Critical Saturday for Dawgs

ATHENS – Normally, the Georgia men's basketball team would have troves of usable game film by now on Mississippi State, its opponent Saturday.

It's late January, and MSU has played 18 games, including three in the SEC.

In reality, Georgia can only review a couple games. Why? Because through some unique –and controversial – circumstances, the MSU team that visits Stegeman Coliseum could not be more different than it was a few games ago.

And it's probably tons better.

Dee Bost and Renardo Sidney, perhaps its two best players, have only been playing together for a few games, thanks to NCAA suspensions. So while MSU's record (10-7) may not be impressive, the Bulldogs are probably closer to the team that has clobbered its past two SEC opponents than the one that fell to the likes of Florida Atlantic and East Tennessee State.

"They're a different team: You've got two NBA-talent guys that just joined their team," Georgia head coach Mark Fox said.

Ravern Johnson is MSU's leading scorer, but Bost and Sidney have made huge impacts since their return. Bost, in three games, is averaging 16 points and seven assists. The junior was more of a known quantity, having started 72 straight games for the Bulldogs. Sidney, in five games, is averaging 14.4 points and 5.8 rebounds.

"They've got a talented team, and a team that's kind of starting over, with a new group of players, a new combination of players," Fox said. "So you can't go back and watch their games from a month ago and figure out how they play."

This is why it took awhile for each to be eligible:

Last summer, Bost entered the NBA draft without signing with an agent. Then he missed the deadline to withdraw, later claiming that he wasn't aware it had been moved up to May 8.

Many media and fans scoffed at Bost's excuse. On top of that, Bost was academically ineligible for the fall semester.

But Mississippi State backed him and applied to the NCAA for mercy. It was granted, as he was allowed to continue his college career after sitting out the first 14 games of the season.

The 6-foot-10, 270-pound Sidney has had a long odyssey to playing for MSU. He was one of the nation's top 20 recruits in 2009, but a number of programs were scared off by off-court problems and the worry that he wouldn't be eligible.

Stansbury signed him anyway. Then the NCAA stepped in, as Sidney was forced to sit out all of last season during an investigation over whether Sidney's family received improper benefits.

The inquiry dragged on. Finally, the day before the final game of the regular season, the NCAA ruled Sidney out for that season and the first nine games of this one.

But it hasn't been a smooth return: Sidney and then-teammate Elgin Bailey got in a fight during a game on Dec. 23. Bailey, who was averaging X per game, eventually left the team, while Sidney was allowed to return. (The team claimed that Bailey started the fight, and elected to leave on his own.)

Sidney was also suspended two games for the fight, then forced to sit another game as punishment for an altercation with a walk-on teammate in practice.

Over the past couple games, however, Sidney showed why Stansbury waited so long: The center has not only been a presence in the post, but has stretched the defense by hitting 3-pointers.

"He's got great touch, inside and outside," Fox said. "He's got a big body, and great hands. And he obviously is such a terrific play-maker. So you combine all those guys with great 3-point shooting, with a great rebounder. I really like the mixture and makeup of their team."

Tennessee reverberations

Fox said he hasn't shown players the ending of Tuesday's 59-57 loss to Tennessee, adding he was sure all the players saw it anyway on "Sportcenter."

He was right.

"I actually watched it over and over the next day," said forward Chris Barnes, over whom Tennessee's Brian Williams scored the game-winning basket, after what could have been an over-the-back foul. "It was a very tough play, on both sides, getting the rebound and him throwing it back up. But stuff happens like that."

Georgia athletics director Greg McGarity said Wednesday he contacted the SEC to express concerns about several calls, including the over-the-back and an apparent shot-clock violation that wasn't called against Tennessee.

"He took the lead on that. He handled it. And I certainly appreciate it," Fox said. "You go back, we didn't play well enough to win. … And that's the bottom line. We didn't play complete."

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