this year. I am where I need to be. It's crowded out here and we're playing really slow, what you got?' ...Chancellor may have become famous for coaching at Ole Miss, but he graduated from Mississippi State and one of his best friends in the coaching business is Vic Schaefer, who has coached Mississippi State to a 29-4 record and a No. 2 seed in the Oklahoma City Regional. ...'I thought Mississippi State drew one of the toughest draws they could possibly get,' Chancellor said."
'Personal touch' has helped Mississippi State women build bigger following
The Dispatch's Adam Minichino writes: "Vic Schaefer knows how to work a court. Whether it is standing still with arms folded tightly across his chest or dancing on the sideline in front of the Mississippi State bench, Schaefer knows how to get his message across and to energize his players and his fans. Schaefer also knows how to work a room. If you needed proof, you only needed to see MSU's fifth-year women's basketball coach add his personal touch to nearly everyone sitting in the bar area of The Veranda on Wednesday night during a special hour-long radio broadcast of DawgTalk. Schaefer walked from the right of the room back around the bar to the left side and shook hands, hugged shoulders, and introduced himself and thanked as many people as he could in between his stints on the radio with MSU women's basketball play-by-play man Jason Crowder."
Diamond Dogs: Defending league champions take five-game winning streak on road
Last year, Mississippi State closed out the regular season with a three-game sweep over Arkansas to claim the SEC Championship. This time around the Bulldogs begin conference play against the Razorbacks, traveling to Fayetteville for a weekend series starting tonight at 6. Saturday's game is scheduled for a 7 p.m. start on the SEC Network and Sunday's finale begins at 1 p.m. "We look forward to the challenge and opportunity to go up there and play a really good Arkansas baseball team," said MSU coach Andy Cannizaro. "It's going to be a tremendous atmosphere. They have a great fan base and I expect there to be great crowds for three straight days. "It'll be another awesome opportunity to take our team out on the road and go see what we're made of." The Diamond Dogs (12-6) enter league play riding a five-game winning streak. MSU is hitting .298 as a team and ranks second in the SEC with 19 home runs.
Konnor Pilkington hopes to get Mississippi State off to strong start against Arkansas
The so-called Cannizaro Effect -- an homage to Mississippi State baseball coach Andy Cannizaro's offensive-minded approach in its first year at MSU -- refers partly to the fact the Bulldogs have 40 stolen bases in 18 games this season after swiping 51 bases last season. The Bulldogs also have hit 19 home runs and are on pace to surpass last year's total of 47. Despite MSU's fast start on the bases and at the plate, it is still looking up at Arkansas. MSU (12-6) will open Southeastern Conference play at 6:30 tonight (SEC Network Bases Loaded) against an Arkansas team that leads the conference in home runs (25) and plays in a park that favors power left-handers. "I know historically the ball kind of flies to right field at Arkansas, especially from the scoreboard over to the foul pole," Cannizaro said.
Brent Rooker fueling Bulldogs' attack
If one sees Brent Rooker pacing in the dugout in between at-bats, it's not because he's nervous. The gesture is part of a routine that is working. Mississippi State's junior has a well-tested method to being an effective designated hitter. Several in the program believe the role is more challenging than it seems, but Rooker thrives in it. In 18 games (all starts and almost all of them at designated hitter), Rooker leads the team in batting average (.431), doubles (11), home runs (five), total bases (54), slugging percentage (.831), RBIs (27), and on-base percentage (.537). "Rooker's awesome. He's probably one the biggest pieces, middle of the lineup bats in the country," MSU coach Andy Cannizaro said.
Hogs' Wes Johnson ready for Bulldogs
University of Arkansas, Fayetteville pitching coach Wes Johnson enjoyed a terrific run last season in his one year at Mississippi State. Johnson sparked a resurgence from the Bulldogs' pitching staff which led to the SEC regular season championship, Mississippi State's first since 1989, and earned the No. 6 seed for the NCAA Tournament, where the Bulldogs were eliminated in a home super regional against NCAA runner-up Arizona. Now back in his home state, Johnson and the Arkansas Razorbacks (14-4) face Mississippi State (12-6) tonight at 6:30 for the start of a three-game series. Arkansas right-hander Blaine Knight (1-1, 2.79 ERA) will oppose Bulldogs southpaw Konnor Pilkington (2-2, 1.73) on the mound. Johnson said he can't get overwrought to face his former team and pitchers he helped develop.
Mississippi State softball team looks for more key hits against No. 11 Alabama
After a disappointing season, a veteran coach always looks for a sign the next season will be different. Mississippi State softball coach Vann Stuedeman received that sign last Friday when her team opened Southeastern Conference play with a 5-2 victory against then-No. 6 Texas A&M in College Station, Texas. While the Bulldogs only won one game in their season-opening SEC series, they had a chance to win all three games. MSU (21-5, 1-2 SEC) will try to take more steps in the right direction when No. 11 Alabama (26-2, 3-0) comes to Nusz Park for a three-game conference series. The opener is at 6 p.m. today.
Regents approve U. of Georgia's $63-million Sanford Stadium project
The state Board of Regents has given the go-ahead for a huge expansion and renovation at the west end of Sanford Stadium, where the University of Georgia football team plays its home games. The project was one of the items on the agenda for approval by the regents, who oversee the state's public colleges and universities, at the board's Wednesday meeting. The expansion is one of the largest building projects yet undertaken by the university or its athletic department, a nonprofit corporation whose board is headed by the UGA president. At $63 million, the project will cost about 31 percent more than UGA's 122,500 square foot Science Learning Center, which opened last year near the university's Stegeman Coliseum, and it will cost more than twice as much as the athletic association's recently dedicated $30.1 million indoor practice facility for football and other sports. The project will take about 17 months to complete.
NCAA Tournament 2017: March Madness Cinderella Stories Send Applications Soaring
Joe McIntire spent 11 hours on a bus, traveling more than 800 miles to see his school's basketball team play in the first round of the NCAA Tournament last March. The 20-year-old sophomore's beloved Florida Gulf Coast University Eagles lost 83-67 to the North Carolina Tar Heels. Back on the bus he went, for another dozen or so hours. The loss didn't sting too much, though: McIntire is planning to go back to the tournament this year. "Me and my friends found out about FGCU when we were watching March Madness," he said. The New Jersey native had never heard of the school, which was established in the 1990s, prior to the 2013 National Collegiate Athletic Association Tournament. After the university's surprising NCAA performance, Google searches for the school spiked. A number of universities that defeated top-seeded competitors during March Madness have seen a similar application bump.
More Smoothies, Less Soda as College Athletic Departments Focus on Nutrition
Almost three years after Connecticut guard Shabazz Napier's stunning admission at the Final Four that he often went to bed "starving," the N.C.A.A. has lifted many of its most archaic restrictions on feeding scholarship athletes. Teams can now supply unlimited meals and snacks, and many programs have hired full-time nutritionists and dietitians to steer athletes into better eating habits. On campus, that means training tables filled with fruits and yogurts, and smoothie bars instead of soda machines. For people like Allison Kellaher, Marquette's coordinator of basketball administration, though, the changes also mean that in addition to her hefty logistical load overseeing the day-to-day operations of a frequently traveling team headed to its first N.C.A.A. tournament since 2013, she now has added another role: nutritionist.

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