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October 11, 2011

Preseason Top 32: No. 26 Mississippi State

STRENGTHS: Mississippi State potentially could have one of the top frontcourt duos in the nation in Renardo Sidney and UTEP transfer Arnett Moultrie. When motivated and in shape, Sidney can be devastating down low. He has a nice array of moves in the low post and can be a dominant rebounder. Still, there are some questions associated with Sidney, the main one being will he truly be motivated to step up and impress NBA scouts as a junior. Moultrie is athletic and can run all day; he also can step out and pop the occasional 15-footer. He is a good ballhandler for his size, and his length and athleticism mean he can be a shutdown defender. Moultrie had a solid freshman season at UTEP, then took a small step back as a sophomore, when he deferred too often to Derrick Caracter. How Moultrie works alongside Sidney bears watching, but, again, potentially this is a superb combination. PG Dee Bost is back for his senior season, and he is 66 assists away from holding the school record in that category. He has the ability to be one of the SEC's best defensive guards after averaging 1.6 steals last season. Bost is a good scorer, but he's not necessarily a good shooter; he is average, at best, from 3-point range. He is a heady floor man and plays hard. Freshman swingman Rodney Hood arrives with a lot of hype; he was a five-star recruit who was the No. 16 prospect in the class. He's 6-8 and has gained about 20 pounds, to 206, since he graduated from high school. His passing ability is underrated, and that's a good trait to have with Sidney as a teammate. Hood also is a good scorer who puts his athleticism to good use on the defensive end. There is good depth in the backcourt, and coaches especially like freshman Deville Smith, who should see important minutes as a backup point guard.

F Arnett Moultrie (6-11/249, Jr.)
F Renardo Sidney (6-10/280, Jr.)
G Dee Bost (6-2/176, Sr.)
G/F Rodney Hood (6-8/204, Fr.)
G Jalen Steele (6-3/194, Soph.)
C Wendell Lewis (6-9/260, Jr.)
F Kristers Zeidaks (6-8/230, Soph.)
G Brian Bryant (6-3/180, Sr.)
G Deville Smith (5-11/170, Fr.)
G Shaun Smith (6-6/203, Soph.)

Coach: Rick Stansbury (14th season at Mississippi State)
Last season's record: 17-14 overall, 9-7 in SEC (2nd in SEC West)
Postseason: None
Final regular-season RPI: 119th
Last time made NCAA field: 2009

WEAKNESSES: While there is good depth in the backcourt, there is no proven 3-point shooter and that has to worry coach Rick Stansbury. Sophomore Kristers Zeidaks, who signed with the Bulldogs over the summer, was a member of the Latvian U-20 national team and is said to have a nice outside stroke. Because of some eligibility issues, though, he is expected to miss at least the first month of the season. Sophomore G Jalen Steele has the potential to be a solid 3-point shooter, but he is coming back from a torn ACL. The only proven reserve big man is bulky junior Wendell Lewis, who isn't afraid to bang in the paint. Any offense he provides is an accident, but he is tough on the boards and as a defender. Finally, chemistry is an issue. Mississippi State had all sorts of problems last season, and one was that the players didn't seem to get along. Sidney was known as a problem child in high school, and he had a celebrated fight in the stands with a teammate (the since-transferred Elgin Bailey) last season. But Stansbury has said he thinks Sidney has matured and will fly right. If he doesn't, he could drag the whole team down with him.

[More Mississippi State coverage: BulldogBlitz.com]

OVERVIEW: The talent is there for a run at the SEC title, and given the teams at the top of the SEC this season, that's saying a lot. If the SEC still were divided into divisions, Mississippi State would vie with Alabama for the West Division title. If Hood is as good as the recruiting analysts say, if Moultrie and Sidney can co-exist and if some guys step up as outside shooters, the Bulldogs could finish as high as second in the league. Still, the lack of a proven outside shooter and the memories of chemistry issues last season make us think a fifth-place finish is more likely. Still, a solid showing in the NCAA tourney should be expected.

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Mike Huguenin is the college sports editor for Rivals.com. He can be reached at mhuguenin@rivals.com.

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