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Posted at 12:00 PM ET, 12/17/2010

The curious case of Renardo Sidney and Mississippi State basketball

By Mark Giannotto

Based on ranking and reputation, the Virginia Tech men’s basketball team has already played its biggest non-conference games against No. 6 Kansas State and No. 19 Purdue. But perhaps the Hokies most intriguing matchup before ACC season comes Saturday when they face Mississippi State in the Bahamas.

For one, the game is being played in a converted ballroom that will seat a maximum of 4,500 people, won't be televised and takes place on a tropical island far away from the winter weather blanketing Blacksburg and the DC area right now -- a scenario that has both teams wondering what the atmosphere will be like.

But the most interesting part involves the Bulldogs roster, and more specifically 6-10, 270-pound forward Renardo Sidney.

Sidney was a five-star recruit and a 2009 McDonald’s all-American in high school but was forced to sit out all of last season and the first nine games of this year when the NCAA ruled he received $11,800 in improper benefits and then misled investigators about it. I don’t want to get too much into the specifics but Sidney has been in the news since eighth grade because of how much AAU teams, high schools, shoe companies and agents have coveted his on-court talents. If you want to know more, check out Eric Prisbell’s story on Sidney from 2006, this 2008 New York Times profile on him or this week’s Sports Illustrated piece on how Sidney’s case is similar to that of Cam Newton’s alleged indiscretions.

To get Sidney eligible in time for Saturday’s game against Virginia Tech, Mississippi State Coach Rick Stansbury decided to play five games in five days between Dec. 11 and Dec. 15 – the first of which resulted in a 63-62 loss to East Tennessee State.

The ridiculous schedule culminated Wednesday night when Sidney unofficially made his debut and the Bulldogs won an exhibition game over Belhaven of the NAIA, 101-76. He finished with 10 points and six rebounds but played just 15 minutes. According to reports, he’s at least 10 pounds over his playing weight at this point.

“Renardo had a lot of fatigue,” Stansbury said following Sidney's debut. “He will have to get in better shape if we are going to use him a lot. However, he showed a lot of good things tonight.”

The dilemma facing Coach Seth Greenberg is how do you prepare for Mississippi State when it’s roster has been incomplete the entire season and is now adding perhaps the best recruit in school history. While Sidney has the ability to shoot and dribble like a guard and post up like a big man, he's had just one game of organized basketball over the past year and a half.

“I don’t think, from watching their game films, they can’t completely change what they’re doing,” Greenberg said this week. “They’ve always been a team that tries to get the ball inside. Sidney’s such a talented player, but it’s not like we don’t play against talented players.”

Sidney, though, isn’t the Bulldogs only weapon. There’s also 6-7 senior Ravern Johnson, who was suspended for a game last week after violating the team’s class attendance policy. Nevertheless, he’s averaging more than 23 points per game and shooting better than 47 percent from three-point range this year.

The Hokies are also lucky Mississippi State guard Dee Bost can’t return from his own suspension – for not rescinding his name from the 2010 NBA draft in time – until the Bulldogs’ SEC opener next month.

Make no mistake, though, there’s no reason Virginia Tech can’t pull off a victory here. The Hokies are coming off their best performance of the season last Sunday against Penn State, and they’ve now had another week of practices to gel as a team. Their offense was especially encouraging against the Nittany Lions, shooting a season-high 54.5 percent, finishing with a 2:1 assist-to-turnover ratio and getting points from all eight players that saw action.

It also seems whatever turmoil resulted from their 4-4 start to the season – like the team meeting last week to more clearly define roles – brought this group closer together and helped leaders emerge. That, more than anything else, is what Greenberg is thinking about heading into Virginia Tech’s latest non-conference opportunity.

“They had a cause,” Greenberg said. “I’m sure they thought people were taking some shots at them. … I don’t worry about what [Sidney’s] doing. I’m worried about what we’re doing. It’s more about our team and what they’re doing and trying to get better.”

A couple more notes:

*Virginia Tech guard Dorenzo Hudson did practice this week, and should be available to play Saturday. Greenberg would not commit to whether Hudson or sophomore Erick Green would start alongside Malcolm Delaney in the backcourt, saying only that, “we’ll make a decision at the appropriate time. Green tied his career-high (15 points) when he got the start against Penn State with Hudson out of the lineup due to a strained calf.

*Though forward Cadarian Raines did not see any action against the Nittany Lions, he was available. Greenberg just didn’t want to rush him back unnecessarily after his foot injury flared up again two weeks ago. Greenberg said Raines had his best practice of the year this past Tuesday.

“He had more bounce. He was more active,” Greenberg said.

Forward Victor Davila should draw the responsibility of primarily guarding Sidney. But Greenberg said Raines will almost certainly see playing time dealing with Mississippi State’s front court, which also features bruising 6-8, 278-pound Ethan Bailey.

By Mark Giannotto  | December 17, 2010; 12:00 PM ET
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