By LEE ADAMS
The Mississippi State Bulldogs will be involved in the Big East-SEC Challenge tonight at Humphrey Coliseum and that's exactly what they think it will be.
The Bulldogs, who are ranked No. 21 and are currently on a six-game winning streak, hosts West Virginia. The 8 p.m. tipoff will be televised by ESPNU.
"West Virginia is a really good basketball team," MSU men's basketball coach Rick Stansbury said. "We're making steady improvements, but this is a big basketball game for early in the year. It's a great opportunity for us, with two good teams going at it."
The Bulldogs (7-1) suffered their only loss to the hands of Akron in the second game of the season, and like MSU, West Virginia's (4-1) only loss came early in the season as well. The Mountaineers were defeated by Kent State during the 24-hours of basketball on ESPN earlier this season and Kent State's coach said he felt that West Virginia quit, but Stansbury doesn't think that was the case.
"I've never known a Bob Huggins team to quit," said Stansbury. "They didn't lose that game because they quit. They lost that game because they turned the basketball over."
Stansbury also feels that Huggins, who is in his fifth year at them helm of the Mountaineers, had some trouble getting his guards figured out, but thinks West Virginia has potential to be one of the best.
"I see them being right at the top of the Big East before it's over," said Stansbury. "I think they are that good and like I said, I think the biggest thing he had to get figured out was his point guard play and he's done that."
One of the Mountaineers guards is freshman Jabarie Hinds, who scored 19 points in their win over Akron on Monday and is averaging 11.8 points per game.
"He's quick, he's athletic and can really put the ball on the floor," said Stansbury. "He can really penetrate and is a really good young point guard."
Even though Huggins got his guard situation figured out, one thing he didn't have to figure much out with was what he was going to do underneath. With the 6-foot-8 Kevin Jones and the 6-foot-9 Deniz Kilicli, the Mountaineers have their post play where they want it.
"They've got those two big boys on the inside that can really score," said Stansbury. "Kilicli is right-handed but shoots it left-handed about as well as he does right. You can't tell what he is by watching him and he is a big body guy."
The Bulldogs aren't hurting in the post when Arnett Moultrie and Renardo Sidney are healthy, but they will have a challenge trying to guard Jones.
"No question he'll be the best (forwards) we've faced," said Stansbury. "He's a very versatile guy who can really shoot it, puts it down, posts up and his stats back that up."
Jones, who was a preseason selection to the All-Big East team, is currently leading the Mountaineers in rebounding with 61 and is averaging 21 points per game which is also leading his team.
Moultrie's stats rival those of Jones as he is leading the Bulldogs and the Southeastern Conference in rebounds.
"We figured out Arnett is a pretty good player," said Stansbury. "The thing I'm impressed with him is he's improved. He's gotten better at shooting the basketball. I'm gaining more confidence to start letting him shoot the ball from the 3-point line. He has gotten better through hard work."
Moultrie's production this year, along with other Bulldog players stepping up has taken some of the pressure off of preseason All-SEC senior Dee Bost. Bost seemed to be the only player to be able to carry the team last season, but Stansbury isn't having to rely on him as much this season.
"I don't have to go in there and say Dee has to get me 18 points to win tonight," said Stansbury. "We have multiple guys that gives us a little more versatility and we shoot it well enough that we don't have to depend on the 3-point shot right now."
Even though they haven't relied on Bost as much as last season, he is still having a standout season thus far as he leads the SEC in points scored with 138 and is tied for third with an average of 17 points per game.
Bost feels the reason for his success is because the team is harder to stop because of their versatility.
"We're versatile and have a lot of weapons," said Bost. "If they take away one option, we know we can always rely on the post to score and we feed them a lot so we play off them."
With that versatility, the Bulldogs won seven games in the month of November for the first time in school history, and Stansbury is happy with where his team is going but doesn't feel they are there yet. However, tonight's game, which will only be the second meeting in the history of the two schools, could help the Bulldogs get where they are wanting to go.
"It's a great opportunity for us," said Stansbury. "They are a good program, highly respected program, one of the better programs in the country and we got them coming here."