The Dagger - NCAAB

Since the rest of us haven't had an opportunity to see former McDonald's All-American Renardo Sidney play since high school, Mississippi State senior Ravern Johnson was kind enough to provide an assessment of how the sophomore-to-be has done lately in workouts.

"He looks great," Johnson said Monday by phone. "He's trimmed down, he's motivated and he's playing really well. I think he's going to help us a lot next season once we get him back."

Questions about Sidney as a player have always centered around his work ethic and conditioning rather than his talent, so Johnson's evaluation is promising news for Mississippi State's chances of making the NCAA tournament next March. The 6-foot-10 Sidney missed all of his freshman year because the NCAA ruled him ineligible to play, but he will be allowed to finally make his debut nine games into next season.

To give his team the best chance to make the NCAA tournament, Mississippi State coach Rick Stansbury has designed an unusually creative non-conference schedule that gets more difficult only after Sidney returns

In the first six weeks of the season, the Bulldogs will play a season-opening exhibition game and nine non-conference games against low-major and mid-major competition to reduce the impact of Sidney's absence. Then when Sidney becomes eligible, Mississippi State will play a second exhibition game to ease him into the rotation before beginning the meat of their non-conference schedule with a marquee matchup with Virginia Tech in Nassau on Dec. 18.

The Bulldogs will then compete in the eight-team Diamondhead Classic in Honolulu from Dec. 22 to 25 against the likes of fellow NCAA tournament hopefuls Baylor, Butler and Florida State.

Whether Mississippi State can perform well against that daunting portion of the schedule could depend on the makeup of its roster. Johnson and Sidney should provide the Bulldogs a high-quality inside-outside combination to help overcome the graduation of Jarvis Varnado, but a lack of guard depth figures to be a problem.

Former starter Phil Turner was released from his scholarship last month and three-point marksman Dee Bost's eligibility remains in doubt after he removed his name from the NBA draft a month after the NCAA's deadline to do so. Bost has re-enrolled at Mississippi State and is petitioning the NCAA to allow him to play, but the Bulldogs are preparing as though they will not have him.

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