Sidney, though, has yet to be cleared by the NCAA – and lately it hasn't even mattered.
The Bulldogs are doing just fine without him.
Wednesday's 80-69 victory over Wright State marked the fifth straight win for the Bulldogs, who at 8-2 hardly resemble the team that lost to Richmond and Rider during the first two weeks of the season.
Even more encouraging is that 7-foot-1, 250-pound center John Riek is slated to become eligible this weekend, giving the Bulldogs another dominating post presence alongside Jarvis Varnado, who averages 5.2 blocks. The addition of Riek should elevate Mississippi State's status which, in turn, will enhance the reputation of the SEC.
After getting just three teams into the NCAA tournament last spring, the 2009-10 season opened with high expectations for the league. The thought was that as many as six or seven teams could earn berths to the Big Dance.
For the most part the conference has performed admirably. Bolstered by the nation's top recruiting class, Kentucky is 10-0 under new coach John Calipari. Tennessee is where it was expected to be at 8-1 while Florida – which missed the past two NCAA tournaments – has been a bit of a surprise at 8-1. The Gators upended defending national runner-up Michigan State earlier this month.
Other than Kentucky and Tennessee, the two best schools in the league may be Mississippi State and Ole Miss. The Rebels are 9-1, with their only loss coming against Villanova. If Ole Miss continues to progress it'll be destined for a spot in the NCAAs. Same goes for the Bulldogs.
With or without Sidney.
3. Georgia Tech (8-1) – That's seven straight wins for the Yellow Jackets, not that anyone's counting. (3)
5. Miami (10-1) – The record is nice, but the Hurricanes' nonconference schedule is embarrassing. (6)
8. Maryland (6-3) – Other than Indiana, the Terps have zero wins against quality opponents. (9)
11. Boston College (6-4) – On a national level, the Eagles won't ever be taken seriously until they develop some consistency. (5)
12. Virginia (4-4) – The Cavaliers' much-needed, 12-day break ends Saturday. We'll see if it helped them. (12)
Georgia Tech – The loss of Iman Shumpert to a knee injury hasn't done anything to derail the Yellow Jackets, who have won their last seven games by an average of 15 points. Gani Lawal is averaging 16.5 points and 9.9 rebounds while frontcourt mate Derrick Favors (13.5 and 8.5) has scored in double figures in every game this season.
Boston College – One week after beating Providence, Michigan and Miami, the Eagles are hurting after consecutive losses to Harvard and Rhode Island. When teams are that up and down, it's usually a coaching issue. Al Skinner's squad obviously has talent. It's up to him to find a way to maximize it.
THREE TO WATCH
North Carolina vs. Texas at Dallas Cowboys Stadium in Arlington, Texas – The Tar Heels and Longhorns are two of the nation's deepest teams. The frontcourt matchup should be worth the price of admission.
Gonzaga vs. Duke in Madison Square Garden – Duke is playing extremely well – but so are the Zags, who will provide a much-needed test for the Blue Devils before ACC play begins.
N.C. State at Wake Forest and Florida State at Georgia Tech – Two great matchups to tip off ACC play.
2. West Virginia (7-0) – Next week's game against Mississippi will be the toughest test to date. (2)
4. Villanova (9-1) – The Wildcats are in the midst of a three-week stretch with no home games. (3)
5. Georgetown (8-0) – The Hoyas should be 10-0 entering their New Year's Eve clash with St. John's. (6)
6. Cincinnati (6-3) – The Bearcats suffered consecutive losses against unranked, non-Big Six schools … ouch. (5)
7. Seton Hall (8-0) – The return of Keon Lawrence should provide a huge boost. (8)
10. Notre Dame (9-2) – You lose when you don't play defense – even against Loyola Marymount. (10)
13. Louisville (6-3) – Just when they thought things couldn't get any worse, the Cardinals lost to Western Carolina. (12)
14. Providence (7-4) – The Friars open Big East play Wednesday at Notre Dame. (14)
16. Rutgers (7-2) – That's four in a row for Fred Hill's Scarlet Knights. (16)
Connecticut – Last week's 64-61 loss to Kentucky could actually end up being beneficial to the Huskies, who showed a lot of positive signs in the defeat. Gavin Edwards and Alex Oriakhi didn't back down from the Wildcats' imposing frontcourt. And guards Kemba Walker and Jerome Dyson went toe-to-toe with John Wall and Eric Bledsoe for most of the game. Connecticut is good enough to contend for the Big East title if it continues to play with the toughness it exhibited against Kentucky.
