Once again Mississippi State will open the 2010-11 season as the favorite to hang another banner in Humphrey Coliseum.
According to the media poll that was released by the Southeastern Conference Monday afternoon, the Bulldogs men’s basketball program is projected to win the Western Division.
State received received 18 of the 20 first-place votes to finish first, with the final two going to Ole Miss as the two teams that tied for the title last year were placed 1-2 in the preseason poll.
“Of course, my concern is where we are at the end of the year,” Mississippi State head coach Rick Stansbury said via the school’s release. “It’s nice to be recognized. I like my team, but like I said, I’m more concerned with our standings come March.”
MSU has three starters returning to the lineup but junior Dee Bost, the team’s two-year starting point guard, will be out until the Southeastern Conference opener against Alabama on Jan. 8 in Starkville while he attempts to become academically eligible and after that serves a nine-game suspension for failing to withdraw from the NBA Draft in May.
State finished 24-12 with a trip to the NIT quarterfinals but have to replace the NCAA's career leader in blocked shots and one of their best perimeter defenders with the graduation of Jarvis Varnado and Barry Stewart.
“It's only about my team - absolutely and in every way,” Stansbury said. “Our challenge is this: We're playing without Barry Stewart and Jarvis (Varnado)."
MSU, who has yet to release its official non-conference slate, is hoping to get sophomore forward Renardo Sidney eligible before they travel to the Bahamas to face Virginia Tech, play in the Diamond Head Classic tournament hosted by the University of Hawaii and finish up their holiday travel with a featured game against Saint Mary’s in Las Vegas.
The former McDonald’s All-American Sidney received a two-part penalty from the NCAA last spring that included losing eligibility of the 2009-10 season due to unethical conduct and being forced to sit out an additional 30 percent (an estimated nine games) of this upcoming season due to impermissible benefits received prior to signing and arriving on the Mississippi State campus.
“The challenge with Sid will be no secret – his conditioning,” Stansbury said. “The speed of this game will be different for him and you can’t expect from day one he steps on the floor to be where he’ll be come March or April. Sometimes talent level can offset lack of experience.”
The preseason poll had Florida as the projected overall winner of the league but the Gators failed to have a single player among the conference’s five first-team selections.
The Gators were ahead of Kentucky, Georgia, Tennessee, Vanderbilt and South Carolina in the Eastern Division. State and Ole Miss were followed by Alabama, Arkansas, LSU and Auburn rounding out the West.
“People always say that perception is reality, and certainly when it comes to the case of competing, perception is never reality," Florida head coach Billy Donovan said during his team’s media day on October 13. "When you have a team that went to the NCAA Tournament and returns all five starters, the expectation level, the perception is that you're going to be really, really good.”
The league’s preseason player of the year honor was handed to Georgia forward Trey Tompkins and the 6-foot-10, 245-pounder was joined on the first-team All-SEC list with junior teammate Travis Leslie, Kentucky freshman guard Brandon Knight, Ole Miss guard Chris Warren and Vanderbilt forward Jeffrey Taylor.
Mississippi State will open its regular season at Humphrey Coliseum on Nov. 12 against Tennessee State.