Any talk of the Bulldogs has to focus on Renardo Sidney. The junior power forward was a Top 10 recruit in 2009—a freakish beast of a man who seemed sure to succeed.
Other highly ranked players in that class—John Wall, Derrick Favors, DeMarcus Cousins, Avery Bradley, and Xavier Henry—have finished their college careers and moved on to the next level. Meanwhile, Sidney has starred in a bizarre and pathetic soap opera.
He was suspended for all of his freshman year and 30 percent of his sophomore season after his parents redefined the art of taking illegal benefits. To add to his issues, after he took the benefits, he lied repeatedly and creatively to the NCAA about it.
He wasn’t exactly the model citizen either when he returned late in non-conference play. First, he was suspended one game after his initial game for causing a disturbance in practice. He returned to action and celebrated that by getting in a brawl with teammate Elgin Bailey in the stands after a game.
That led to another two-game suspension. You have to wonder why the Bulldogs bothered with him at all, but his play in conference action provided some answers—he averaged 13 points and eight rebounds and was consistently almost impossible to guard.
He’s a difference maker on the court, even if he’s a liability off of it.
After the tumultuous start to his career, you might think he’d settle down and behave this year. Early indications are that you would be wrong. When the team went on a trip to Europe in August to play five exhibition games, Sidney skipped out and trained by himself in Houston.
If Sidney can stay on the court and play to his potential, then this team could be more than solid. But the chances of that working out for a whole season seem slim at best.
2011-12 Mississippi State Bulldogs College Basketball Outlook
The bright side for this team is that if and when Sidney has some issues, there is a nice backup. Arnett Moultrie transferred from UTEP and is now eligible. He averaged almost 10 points and seven boards as a sophomore and has worked on his game and his body during his year off.
Moultrie can quickly become more than a backup. If he and Sidney can find chemistry, they could be one of the best frontcourts in the SEC.
Dee Bost is another key to this team. The senior point guard missed the first half of last year because of suspensions—a recurring theme for this squad—but came back strong, including piling up at least eight assists in six games. He’s a playmaker and versatile enough to play shooting guard to get another point guard, senior Brian Bryant or freshman Deville Smith, onto the field.
Coach Rick Stansbury has even talked about putting three guards on the court at once to pick up the pace and create some defensive issues for the opponent.
Sophomore Jalen Steele is another player to keep a close eye on. He was just finding his game and turning into a useful player last year when he tore his ACL. He’s back and ready to go. He could be a potent depth player off the bench or another part of what should be a very good backcourt rotation, if he is ready from the start.
The team certainly suffered some losses. Leading scorer Ravern Johnson graduated. His departure should mean less drama around the team though—he was suspended in February for tweeting critical comments about his coach.
Guard Twany Beckham left the team in January and transferred to Kentucky. Kodi Augustus was the only player to start every game last year, and he and his 12 points and seven rebounds are gone from the frontcourt.
Despite those losses, the team still has a lot of talent and is adding more.
Moultrie is a big addition. Aside from that, Rodney Hood is the prize of this class. The 5-star recruit was the Mississippi Player of the Year last year. He’s an all-around player who has a very good chance to be the third part of the Sidney-Moultrie frontcourt.
Those three together could be fun to watch, if they can manage to limit the drama.
Point guard Deville Smith is a 4-star guy who is more of a scorer than a playmaker, but who is relentless defensively. He had a great trip to Europe and is already the coach’s favorite, so he’ll have a chance to contribute right away.
Three other freshmen join the team but will likely be limited in their minutes in the frontcourt this year—Roquez Johnson, Shawn Long, and Latvian import Kristers Zeidaks.
All in all, the Bulldogs add a Top-15 recruiting class and a nice transfer, and they have the luxury of starting the season without long-term suspensions and without the attitude struggles that Johnson and Bailey brought.
2011-12 Mississippi State Basketball Schedule
The non-conference season is generally soft, though there are some tough games against Baylor, West Virginia, and future conference-mate Texas A&M.
Their SEC schedule isn’t as tough as it could be since they only face the three best teams in the conference once each—Kentucky, Florida, and Vanderbilt—and they get Kentucky at home.
2011-12 Mississippi State Predictions for College Basketball
If Sidney were a good citizen, then this team is a tournament-team for sure and would be a tough matchup once they get there. If he flakes out early, the team could still be decent and even be in the tournament mix.
The worst-case scenario would be if Sidney sticks around all year but continues to be a distraction and a negative influence.
I like the core the team has built, though, and I am reasonably optimistic that the new players can quickly be worked into the rotation. I’ll keep a close eye on Sidney and look to bet on this team while he’s in good form.
Doc Moseman is the owner of Doc’s Sports college basketball picks Web site.