Mississippi State Basketball Preview: #23
Overall Rank: #23
Conference Rank: #3 Southeastern Conference
2008-09: 23-13, 9-7
2008-09 postseason: NCAA
Coach: Gregg Marshall (Rick Stansbury 231-128 at Mississippi State, 231-128 overall)
Mississippi State has been relatively consistent, but this year the Bulldogs have much, much bigger goals. With just about everybody returning, Coach Rick Stansbury hopes to turn his NCAA Tournament team of a year ago into a team that can win the SEC and make a deep tournament run in March.
Key Losses: F Brian Johnson
Renardo Sidney and the Bulldogs have some issues to overcome before he will be suiting up for MSU, but if Sidney does play, he will step right into the starting lineup and probably play for one year before he bolts for the NBA. The 6-10, 260 pound power forward is a superb athlete who can turn this team into a legitimate contender to knock off Kentucky and Tennessee atop of the Southeastern Conference pecking order. Wendell Lewis and John Riek will add more depth up front. Riek, if he can overcome injury issues, is the most intriguing option. The 7-1 center is a project, but he could end up being really good by the end of the season. Shaun Smith, a 6-6 wing, rounds out this solid class.
Smith might have some trouble finding minutes with Barry Stewart and Phil Turner on the wings. Stewart averaged 12.4 points per game and will now need to become even more of a leader on the floor. Stewart is a prolific outside shooter, but he will also use his 6-3 frame to finish around the basket and that is what makes him such a dangerous scorer. Turner is a good shooter too, but it is his ability to hit the glass that makes him so valuable to this team. He ranked second on the team with 5.5 rebounds per game last year. At 6-7, Ravern Johnson usually manned the four spot on this undersized team. He is an accurate and prolific three-point shooter who needs to be more physical under the basket if this team wants to avoid being outrebounded on a consistent basis.
Ideally, Mississippi State would move Johnson to the wing, but that means they need to find a consistent power forward. If it is not Sidney, it will have to be Kodi Augustus, Romero Osby or Elgin Bailey. Those three all averaged less than 14 minutes per game last year, but Augustus averaged a steady 6.2 points and 3.4 rebounds last year and Bailey has potential if he can overcome a foot injury that sidelined him late last season. But no matter who starts at the four spot, Jarvis Varnardo is the star of the frontcourt and this team. Varnado was known as simply a shot blocker a couple of years ago, but on top of his incredible 4.7 blocks per game last year, he added team highs with 12.9 points and 8.8 rebounds.
Who to Watch:
The big question heading into the 2008-2009 campaign was at the point. Dee Bost put those concerns to rest pretty early. As a freshman he averaged 10.9 points and 4.3 assists and started every single game for MSU. The numbers are very impressive, but what is even more impressive was his consistency day in and day out. Unlike many freshman point guards, Bost was steady and very rarely had a bad day. Expect those days to be even better as a sophomore.
There is nothing this team lacks. They have a proven point guard, one of the best shot blockers to ever play the game and enough weapons on the wing to put up a bunch of points in a hurry. The only issue is on the glass and that is why the Sidney question is so important. But even if Sidney does not play, this team can get some quality minutes from Augustus, Osby and Bailey and not be forced to play small in situations where it does not make sense to play small. Either way, the Bulldogs will be back in the NCAA Tournament and looking for a win or two this time around.
Projected Post-season Tournament: NCAA
Projected Starting Five:
Dee Bost, Sophomore, Guard, 10.9 points per game
Barry Stewart, Senior, Guard, 12.4 points per game
Phil Turner, Junior, Guard, 8.5 points per game
Ravern Johnson, Junior, Guard, 12.1 points per game
Jarvis Varnado, Senior, Forward, 12.9 points per game
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