All about the SEC: Sidney’s start

I’ll be in Lawrence, Kan., Saturday covering the collegiate debut of touted Kansas freshman Josh Selby against USC. But I’d rather go to the Bahamas.

Not to tan on the beach.

Not to gamble in Nassau.

And certainly not to fatten up on conch fritters.

Instead, I’d buy a ticket to watch Renardo Sidney play his first game at Mississippi State. Like so many other college basketball fans, I’m eager to see what all the fuss is about.

The 6-foot-10, 280-pound Sidney sat out in 2009-10 while the NCAA investigated whether he and his family received impermissible benefits while Sidney attended high school in Los Angeles. Sidney was eventually deemed ineligible for the first nine games of this season.

On Saturday, Sidney will be the only player in the country capable of stealing the spotlight from Selby when he makes his debut against Virginia Tech in the Bahamas.

Excited as the Bulldogs are about adding him to the mix, there is reason to be concerned about Sidney and the impact he’ll have on his team. Sidney was allowed to play in Wednesday’s exhibition game against Belhaven College in his native Jackson, Miss. Although I didn’t see it, all reports indicated that Sidney was glaringly out of shape and repeatedly had to be removed from the court because of cramping.

Sidney finished with 10 points and six rebounds in 15 minutes, but he clearly didn’t look like the NBA-caliber player coach Rick Stansbury bragged about all offseason.

“I thought I was going to get 30 [points] and 20 [rebounds],” Sidney told the Jackson Clarion Ledger. “I was cramping real bad. It was just a poor game decision, not hydrating real well. I’ve got to do better and hydrate and eat more bananas.”

I’ll buy that excuse – for now.

But if this turns out to be more than a one-time thing – if Sidney truly is the same overweight, out-of-shape, uninspired player he was when he showed up on campus nearly 18 months ago – then it’s a reflection not only on him but on Mississippi State’s staff, particularly the strength and conditioning coaches.

There’s no way the top player on an NCAA tournament-caliber team should be allowed to fall so far behind that he can only make it up and down the court a few times before removing himself from the game. If the player is lazy during workouts, discipline him. If he doesn’t respond, suspend him. If that doesn’t work, kick him out of the program.

It may sound harsh, I get the sense that some Bulldogs fans have had enough of Renardo Sidney – and he hasn’t even played his first game. His presence was a huge distraction last season while the NCAA investigated his case. Week after week, Stansbury was told a decision would come within days, so early on he adjusted his practices accordingly.

It was until mid-January that Stansbury resigned himself to the reality that Sidney would miss the entire year. Still, the attention and time Sidney commanded probably cost the Bulldogs a few games, which was huge considering they were probably one or two wins away from making the NCAA tournament.

Now, almost a year later, Sidney is finally ready to make his debut – and reports are that he’s still not ready?

If true, along with being excusable, it’d also be a shame.

LEAGUE RANKINGS

(Last week’s rank in parenthesis.)

1. Kentucky (7-2)Mississippi Valley State, Winthrop and Coppin State are next. (1)

2. Tennessee (7-1) – Did the Vols get complacent after beating Pittsburgh – or was Oakland just that good? (2)

3. Vanderbilt (7-2) – Festus Ezeli is 28-of-35 from the field over his last four games. (3)

4. Florida (7-2) – The Gators have held their last four opponents to an average of 51.5 points. (4)

5. Georgia (6-2) – Trey Thompkins is 33 points shy of 1,000 for his career. (5)

6. South Carolina (7-1) – The Gamecocks’ only loss is against Michigan State. (7)

7. Mississippi State (7-2) – The Bulldogs’ two losses are against Florida Atlantic and East Tennessee State. (6)

8. Arkansas (7-1) – The Razorbacks have won five straight. (8)

9. Ole Miss (6-2) – Chris Warren is shooting 94.4 percent from the free-throw line. (9)

10. Alabama (5-5) – The Crimson Tide showed some good signs in last week’s 82-70 loss at Providence. (11)

11. LSU (7-3) – Thursday’s victory over McNeee State didn’t make up for a home loss to Coastal Carolina on Monday. (10)

12. Auburn (3-6) – Earnest Ross had his second career double-double against South Florida on Wednesday. (12)

WHO’S HOT?

