As part of our series of snapshot previews of UK opponents, the BBL takes a first look at Rick Stansbury’s Mississippi State Bulldogs.
This might be the most underrated backcourt in all of college hoops. Last year MSU won the SEC tourney with freshmen and sophomores playing significant minutes. Now this group is a year older and battle tested. PG Dee Bost was a revelation as a frosh averaging 11 points and 5 dimes. Barry Stewart is a 3-year starter and a deadly three-point shooter who can also score off the bounce. Ravern Johnson was third in the SEC in 3-pointers made and can flat out stroke it. Then there is the lockdown defender Phil Turner. This group is big time and ready to compete for more than just a tourney bid.
Jarvis Varnado is a freak of nature underneath the goal. He is on pace to become the NCAA’s all time leading shot blocker, needing 142 to break the record after swatting 170 last season. The scary part is that Varnado, who also averaged 13 points and 9 boards last year, is said to have gained 25 pounds of muscle over the summer. His ceiling is NBA lottery high. Factor in two big-time post recruits (if they become eligible) and Miss. State could be a legitimate national title contender. We’re dead serious. Holdovers Romero Osby and Kodi Augustus give this team strong post depth.
7’2 do-it-all center John Riek and 6’9 275-pound Renardo Sidney are potential “one and doners” if the NCAA lets them see the floor. These two rival any 1-2 freshman combo in America, including Wall-Cousins. But gaining eligibility is no sure thing for either. Shaunessy Smith adds another scorer and athlete deluxe who at 6’6 is long and capable of defending the 1, 2 or 3 positions. Wendell Lewis is a 6’9 athlete who will learn while playing behind Varnado. This is a stellar class.
The BBL is high on this team’s potential. To say they are a sleeper is an insult to knowledgeable fans. If Riek and Sidney are cleared to play and everyone stays healthy, this team is a threat to win 30 games. They have no glaring weaknesses.
The Cats play them on February 16th in Starkville, and it should make for a hell of a matchup. Looking at the rosters right now, it would be a pick ‘em contest. This is the only SEC team we wouldn’t give UK a decided advantage over on paper. These guys are really good and potentially great.