By Brad Locke/NEMS Daily Journal
ATHENS, Ga. – Mississippi State’s path to a respectable season runs through the SEC’s Eastern Division, and that journey begins today.
MSU (10-7, 2-1 SEC) take on Georgia (13-4, 2-2) at 3 p.m. at Stegeman Coliseum, the first of three consecutive games against teams from the other side of the conference. Next week are home games against Vanderbilt (13-4, 2-2) on Thursday and East co-leader Florida (14-4, 3-1) on Saturday.
“These three games go to show where we stand in the SEC, because (they’re) the three top teams in the SEC,” point guard Dee Bost said. “If we can compete with them, then we can compete with anybody.”
The Bulldogs have won two in a row, against Ole Miss and Auburn, who are a combined 0-8 in SEC play. Prior to that was a 75-57 home loss to Alabama, which upended No. 12 Kentucky on Tuesday.
So it’s a little hard to gauge where MSU stands right now, although it’s become clear that the return of Bost and big man Renardo Sidney has helped tremendously with both chemistry and collective confidence.
“I’ve got to keep things in perspective,” 13th-year coach Rick Stansbury said. “I understand where our team is, where it was, and what is now, and what I think it can still be. And again, only time’s going to heal some of those things, and the more we play together the better we’re going to play.”
What these next three games mean is a chance for MSU to boost its RPI – as of Friday, it was 188th in the RPI rankings, according to RealTimeRPI.com.
Georgia is 44th, Vandy 20th and Florida 19th.
“We need those three wins,” Bost said. “It’d be three quality wins that we must have, because of our schedule.”
But first is Georgia, which poses quite the challenge. It has good guards and is led by junior guard/forward Travis Leslie (14.5 points, 7.4 rebounds per game).
Then there’s the preseason SEC player of the year, junior forward Trey Thompkins (17.6 ppg, 7.1 rpg).
Between Bost, Riley Benock, Brian Bryant, Ravern Johnson and Jalen Steele, MSU should be able to hang with Georgia’s backcourt. The frontcourt is where issues could arise.
Besides the 6-foot-10, 245-pound Thompkins, there’s senior Jeremy Price (6-8, 270) and senior reserve Chris Barnes (6-8, 240).
It’ll be a big test for the sophomore Sidney, who’s had some success defending on the blocks but is vulnerable to big men who have an outside touch, like Thompkins does.
That’s why 6-8 senior Kodi Augustus will probably guard Thompkins.
“He presents a lot of problems,” Stansbury said. “He’s an inside-outside player, he’s got a good basketball IQ and a good skill level, and he’s a really experienced player, too. Put all those together, Sidney, it will be a huge challenge not just for him, but for everybody else that has to play against him.”
On the offensive end, the 6-10 Sidney’s shown more aggression, and with three consecutive games under his belt seems to be making progress. He’s averaging 14.4 points in five total games.
Between Sidney and Bost, Georgia coach Mark Fox has plenty to worry about.
“He was dynamite, just so good in every area,” Fox said of Bost. “And Sidney obviously is finishing plays, has just got such great ability. You’re talking about two guys with pro-type talent that they’ve added to their team now, and that’ll make a huge difference.”
Contact Brad Locke at 678-1571