Vernon Macklin, Florida – The 6-foot-10, 240-pound forward is averaging 17 points and 6.7 rebounds over his last three games. He’s made 24-of-32 field goal attempts (75 percent) during that span. Physically, Macklin is as imposing of a frontcourt player as there is in the SEC. If he develops a mean streak … watch out.

Arkansas in the paint – The Razorbacks are averaging eight blocked shots per game – a mark that ranks third in the country. Delvon Johnson is swatting an average of 4.1 field goal attempts per contest, which ranks second in the country. Glenn Bryant, who averages 2.6 blocks, is 25th.

Brandon Knight, Kentucky – The freshman point guard averaged 19 points, five rebounds and 4.5 assists in wins over Notre Dame and Indiana last week. Against Notre Dame Knight reached the 20-point plateau for the fourth time this season. And he made all 10 of his free throws in Kentucky’s victory over Indiana.

WHO’S NOT?

Auburn – In the last week the Tigers have lost to two of the worst teams in the Big East in South Florida and Rutgers.

Georgia’s defense – One of the reasons Georgia has labored to beat mediocre teams (i.e. Georgia Tech, UAB and Manhattan) is because of the Bulldogs’ poor defensive performance. Teams are shooting an average of 42.8 percent against Mark Fox’s squad and 41.7 percent from 3-point range. Both of those figures rank last in the SEC. That’s saying something.

Bad losses – Each league has its share, but no other conference can touch the SEC when it comes to defeats against non-Big Six schools. Mississippi State lost to East Tennessee State and Florida Atlantic. LSU fell to Nicholls State and Coastal Carolina. Tennessee (which lost to Oakland) and Ole Miss (Dayton) have also been upset along with Florida (Central Florida). Georgia lost to Temple, but the Owls were ranked No. 21 at the time. St. Peter’s beat Alabama, UAB topped Arkansas and Auburn, well … I’m running out of room. The Tigers have four losses against mid-major teams.

NOTEWORTHY

The conference emerged with a 3-1 victory in the Big East/SEC Challenge. Tennessee, Notre Dame and Kentucky each earned victories. Auburn, which fell to Rutgers, was the only league participant to suffer a loss … Next year’s challenge will feature all 12 SEC teams against 12 teams from the Big East … Ole Miss guard Chris Warren became the 11th player in school history to score 1,500 or more points … Tennessee’s Scotty Hopson was named SEC Player of the Week for his career-high 27-rebound effort in the Vols’ upset of then-No. 3 Pittsburgh … Auburn’s Earnest Ross had his second career double-double with 15 points and 10 rebounds against Rutgers … Kentucky out-rebounded Indiana 45-33 Saturday … John Calipari has yet to lose a game at Rupp Arena, where he’s 21-0 … Mississippi State made 15 3-pointers in Monday’s victory over North Carolina A&T. The total was one shy of the school record of 16.

THREE TO WATCH

Florida vs. Kansas State, Saturday – The Gators face a Top 10 team for the second time this season. The game is in Sunrise, Fla.

Mississippi State vs. Virginia Tech, Saturday – Renardo Sidney makes his long-awaited collegiate debut in the Bahamas, but Ravern Johnson is just as important to the Bulldogs’ victory hopes.

Arkansas vs. Texas A&M, Saturday – An old Southwest Conference rivalry will be rekindled in Dallas, If only for a day.

Jason King is a college football and basketball writer for Yahoo! Sports. Follow him on Twitter. Send Jason a question or comment for potential use in a future column or webcast.
Updated Friday, Dec 17, 2010