By Brad Locke/NEMS Daily Journal
You know what’s unique about this Mississippi State basketball team, relative to recent editions? It’s an actual team with no major distractions in its way.
There are no players serving or coming off suspensions – well, except for transfer Kristers Zeidaks – no embarrassing off-court incidents looming over the season as SEC play cranks up. There have been no Twitter mishaps since the season began, no string of bad non-conference losses.
There was that Akron setback in the second game, but since then the Bulldogs have been clipping along on smooth waters. They’re ranked 15th in the country and boast a 13-2 record entering Saturday’s league opener at Arkansas (11-3).
The unfortunate question that the experienced cynic in me can’t help but ask is: Can it last? Especially when Renardo Sidney is still a part of the team?
Hey, he’s earned his reputation. He’s yet to have a normal season at MSU. So far this season, so good – for the most part.
Sidney’s actually played quite well lately. Over his last six games, the 6-foot-10 junior has made 33 of 46 shots (71.7 percent), including 5 of 7 from 3-point range, while averaging 12.7 points and 6.2 rebounds.
He’s been giving a strong effort on defense, too. Has he figured something out?
“He’s either getting in better shape, or he’s learning how to play with that weight and handling that weight better,” assistant coach Phil Cunningham said on Wednesday.
Sidney the key
The Bulldogs just hope the short-tempered Sidney doesn’t resurface very often, like he did in the 54-52 loss to Baylor on Dec. 28. His silly technical foul late in that game helped the Bears pull it out.
He’s the stick of dynamite that could blow up the whole thing. And MSU right now has a really nice team.
The backcourt is deep and has a good mixture of talent, experience and promising youth.
The frontcourt, when Sidney’s right and everyone’s healthy, will be one of the most formidable in the SEC. Arnett Moultrie is a double-double machine, and Wendell Lewis provides a strong presence off the bench.
The freshmen – Rodney Hood and DeVille Smith – are fearless and productive, especially Hood.
This could be the team – should be the team – that gets head coach Rick Stansbury over the Sweet 16 hump. He’s never gotten the Bulldogs that far, and in his 14th season, this is as good a shot as he’ll probably ever have.
State ought to be one of the top three or four teams in the division-less SEC. It ought to get a high NCAA tournament seed. It ought to make a deep run.
For the moment, there is nothing standing in the way of those possibilities.
Brad Locke (firstname.lastname@example.org) covers Mississippi State for the Daily Journal and blogs daily at NEMS360.com.