By Brad Locke/NEMS Daily Journal
TUPELO – Renardo Sidney can’t be merely good. He has to be great. Otherwise, Rick Stansbury and Mississippi State will look like fools.
Think about how much has been invested in getting Sidney on the court. Stansbury gave him a scholarship last year but couldn’t play him.
The school spent money on high-profile sports attorney Michael Glazier to represent its interests during the NCAA’s nearly year-long amateurism evaluation of Sidney.
Stansbury and State both put their reputations on the line for a kid that UCLA and USC – and most everyone else – backed away from when off-court issues spooked them.
State took on a player who had issues with his weight and with authority.
As the NCAA’s investigation dragged on and on and on, and as the hopes of Sidney playing last season faded, this began looking more and more like a bad move.
Now, you can make a really good argument that the NCAA’s investigation was a sham, not because of the allegations so much as because of the results. They really didn’t find anything, yet Sidney’s punishment was very disproportionate to the alleged wrongdoing.
Nevertheless, it was a big risk for MSU to take. Now, it’s time Sidney make that risk worth it.
Stansbury has repeatedly tried to temper expectations for Sidney while at the same time extolling his reportedly superb talent. I’ve yet to see that talent first-hand outside of a couple of uninspiring intrasquad scrimmages.
The first big test comes Saturday, when MSU travels to the Bahamas to battle Virginia Tech in the Battle at Atlantis. While Sidney should be allowed a breaking-in period – after all, he’s never played in a real college game, because Wednesday’s exhibition against Belhaven doesn’t really count – he doesn’t have much time to get things going.
MSU is 7-2 and can’t afford many more non-conference losses if it hopes to reach the NCAA tournament, and anything short of doing that will make this season – and the Sidney experiment – an utter failure.
The Bulldogs have some tough games ahead of them. After Virginia Tech, they head to Hawaii to take on Washington State in the Diamond Head Classic, and that field includes teams like Baylor, Butler and Utah.
Then it’s a trip to Las Vegas to take on St. Mary’s.
State’s the favorite to win the SEC Western Division this season, but that’s not saying much considering how weak the West is. That means the big RPI hits need to come in two places: Against the SEC East, and against these remaining non-conference foes.
MSU’s already suffered a couple of inexcusable losses to Florida Atlantic and East Tennessee State – by a combined three points – so the hole cannot be dug any deeper.
Entering SEC play on Jan. 8 with a record of, say, 10-4, would mean the Bulldogs would have to win 12, maybe 13 league games to feel comfortable about getting an NCAA at-large bid.
Conventional wisdom holds that Sidney is gone after this season, which means MSU has him for 21 games plus the postseason. That’s not a whole lot of mileage considering all the work Stansbury and the school have put in to get him on the floor.
Better make it count, and quickly.
Brad Locke (firstname.lastname@example.org) covers Mississippi State for the Daily Journal and blogs daily at NEMS360.com.