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October 11, 2009
Mississippi State made it into the NCAA field last season only by winning the SEC tournament. The Bulldogs won't have to worry about getting that automatic bid this season because they probably will have locked up an NCAA invitation long beforehand. The Bulldogs return all five starters and also could be adding the nation's No. 16 prospect in 6-foot-10 power forward Renardo Sidney, who still must be cleared by the NCAA.
Jarvis Varnado is closing in on the SEC and NCAA records for career blocked shots.
Jarvis Varnado made a national name for himself by carrying Mississippi State to the SEC tournament title, but he had established himself as one of the game's top defensive players long before that. Varnado led the nation with 4.7 blocks per game and enters his senior season with a legitimate chance of closing his career as the NCAA's leading shot blocker. He needs 142 blocks to set the record, and he blocked 170 shots last season. If Sidney plays this season, he could team with Varnado to give the Bulldogs one of the nation's top frontcourt duos. Mississippi State would lack frontcourt depth without Sidney.
Dee Bost came out of nowhere to rank fourth in the SEC in assists as a true freshman. Bost shot just 35.2 percent from the floor last season, but the Bulldogs don't need a whole lot of scoring from him. They just need him to get the ball to their other weapons. Mississippi State returns a trio of 3-point shooting threats in Barry Stewart, Ravern Johnson and Phil Turner, who went a combined 190-of-529 (36 percent) from beyond the arc last season. That trio helped Mississippi State lead the SEC with 296 3-pointers.
Mississippi State has put together a perimeter-oriented team around Varnado that depends heavily on the 3-pointer, but the Bulldogs are quite tough to beat when those shots are falling. Sidney's presence would help a lot because of the way he could complement Varnado. Even without Sidney, Mississippi State could manage to win the Western Division. With Sidney in the lineup, the Bulldogs could have Sweet 16 potential.
Preseason rankings were compiled by basketball writers David Fox, Mike Huguenin, Jason King and Steve Megargee.