Louisville – The Cardinals are in a deep funk – and they may not recover. Rick Pitino's squad has lost three of its last five games and still must play upset-minded Radford and Western Kentucky before opening Big East play. Louisville doesn't have enough talent to finish in the top half of the Big East. There are some nice role players on this team but there is no starpower.
THREE TO WATCH
Western Kentucky at Louisville – The Hilltoppers have already defeated Vanderbilt, which is a much better team than Louisville.
Temple at Seton Hall – This would be a huge momentum-builder for the Pirates, who will be facing a Temple squad that's riding high on momentum following its upset of Villanova.
Purdue – Even more impressive than the Boilermakers' undefeated record is their poise and ability to thrive in close games. Matt Painter's squad rallied from a 16-point second-half deficit in Saturday's 73-65 victory at Alabama. There have also been hard-fought wins against Tennessee and Wake Forest. Purdue has prepared itself well for Big Ten play.
Penn State – The Nittany Lions haven't done much to capitalize on last season's NIT championship. Talor Battle (18.8 points) is playing well, but that hasn't eased the pain of losses against schools such as N.C. Wilmington, Tulane, Temple and Virginia Tech.
THREE TO WATCH
Michigan at Kansas – The Jayhawks should win easily, but this is still a good chance for Manny Harris to make a name for himself on a national stage.
Michigan State at Texas – Win or lose, the Spartans will be better in March because they played this game.
2. Texas (9-0) – No team in the country has a bigger upcoming week than the Longhorns, who face North Carolina and Michigan State. (2)
3. Kansas State (9-1) – The Wildcats went from unranked to No. 17. Finally, some respect. (4)
4. Texas Tech (9-0) – Saturday's game at Wichita State will be the first action for the Red Raiders in 11 days.
5. Texas A&M (8-2) – Just when it looks as if they're ready to take off, the Aggies lose to a non-Big Six school (New Mexico). So disappointing. (3)
8. Oklahoma (7-3) – The Sooners needed overtime to defeat the same Utah squad that Oklahoma State beat by 22 points. (7)
9. Iowa State (7-3) – Last week's victory over Iowa snapped a three-game losing streak. (11)
10. Missouri (6-3) – The Tigers' loss at Oral Roberts was one of the Big 12's worst defeats this season. (7)
12. Colorado (6-4) – Prediction: The Buffaloes will win four to six Big 12 games. (10)
Baylor – The 2009-10 season was supposed to be a rebuilding year for the Bears. But this Baylor team seems as if it could be better than the one that reached the NIT championship with seniors Curtis Jerrells, Kevin Rogers and Henry Dugat. The addition of Michigan transfer Ekpe Udoh has helped, along with the improvement of made by point guard Tweety Carter. If LaceDarius Dunn breaks out of his shooting slump the Bears are capable of reaching the NCAA tournament.
Missouri – One season after reaching the Elite Eight, the Tigers are going to have serious problems making the NCAA tournament with losses to schools such as Richmond and Oral Roberts. Missouri's decline shouldn't be all that surprising considering it lost its top three scorers (Leo Lyons, DeMarre Carroll and Matt Lawrence). Still, expectations have risen in Columbia, which makes what has happened thus far tough to swallow.
THREE TO WATCH
Kansas State at Alabama – Texas-North Carolina and Michigan-Kansas will garner most of the attention, but Kansas State faces a stiff challenge against an Alabama squad that led No. 4 Purdue by 16 in the second half before losing.
Cal at Kansas – The Bears are deadly from beyond the arc, but they don't have the bodies – especially down low – to challenge the Jayhawks.
4. Arizona State (7-3) – The Sun Devils are balanced on offense, with four players averaging between nine and 13 points. (5)
5. Stanford (5-4) – Northwestern and Texas Tech will present huge challenges before league play. (6)
7. Oregon State (4-5) – The Beavers became the second team (along with USC) to lose to Big 12 bottom feeder Nebraska. (7)
8. USC (4-4) – The Trojans' brutally tough schedule doesn't get any easier with Saturday's trip to Tennessee. (10)
9. Oregon (5-4) – The loss to St. Mary's was the fourth for the Ducks in their past six games. (9)
10. UCLA (3-6) – Tuesday's win over New Mexico State snapped a five-game losing streak. Up next: Notre Dame. (8)
Cal – The Bears recently picked up two solid wins against Iowa State and Pacific, leading to speculation that they may be a little better than we thought a few weeks ago. Theo Robertson is healthy again, and it's obvious his absence may have been a factor in single-digit losses against Ohio State and New Mexico. Mike Montgomery's squad may be the only team capable of challenging Washington for the Pac-10 title.
