1-on-1: Renardo Sidney vs. Zeke Marshall

It takes a special kind of player to incite cynicism from hometown fans, but in just his second season of college hoops Mississippi State big man Renardo Sidney has managed to do just that. The former five-star prospect, the same kid who was once famously the 1B to DeMarcus Cousins’ 1A in the recruiting world, has done a marvelous job carving a niche for himself as one of the most polarizing figures in the sport. Unfortunately, it has been for all the wrong reasons.

On Wednesday, seven-footer Zeke Marshall and his Akron Zips came to town for an ideal early-season litmus test. The individual match up afforded plenty of intrigue, as Marshall entered as the elite defensive stopper and Sidney the abundantly talented scorer. Knowing the two would face off almost exclusively in the paint all game long meant something would have to give.

And boy, did it ever.

The rail-thin Marshall entered the night as a promising, albeit raw shot-blocking presence, and left it as the MAC’s budding version of Dikembe Mutombo. At least that’s how Mississippi State’s front line made him look by game’s end. Here’s Marshall swatting a Sidney shot early in the game for one of his five blocks:

 

Aside from giving you an eerily accurate picture of how this entire 1-on-1 battle basically went down, take note of where Sidney catches the ball in relation to the basket here. Because for the majority of the night thereafter, this is precisely where he stood, gingerly working for position and rarely calling for the ball. Marshall’s long arms made it tough for Sidney to get set up in his usual spots, but instead of fighting for position to counter this, Sidney basically floated toward the wings and let his peers do most of the legwork. And because he was unable to use his massive girth to gain position, it made getting the rock to him increasingly difficult for teammates, so he was rarely involved in the flow. By my count Sidney recorded exactly six offensive touches while Marshall was on the floor in the first half, which is rather significant.

The knocks on Sidney’s game as a whole are pretty simple: He doesn’t appear motivated, struggles to get himself in the rhythm of the game and possesses some of the most questionable conditioning around. But on the defensive end, this lackadaisical attitude is more than just a minor problem, it’s a glaring red flag and might help to explain why head coach Rick Stansbury is hesitant to put him on the floor in crucial situations. Take a good look at Sidney’s footwork in the clip below:

 

Even though the layup was inexplicably missed and Sidney grabbed a cheap board, this is a perfect example of how poor of a defender he is right now at this stage of his career. An average SEC-level guard coverts this play about 95% of the time, so the fact that the shot was missed means virtually nothing. Not being able to rotate over and cut off this lane is a serious problem for a guy who’s supposed to be defending the paint full-time, and it must irritate the heck out of Mississippi State’s coaching staff seeing this live. But slow rotation and sloppy footwork aren’t the only things that plague Sidney at the defensive end. The notion that he’s a lazy player gained plenty of traction on Wednesday, and this play in the opening minutes of the game only strengthened it:

 

Sidney must have been dumbfounded after seeing Marshall drain this jumper, even though it was conveniently offered it up on a platter. There’s no other way to describe this other than flat-out lazy defense, and at such an early stage in the game it’s head-scratching for him to mail in a possession like this. Perception and reality appear to walk hand-in-hand for Sidney as a defensive player at this point, and the only way to change this is

To his credit, though, every now and then Renardo will have a flash of brilliance and make a completely phenomenal basketball play on offense. It is these occurrences that string along his most ardent of supporters for yet another day, and anyone who switched over to ESPNU at the most opportune of moments might have caught a glimpse of Sidney at his best:

 

In one minor sequence Sidney not only exposed one of Marshall’s biggest weaknesses, he also made his most aggressive cut and finish of the night. But instead of keeping Marshall out of his comfort zone and away from the paint continuously over the course of the game, Sidney never went back to the well. Marshall wasn’t forced to step out nearly as much as he should have been, and therefore was able to control the paint with ease. For as well as the seven-footer runs the floor for his size, his suspect lateral quickness and clunkiness around the perimeter make him a liability on high screens.

We basically knew what to expect from Marshall as a stopper, and he still managed to exceed the hype with an impressive performance against a power conference frontcourt. Sidney, on the other hand, appears to be creating more questions about his game than he entered the year with, and it’s safe to say that he’s rapidly losing the confidence of his coach due to his many defensive lapses. These two players are clearly on the NBA’s radar, and the pressure to perform will only intensify as the year presses on. But on this night in Mississippi, it was the small-school big man named Zeke who stole the show.