Mississippi State is a trendy preseason pick to win the SEC West, the weaker of the two divisions in that league.
The Bulldogs made a surprising run to the SEC tournament title last season, and then lost in the first round of the NCAA tournament. All of the key players return this season, including shot-blocker extraordinaire Jarvis Varnado. The Bulldogs also are adding an intriguing recruiting class, including 7-foot-2 center John Riek and - the star of the class - controversial five-star power forward Renardo Sidney.
We asked writers Jason King and Mike Huguenin for their take on Sidney; he has been cleared academically by the NCAA but questions remain about his amateur status.
JASON KING SAYS ...
I fully expect Sidney to be in uniform when Mississippi State opens its season in November.
Sidney has been deemed eligible academically, but his amateur status remains in question because the NCAA still is trying to determine how his family paid for two homes during the two years it lived in Los Angeles. Sidney and his family moved to L.A. from Mississippi so he could attend Fairfax High School, which was close to two of the schools that were recruiting him (USC and UCLA). Sidney eventually moved back to Mississippi and signed with the Bulldogs after USC and UCLA stopped recruiting him.
Knowing that improprieties occurred during Sidney's recruitment is one thing; proving it is another. If the NCAA can't come up with hardcore evidence that the Sidney family did anything wrong - and I doubt it can - there will be no way to keep Sidney off the court in 2009-10.
MIKE HUGUENIN SAYS ...
Like Jason, I think Sidney plays this season and becomes a key member of a team that has Sweet 16 potential.
Sidney's whole situation, though, is rather unseemly.
This isn't necessarily a case of a player accepting money to attend a school; rather, the NCAA is looking into whether Sidney's family economically benefited from his athletic skill.
Evidently, the days of slipping cash-filled envelopes into player's hands is passť; now, it's providing for a player's family. I'm not saying that was the case in Sidney's situation, but that is the angle of the NCAA's investigation. Without any kind of true subpoena power, the NCAA is going to have a hard time investigating this type of situation, much less provide proof.
And this type of situation has the potential to cause all kinds of grief to compliance directors at big-time schools. Every school looks into what kind of car a player drives and where a player lives. Now, though, we may be creeping into a time where schools also have to worry about where a player's parents/relatives live and what they drive. It's sad, really.
Mike Huguenin is the college sports editor for Rivals.com. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Jason King is a college basketball writer for Rivals.com and Yahoo! Sports. Send Jason a question or comment for potential use in a future column or webcast.