Arizona – The Wildcats have lost four of their past five games – mostly in convincing fashion. And things could get even worse with nonconference games against North Carolina State and BYU looming before league play begins at USC on New Year's Eve.
THREE TO WATCH
San Diego State at Arizona State – This is a great chance for the Pac-10 to pick up a noteworthy win against a team with a good reputation.
Stanford at Northwestern – The Cardinal has been up-and-down but, hey, if you can hang with Kentucky, you can hang with anyone.
Texas A&M at Washington – Beating the No. 23 Aggies would look good on Washington's postseason résumé.
1. Kentucky (10-0) – Kudos to the Wildcats, who survived the North Carolina-Connecticut-Indiana gauntlet. (1)
2. Tennessee (8-1) – The Vols have two more easy games before a showdown at Memphis on Dec. 31. (2)
4. Florida (8-1) – There's no shame in losing to a very good Syracuse squad. (3)
5. Mississippi State (8-2) – The Bulldogs are preparing for the debut of John Riek. (8)
6. Alabama (7-3) – Anthony Grant has been one of college basketball's top first-year coaches. (6)
10. Auburn (5-4) – Thursday's game at Florida State will be the Tigers' first in 10 days. (10)
12. Arkansas (5-5) – Can the Razorbacks knock off undefeated Missouri State on Tuesday? (12)
Even without Renardo Sidney, the Bulldogs are finally beginning to play like the Top 25 team many people thought they'd be. They beat DePaul by 31 points a week ago before posting an 18-point victory at UCLA on Saturday. With Ravern Johnson (14.3 points) heating up and Jarvis Varnado averaging 5.3 blocks, Mississippi State is capable of challenging for the SEC West title.
Back-to-back losses to Illinois and Western Kentucky have Commodores fans in a tizzy – and rightfully so. This was supposed to be one of Vanderbilt's best seasons in years. Instead, star forward A.J. Ogilvy was recently benched because of a lack of effort, and highly-touted recruit John Jenkins is struggling with his trademark outside shot. Jenkins has missed 16 of his last 22 attempts from beyond the arc.
THREE TO WATCH
Kansas State at Alabama – The Crimson Tide is looking to defeat a ranked team after watching their 16-point second-half lead slip away against No. 4 Purdue.
LSU at Washington State – The rebuilding Tigers haven't fared well against formidable opponents, but that could change against one of the better teams from the dreadful Pac-10.
Mississippi at West Virginia – Beating a Final Four contender would provide the perfect jolt of momentum for the Rebels as they enter SEC play.
1. New Mexico (11-0) – Victories over Texas A&M and Cal make the Lobos No. 1. (5)
2. Gonzaga (8-2) – Two losses have come by a combined six points. (1)
3. Butler (7-3) – The Bulldogs finally beat a high-profile team in Ohio State. (3)
5. Temple (8-2) – The Owls – who beat Villanova – play one of the country's toughest schedules. (NR)
6. Alabama-Birmingham (9-1) – Wednesday's win over Cincinnati put the Blazers on the map. (NR)
7. Missouri State (9-0) – Former Purdue standout Cuonzo Martin coaches the Bears. (NR)
9. Northern Iowa (7-1) – The Panthers have won six straight since a Nov. 20 loss to DePaul. (NR)
10. St. Mary's (8-1) – Omar Samhan is one of the best players you've never heard of. (10)
11. Dayton (7-2) – Flyers are flying under the radar. (6)
12. UNLV (8-1) – It will be interesting to see how a 15-point loss to Kansas State will impact the Rebels' confidence. (2)
New Mexico – The Lobos didn't have to go to College Station to defeat Texas A&M. Instead, they did it in nearby Houston, where the Aggies have a large fanbase. Couple that victory with wins against Cal and San Diego, and it's easy to see why Steve Alford's squad is at the top of the list. Staying there won't be easy, though. New Mexico still has nonconference games against Creighton, Texas Tech and Dayton.
It may have been a little early to put Lon Kruger's team in the Top 25. Before getting demolished by Kansas State, the Rebels had won their previous three games by a combined 10 points.
THREE TO WATCH
Creighton at New Mexico – Two of the game's most underrated coaches (Dana Altman and Steve Alford) go head to head.
Gonzaga at Duke – No one thinks the Zags can win at MSG – except for the Zags themselves.
Xavier at Butler – The Musketeers are feeling good about themselves after beating Cincinnati. But will they still be puffing out their chests after a visit to Hinkle Fieldhouse?
- Mississippi State