May 30, 2010 12:25:00 AM
STARKVILLE -- Mississippi State''s men''s basketball team hopes to be at full strength when it makes its first trip outside of the United States for a game.
With contracts close to being finalized for MSU''s game in the Bahamas against fellow 2010 NCAA tournament snub Virginia Tech, the idea is to have sophomore forward Renardo Sidney, who must sit out an NCAA-mandated nine games to start the 2010-11 schedule, available to play.
Mississippi State athletic director Scott Stricklin said the game should be official soon and it''s "just a matter of getting everything signed" for the tentatively scheduled Dec. 18 game in Nassau.
The Atlantis Paradise Island-hosted invitational, which will include Georgia Tech and Richmond, will pitt the Bulldogs against a team from a power conference that figures to have a solid RPI by the end of the season.
Having Sidney and the rest of the MSU roster at full strength is vital at that juncture as the Bulldogs would then have to leave Nassau the following day to head to Hawaii, where they''re scheduled to compete in the Diamond Head Classic from Dec. 22-25.
Last season, the Bulldogs played eight games before Dec. 18, not including their two games at the South Padre Island Invitational at the end of November.
The challenge for MSU head coach Rick Stansbury and Stricklin is to find at least nine non-conference opponents who have open dates on their schedules after the regular season starts on the second week of November.
MSU also is mindful of boosting its non-conference schedule over last season''s slate, which lacked a high-enough RPI and was at the heart of why the NCAA tournament selection committee left the Bulldogs out of the field of 65.
"You want to make sure you''re doing it smart competitively, but you also don''t want your scheduling to adversely affect your RPI," Stricklin said. "We have a challenge in that regard. Sometimes you might play a team that''s stronger than you thought, but you''d like to try and play them at home if possible.
"It''s not as easy as just saying, ''hey, we''ll play on this day,'' because other teams are trying to accomplish things with their schedules. It''s a balancing act and it requires a lot of effort from the coaches and everyone involved."
While Sidney''s status for returning to the court is clearly defined, the Bulldogs have several players coming back from injuries. Guards Shaun Smith and Twany Beckham will return from hip surgeries, as both missed the entire 2009-10 campaign. Forward Elgin Bailey was shelved last season after he struggled to become fit from ankle surgery in the spring of 2009.
Against Virginia Tech in Nassau and with possible opponents Butler -- last season''s NCAA runner up -- 2010 NCAA qualifier Baylor and Florida State, the Bulldogs would head into league play with a week of games against strong opponents.
To prepare for the Christmas-time swing, Stricklin said the Bulldogs may add one of their two allowed exhibition contests right before heading to the Bahamas. At that point, it would be the first game with the entire roster available.
"Playing that exhibition later in the season, you take up a spot that you might normally play a regular game," Stricklin said. "It kind of tightens the available dates you have."