Mississippi State Bulldogs (Last Year: 17-14, 9-7 in SEC)
2011-12 Projected Depth Chart:
C: Renardo Sidney (Jr)/Wendell Lewis (Jr)/Shawn Long (Fr)
PF: Arnett Moultrie (Jr)/Roquez Johnson (Fr)
SF: Rodney Hood (Fr)/Kristers Zeidaks (So)
SG: Jalen Steele (So)/Brian Bryant (Sr)/Shaun Smith (So)
PG: Dee Bost (Sr)/Deville Smith (Fr)
Gone: G/F-Ravern Johnson, PF-Kodi Augustus, SG-Riley Benock, PF-Elgin Bailey (transfer-SE Louisiana), G-Twany Beckham (transfer-Kentucky), C-John Riek (transfer-University of Tampa?)
Rick Stansbury is due all the credit in the world for keeping his Mississippi State Bulldogs afloat last season after teammates Renardo Sidney and Elgin Bailey brawled in the crowd during one of the games at the Diamond Head Classic in Hawaii. With that black eye on the program now behind them, the Bulldogs have a chance to make some serious noise in the SEC.
Mississippi State loses three starters from last season but will greatly benefit from the addition of two very talented forwards. UTEP transfer Arnett Moultrie becomes eligible after sitting out last season. He has NBA potential due to his combination of size and athleticism and should provide the Bulldogs with a formidable frontcourt when paired up with Renardo Sidney. The oft-troubled big man had a productive first season in Starkville but has not come close to reaching his full potential.
Wendell Lewis is a beast down low and will be the first big man off the bench. He is a defensive presence due to his ability to clean up the glass and block shots. Freshmen Roquez Johnson and Shawn Long will also try to work themselves into the mix. Johnson plays with a high motor and brings good athleticism to the floor, while Long is an intriguing talent due to his height (6-10) and versatility.
The other newcomer expected to make a major splash is Rodney Hood. He was a top-five small forward in the 2011 class and can do a little bit of everything on the floor. Latvian forward Kristers Zeidaks could be an X-factor for State. He is another inside/outside threat, who played for Latvia's U-20 team this summer. There were questions about his amateur status but he should be cleared by the NCAA and eligible to compete at some point this season. Incoming freshman D.J. Gardner who was likely to redshirt had a very short stint as a Bulldog, since he was dismissed from team for "repeated actions deemed detrimental to the team."
The backcourt will be anchored by senior Dee Bost. He is not only a tremendous distributor, but he can also score the basketball and is a solid defender. His leadership and experience will be essential if Mississippi State is going to reach its potential. Freshman Deville Smith dazzled on the team's European trip this summer and will back up Bost at the point.
Brian Bryant and Jalen Steele were both solid reserves a year ago and figure to battle for the other starting backcourt spot. Shaun Smith played sparingly last season and could also factor into the equation. Until somebody takes control of that position though, shooting guard will remain the Bulldogs' most glaring weakness.
This Mississippi State team has four potential NBA players in Sidney, Moultrie, Hood, and Bost so the talent is definitely there. If Stansbury can make the most of that foursome and get the other players to embrace their roles, Mississippi State could be a serious sleeper in the SEC.
Player to Watch: Renardo Sidney, F/C
Sidney's story is well known; having to sit out his first season and the beginning of last year at Mississippi State due to questions regarding his recruitment, and, of course, the aforementioned fight against his own teammate that was caught on national television. In hopes of putting that in his rearview mirror, the 6-foot-10 big man spent this summer working with John Lucas, who has a history of helping troubled ballers find their focus.
Sidney cut some weight, which should help his poor conditioning and make him an even bigger factor this season. He posted solid numbers (14.2 points, 7.6 rebounds) despite playing just slightly more than 25 minutes a night. If he can carry over his work ethic and motivation to this season, Sidney should be a force on floor. If he returns to his old ways, he could be the cause for the Bulldogs' struggles.