NEW YORK – Mississippi State doesn’t need Renardo Sidney to be a good basketball team.
They can make the NCAA Tournament team with their most talented player filling a role. They don’t need Sidney to be an all-american — or even an all-league — caliber player to compete with anyone in the SEC, save Kentucky. They don’t need their 6’11”, 290 lb big man to utilize his quick feet, soft shooting touch and powerful body on the block to win games; they only need him to be 6’11”, 290 lb.
The Bulldogs proved as much on Thursday night at the Garden.
Mississippi State hit five threes and forced six turnovers in the first 10 minutes as they opened up a 31-9 lead on Texas A&M. The Aggies made a push at the end of the first half, cutting the lead to nine, but they were never able to get closer than eight down the stretch. When it was all said and done, Mississippi State earned a trip to tomorrow’s Coaches vs. Cancer final on the heels of a 69-60 win over the No. 18 Aggies, one that wasn’t as close as the final margin indicates.
The game was never in doubt, meaning that its fair to say Mississippi State beat the pants off of a top 20 team.
Sidney’s line? Three points on 0-8 shooting from the field, five boards, a block (on the first possession of the game) and three fouls in 22 minutes.
“I thought he played with pretty good effort,” Mississippi State head coach Rick Stansbury said of Sidney after the game. “What he didn’t do was finish some shots. He’s going to finish those shots. He goes 0-8, but only two of those shots were out of the paint.”
“I’m not concerned about him finishing shots. Its the last thing on that check list.”
He’s got a point. Sidney missed five or six point blank shots, one of which was a put-back dunk. Lazy or not, out of shape or with the endurance of a Kenyan marathoner, Sidney is not going to miss those shots too often. It was just one of those nights. That should give you an idea of the kind of performance that the Bulldogs had tonight.
But where Stansbury errs is when he says Sidney played with pretty good effort. Sidney lolly-gagged up and down the court. He looked allergic to contact, content to stand on the weak side of the floor offensively and simply become a space-eater defensively. The fact that performance is considered a “pretty good effort” for Sidney should provide a glimpse into why he is a non-existent entity on NBA Draft boards.
“If I can get him to play hard,” Stansbury said after the game when asked about what he needs from Sidney. “[Tonight] he didn’t give up much in transition, he was playing with pretty good effort on ball screens, and one of the best things I liked? Late in that basketball game there’s a loose ball and he dove on the floor right in front of our bench. That’s what I need from him.”
But how often is Stansbury going to get that out of Sidney? Every other game? Every other week?
At this point, Sidney is a known quantity. Instead of talking about his potential if this, that and the third happens, its time to accept the fact that he will never reach the level of superstardom he experienced at a 15 year old on the AAU circuit. Sidney is a role-player, plain and simple. For whatever reason, he just doesn’t have the desire to be a great player. Maybe he doesn’t like basketball. Maybe he’s burned out on the public attention. As of today, Sidney’s approach to basketball can best be described as apathetic.
But apathy on the part of Sidney is acceptable as long as he isn’t a trouble-maker. If he is able to keep the peace in the Mississippi State locker room, the Bulldogs are going to be just fine this year.
Dee Bost is a terrific point guard, and while he tends to get a bit out of control — ill-advised shots, difficult passes, too many turnovers — he’s a go-to player and a guy that is capable of scoring and creating shots for his teammates. Arnett Moultrie is a rebounding and shot-blocking presence that has shown to be an improving, albeit inconsistent, scorer on the block. Freshman slasher Rodney Hood has emerged as a secondary scoring option on the perimeter, freshman point guard Deville Smith is an exciting penetrator that allows Bost to spend time playing off the ball and Brian Bryant is a do-it-all glue guy.
There are plenty of pieces on this roster, enough that it isn’t necessary for Sidney to be in a featured role.
Mississippi State fans are allowed to be disappointed and frustrated by Sidney, however. I don’t blame them; he’s frustrating for me as well.
Because if Sidney ever decided that basketball, that this team’s success, was a priority for him, the Bulldogs would have a much, much higher ceiling than they do today. A top five finish in the SEC and an NCAA Tournament bid should be expected for this group with the current version of Sidney; winning a tournament game would make the season a success.
How good would they be if Sidney played to his potential? Would a second-place finish in the SEC be out of the question? Could that group make a run to the Elite 8?
That’s a question we’ll likely never get an answer to, which means that it is a question we need to stop asking.
Rob Dauster is the editor of the college basketball website Ballin’ is a Habit. You can find him on twitter @ballinisahabit.