Thursday, November 17, 2011

Mississippi State 69, Texas A&M 60

[recap] [box score]

Rarely does a team win a college basketball game in the first eight minutes, but that's basically what Mississippi State did tonight.

In that time, the Bulldogs jumped out to a 24-9 lead, hitting their first five three-pointers. And Texas A&M's Ray Turner -- who had scored 20 points in each of the Aggies' first two games -- picked up two quick fouls. A&M was already without its best player, Khris Middleton, who will be on the shelf for a few weeks after he tore his meniscus in the season-opening win over Liberty. With Middleton in street clothes and Turner riding the pine because of the foul trouble, Texas A&M had nowhere to turn for offense, and having dug themselves into such a deep hole, they really couldn't get out.

As good as the Bulldogs looked at the start, they really didn't play any better after that than they did the last time I saw them, when they lost to Akron. The biggest positive difference between those two games was the play of point guard Dee Bost: thoroughly outplayed by the Zips' Alex Abreu, Bost got the better of Dash Harris on this night. Freshman Deville Smith had some nice moments penetrating the A&M defense, suggesting that team will be in good hands when Bost moves on after this year. Fellow newcomer Rodney Hood was solid, as he was against Akron.

But the bigs took a step back. Arnett Moultrie stopped asserting himself almost the moment Turner went to the bench with foul trouble, and his success in thwarting David Loubeau on the interior is entirely attributable to the size difference between the two.

And then there's Renardo Sidney. It's in vogue to criticize basically everything about Sidney, and so to be fair to the young man, I should note that he seemed to care more tonight than he has in previous games. In other words, he played fairly terribly, but he seemed to know that, and it seemed to legitimately bug him -- either that, or he pretended that it did. And yes, I know that's a backhanded compliment and digging pretty deep to find something positive to say about a guy who supposedly has the talent to be a star.

Defensively, Sidney blocked a shot on the Aggies' first possession, then did little else that was effective other than being a lot bigger than Texas A&M's post players. He routinely gave up cushy low post position, defended the screen and roll poorly, and did little to challenge shots.

Offensively, he was 0-for-9.

Hell, I'm just going to say it: He's too fat. There were a handful of times in this game -- which makes it at least half a dozen in the two games I've seen this season -- in which he missed an easy layup because he's too heavy to get off the floor and above the rim. He actually has decent "second jumpability," but it's frustrating that he needs to use it so often because of all the bunnies he misses.

Plenty of players have succeeded despite weight problems, even as those weight problems have stayed with them throughout their careers. But the overweight guys who have been effective -- Mike Sweetney, for example, to just throw one name out there -- have been tenacious, physical players. For whatever reason, Sidney isn't, and until he either finds the fire to play that physical game or finds the fire to get himself into shape, he's going to continue to be a shell of what everyone thinks he can be.

Texas A&M notes: Harris really disappointed me. With Middleton unavailable and Turner on the bench, your senior point guard needs to at least try to step up, even if scoring isn't his game. But Harris remained passive on offense and let Bost have a big game on the other end ... Loubeau may be too small to play in the post. As I mentioned, neither Moultrie nor Sidney were playing particularly physically, but they still managed to push Loubeau around on both ends. He's 6'8", 235, but he plays smaller, it seems. Kudos to him for being one of the few Aggies looking to fill the void that Middleton has left, but it just wasn't going to be effective against the Bulldog bigs.

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