While the bright lights of the ESPN U cameras were in Queens and Tucson on Monday night, the most interesting storyline of Opening Night for the 2011-2012 college basketball season was taking place in relative obscurity down in Starkville, MS, where the only “televised” broadcast could be found for a fee of $99 (for a season pass, of course) on the Mississippi State website.
There, Renardo Sidney — the oft-maligned but obscenely-talented junior forward for the Bulldogs — was taking the floor for the first time this season as Mississippi State took on Eastern Kentucky.
The Bulldogs escaped with a slightly closer-than-expected 76-66 win. Dee Bost led the way with 23 points, six assists and six boards, using two steals to help offset his five turnovers. Arnett Moultrie, playing his first game in a Bulldog uniform, added 13 points, 10 boards, two blocks and two steals. Perhaps the most impressive performance came from Rodney Hood, a freshman forward that notched 12 points, nine boards and four assists while hitting a handful of key shots late in the game.
But where was Sidney?
He finished with just nine points and three boards, playing only 23 minutes. He was benched for the last five minutes of the game. It doesn’t exactly sound like he’s changed all that much, does it?
“We had the flow of the game. We were flowing OK and we went small,” Rick Stansbury said after the game.
“He’s better than he was, but we still want more from him,” he added. “We need more from him.”
Obviously, the focus of the outside world on Mississippi State is going to center on the success of Sidney. His story is one that’s so hard to ignore — admit it, you rubber neck every time you drive past an accident on the highway — that its always going to be in the headlines. And it shouldn’t be any different; Sidney has enough talent to be the difference maker for Mississippi State. He takes this team from competitive to really, really good.
If he’s in shape and buying in to the team.
And those are a couple major ‘ifs’.
But I will say this: if Rick Stansbury gets some of the performances he got last night all season long, he may not need Sidney to be a star. If Bost can be a go-to playmaker, Moultrie is a defensive force and a double-double presence, and Hood plays close to this level, the Bulldogs have the makings of a tournament team.
Regardless of which Renardo Sidney shows up.