It’s cold and snowy in Blacksburg, but the Virginia Tech basketball team is enjoying a nice weekend in the Bahamas as they get set to play Mississippi State in a big neutral site game.
They’ll be facing a Bulldog team that played for the SEC Championship last season. They are 7-2 on the season, with all nine of their games coming in the friendly confines of Humphrey Coliseum. Their best wins came against Appalachian State (76-74) and Nicholls State (67-58), but they’ve also dropped games to Florida Atlantic and East Tennessee State.
Starting guard Dee Bost is suspended until January 8 because he pulled his name out of the NBA Draft after the deadline. That is one of the main reasons the Bulldogs have struggled early in the season.
However, the Bulldogs will get the services of Renardo Sidney against the Hokies. He is a former McDonald’s All-American and projected NBA pick who took improper benefits, and he was suspended for the first nine games of the season, as well as all of last year. With a game coming up against Virginia Tech, and then a tournament in Hawaii, Mississippi State needed to get Sidney eligible. Head coach Rick Stansbury came up with a unique solution.
The Bulldogs played four teams in four days this week: East Tennessee State, North Carolina A&T, Nicholls State and Alabama. To get Sidney a little bit of action before playing the Hokies, Stansbury scheduled a fifth game as well, an exhibition against Bellhaven. Sidney scored 10 points and had six rebounds in 15 minutes of action.
Sidney is 6-10, 275, and he has the talent to dominate. If he puts it all together, he has the chance to be a lottery pick. However, he has a bit of a lazy streak in him, and despite being on campus for a year and a half, he reportedly is not in shape. It’s not clear how much he’ll play against the Hokies, but if Sidney is focused and plays hard, Tech doesn’t have anyone who can guard him effectively if he catches the ball down low.
Once Bost returns and Sidney starts to play well, Mississippi State has the potential to be one of the top teams in the SEC. Here’s a look at their expected starting lineup against the Hokies.
|Mississippi State Starting Lineup|
Ravern Johnson has been Mississippi State’s best player, and so far he is one of the top scorers in the country. The 6-7 wing has a smooth stroke on his jumper, connecting on 34-of-72 (47.2%) of his three-point attempts this season. Over half of his jumpshots come from the outside.
Johnson has a very slight build, and can be muscled around. He only has eight fouls on the season, so he’s obviously not fond of contact, and despite his height he averages just 3.8 rebounds per game. Look for Terrell Bell to draw the defensive assignment on Johnson. He is currently projected as a second round pick in the NBA Draft as a shooting specialist.
Senior forward Kodi Augustus is Mississippi State’s second leading scorer and top rebounder. He has been the Bulldogs’ only consistent threat in the paint so far this season. Augustus is a tough player who will offensive rebound, though his shooting percentage isn’t particularly high (43.5%). He’s not afraid to take an outside jumper, and he will block some shots.
Augustus also averages three turnovers per game, so if the Hokies double team him quickly, he could give up the ball.
Riley Benock is a wing with good size who is also a threat from the outside. For the season, he is hitting 45.5% of his three-point attempts. He has made 20 three-pointers, and Ravern Johnson has made 34. No one else on the team has made more than eight on the season.
Elgin Bailey, at 6-8, 274, is a big body on the inside. He plays a little less than 20 minutes per game, but if he’s ever on the court at the same time as Renardo Sidney, the Hokies will have a serious size disadvantage to overcome.
Mississippi State is a well-coached basketball team under Rick Stansbury, who has a 262-142 record in his 12+ seasons. He is the all-time winningest coach at Mississippi State, and he has led the Bulldogs to six NCAA Tournament appearances and four NIT berths. Only twice in his career has his team failed to make the postseason.
The Bulldogs are known for their size and toughness on the inside, and this year’s team is no different. They don’t have all their pieces right now, but they are expected to be very good by the end of the year. They haven’t played well so far this year, and it’s unknown how effective Renardo Sidney will be early in his career.
The Hokies have a chance to pick up a solid win on Saturday night, and it should be a tough game for both sides.