BIRMINGHAM – The expectations for Mississippi State basketball are now official.
The Bulldogs, who made a surprise run to the SEC Tournament title last season, were picked by the media to win the SEC Western Division this year, the league announced Monday. They received 22 of a possible 25 first-place votes.
State has won four division titles under Rick Stansbury, who’s entering his 12th season as head coach in Starkville.
“It doesn’t matter where you are picked to finish,” Stansbury said. “All that matters is where you finish. These polls are more for the fans to talk about. But, hey, it’s nice to be picked and recognized. As I always say, our goal is to always win championships.”
Ole Miss was second with two first-place votes, followed by Alabama, LSU (one first-place vote), Arkansas and Auburn.
Kentucky was tabbed as the Eastern Division and overall champion by an overwhemling majority of the voters.
MSU finished the 2008-09 season at 23-13 overall and 9-7 in the SEC, good for third in the division. It returns all five starters and has a heralded signing class with or without Renardo Sidney, the McDonald’s All-American who’s the subject of an NCAA amateurism evaluation and might never suit up for MSU.
All-SEC first teamers
One of the returning starters is senior center Jarvis Varnado, who’s on pace to become the SEC’s all-time blocks leader and should threaten the national record, too.
Varnado was selected as an All-SEC preseason first-teamer, along with South Carolina’s Devan Downey, Tennessee’s Tyler Smith, Ole Miss’ Terrico White and Kentucky’s Patrick Patterson, the preseason SEC Player of the Year.
Varnado averaged 12.9 points and 8.8 rebounds last season. White, a sophomore, averaged 13.7 points, 3.4 rebounds and 2.3 assists last season. He took over point guard duties after starter Chris Warren went down with a knee injury in December.
Warren was named to the second team. He’s one of three Ole Miss starters who were severely limited by injury last season – Trevor Gaskins missed the whole year, and Eniel Polynice played only one game.
Ole Miss finished fifth in the West last season, going 16-15 overall and 7-9 in league play.
Brad Locke/NEMS Daily Journal