By Gene Swindoll
Mississippi State's men's basketball team will play its 100th year of basketball this season. And the excitement and expectations among the State fans may be at an all-time high.
While the MSU coaching staff's expectations, at least publicly, may not be as high, there are legitimate reasons for MSU fans to be excited.
Seniors Ravern Johnson, Kodi Augustus and Riley Benock all graduated last season, but some of the players expected to replace them appear to be as talented, and possibly even more talented. Included among that group are true freshman wing man Rodney Hood, rated a five-star recruit by Scout.com, much-improved junior forward Wendell Lewis and sophomore two-guard Jalen Steele.
Hood is considered one of the best players to ever sign with Mississippi State. A Meridian (MS) High School product, Hood is not just a great outside shooter but also has a very high basketball IQ and makes everybody around him better. He is already projected as a first-round NBA draft pick in 2013 by at least one unofficial draft service. He should offer immediate help this season, possibly even starting from day one.
Another newcomer expected to be a major contributor this season is Arnett Moultrie, a junior forward transfer from UTEP. Moultrie, who is 6-11, 250, should provide inside defense and the type of rebounding MSU hasn't had in several years. He should also help junior big man Renardo Sidney offensively. Like Hood, Moultrie is projected to be a first-round type talent.
While several returners and newcomers will be huge factors on this year's team, there are two players who will determine if MSU is an elite team - Sidney and senior point guard Dee Bost.
Sidney, after a solid season on the court where he scored 14.2 points per game and pulled down 7.6 rebounds a game, is expected to be even better this season. The key for Sydney is how he does off the court. After having to sit out his entire freshman season due to an NCAA suspension, he had an up-and-down year off the court last season when he had to sit out most of the non-conference schedule due to the continued NCAA suspension and a fight with a teammate that gained national exposure on TV. If the off-the-court problems are a thing of the past, and he plays up to his immense potential, the sky is the limit for this very talented youngster.
The second key component for this team is Bost, one of 50 players named to the Wooden Award Preseason List. After sitting out most of the first half of last season due to an NCAA suspension levied on him after he entered his name in the NBA Draft and then later withdrew from the draft, Bost played well, averaging 15.3 points and slightly more than six assists per game.
With the addition of freshman Deville Smith, a lightning-quick point guard from Callaway High School in Jackson, MS, and much improved junior guard Brian Bryant, Bost should be even more efficient. It wouldn't be surprising to see him play some two-guard at times due to the improved depth at the point guard position.
While the talent level should be better this season, MSU head coach Rick Stansbury and his staff have put together a schedule that will at times be formidable, even for this talented group. After starting off with three home games against Eastern Kentucky, Akron and South Alabama, State goes to Madison Square Garden and plays a game against Texas A&M and either St. John's or Arizona in the 2K Classic Tournament. State plays always tough West Virginia at Humphrey Coliseum in the SEC/Big East Challenge and on the road against Baylor, a team led by pre-season All-America candidate Perry Jones, III. In between those games are six more home games, one neutral site game in Jackson and one road game before SEC play starts. At least 23 of MSU's 31 regular-season games will be televised.
With a talented group of players and a challenging schedule, year No. 100 of Mississippi State men's basketball could be one of the most exciting in MSU history.