January 19, 2010 5:19:00 PM
The Mississippi State men''s basketball team received two pieces of good news Monday.
After bolting to a 3-0 start in Southeastern Conference play to lead the Western Division and winning 12 of its last 13 games, MSU is back in the Associated Press Top 25 at No. 23.
Senior center Jarvis Varnado also was named the Southeastern Conference Player of the Week
On Saturday, Varnado scored 14 points and added 14 rebounds as MSU defeated Georgia 72-69. He had a triple-double with 17 points, 12 rebounds, and 10 blocked shots Thursday in an 82-80 victory against Arkansas.
University of Mississippi coach Andy Kennedy, who has already seen Varnado this season, calls him the most underrated player in college basketball.
"I had a question from somebody not long ago about naming the best players in the decade in the SEC, and I think anybody who leaves (Varnado) off that list is being short-sighted," Kennedy said. "He changes the game defensively and he''s going to be the all-time leading shot-blocker in the history of college basketball. He''s much better offensively than people give him credit for. He''s a percentage shooter and makes his free throws. When you double him, he can find the open guy."
After averaging 15.5 points, 13 rebounds, and eight blocked shots last week, Varnado increased his season totals to 14.1 points and 11.2 rebounds per outing, which lead the team. His rebounding tops the SEC and is ninth in the nation.
Varnado leads the nation with 96 blocked shots. He is 46 away from the NCAA record.
"He''s kind of a Bill Russell throwback," Kennedy said. "When he blocks shots, he just goes about his business, and that''s what I respect about the kid. He''s very workmanlike in his approach and he''s consistent in his production. Most every night when you come in to play them, the first thing you think about is trying to do something to take Varnado away from the basket."
Varnado''s triple-double was the second of his career and fourth in MSU history. It''s the 20th triple-double in SEC history, and Varnado is only the fourth player to do it twice.
Varnado is the second MSU player to be recognized by the SEC this season. On Dec. 14, junior guard and 3-point specialist Ravern Johnson earned player of the week honors.
As for the national rankings, the Bulldogs opened the year No. 18 in the AP poll. However, a stunning setback to Rider in the opener led to an early exit.
It was MSU''s first preseason ranking since the 2004-05 campaign when it opened the year at No. 12.
Prior to this season, the last time Mississippi State was ranked came in the 2007-08 campaign when it was No. 25 after defeating arch-rival Ole Miss 88-68 on Jan. 26, 2008. That ranking was short-lived as well as the Bulldogs fell out for the remainder of the year after losing back-to-back outings to Arkansas and Tennessee.
MSU (15-3, 3-0) returns to action at 11 a.m. Saturday (WCBI) at the University of Alabama.
n Stansbury shows optimism on Sidney: MSU coach Rick Stansbury went from not commenting on the case involving freshman Renardo Sidney to showing a bit of optimism Monday on the weekly SEC men''s basketball teleconference.
When asked if he thought the NCAA would clear Sidney to play this season, Stansbury said nothing had been decided but that he hoped a move in the situation could come soon.
"Hopefully, we can hear something by the end of the week," Stansbury said. "We are closer (to a resolution) than we were."
The NCAA has been investigating Sidney''s status as an amateur athlete ever since he signed with the Bulldogs last April.
Sidney''s attorney Donald Jackson expects a response from the NCAA Eligibility Center shortly, but he tried not to exhibit too much hope because of the way the "process has moved at a snail''s pace."
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