Moultrie, Bulldogs Tackle Big Test Tonight

Tonight’s game: No. 15 MSU (12-1) vs. No. 6 Baylor (12-0), 8 p.m., ESPN2/ESPN3.com (Mark Jones play-by-play, Fran Fraschilla analyst)

Arnett Moultrie keeps a singular focus despite all the surrounding hype. He’s having a fantastic season, as is his team, and now the 6-foot-11 junior forward has a chance to make a real statement today when MSU meets Baylor. Here’s my story about that.

Moultrie will spend a lot of quality time with Baylor big man Perry Jones III, who’s also 6-11 and about 15 pounds lighter than Moultrie. When I asked Moultrie about the similarities in their games, he said, “We’re two completely different players.”

He seems totally unconcerned with how he matches up with Jones, or with what Jones does well.

“I ain’t watched him too much. I just know he’s a good overall player. I don’t know exactly what he does well or anything like that. But I just know he shoots a lot of jumpers.”

Well, Jones is awfully good. He’s averaging 14.1 points per game while shooting 58 percent from the field. He’s also 4 of 8 from 3-point range. Moultrie is averaging 17.8 points, shoots 57.5 percent (3 of 4 from beyond the arc), and has made 88.3 percent of his free throws.

Oh, and Moultrie is averaging 11.7 rebounds to Jones’ 6.9. Moultrie has seven double-doubles, Jones has none. The latter has only played in seven games, having sat out the first five games for receiving impermissible benefits.

Moultrie did allow that he’s anticipating the matchup with Jones, saying, “I’m real eager, but this game is not about the matchup between me and Perry Jones. It’s a game between Mississippi State and Baylor.”

And it is indeed a huge opportunity for MSU, which has won 11 in a row. The last time State faced a non-SEC team ranked so highly in the regular season was Nov. 18, 2004, when it lost to No. 5 Syracuse, 71-58. Baylor’s current RPI rank is 10th, while MSU is 58th (that 178 strength-of-schedule rank is killer).

Moultrie has a point: This game isn’t all about him and Jones. There are other big matchups, like at point guard. Both teams use a dual system there, with A.J. Walton starting but Pierre Jackson giving valuable minutes – and points – off the bench. It’ll be fun to see how well Dee Bost and DeVille Smith handle those two.

Baylor comes in averaging 79.6 points per game, while MSU is allowing 63.7. Something has to give, right? Baylor’s style of play will certainly challenge the Bulldogs.

“There’s not one thing you take away from them,” MSU coach Rick Stansbury said. “They’ve got enough weapons on the inside and enough weapons on the inside, they can score in halfcourt, they can score in transition, they’re good off the bounce. They don’t have many weaknesses right now at all.”