With big man Arnett Moultrie back on the court, things are certainly looking up for Mississippi State.
The 21st-ranked Bulldogs look to extend their longest winning streak in nearly two years Saturday night when they host West Virginia as part of the Big East-SEC Challenge.Since falling 68-58 to Akron on Nov. 9, Mississippi State (7-1) has won six in a row -- two over Top 25 opponents -- by an average of 16.3 points. It's the most consecutive victories for the Bulldogs since a nine-game run Nov. 28-Dec. 31, 2009."It's still early, but I think we're one of the best teams in the nation," guard Dee Bost said.Mississippi State cruised to a pair of one-sided victories with Moultrie sidelined last week due to tendinitis in both knees, but he was back at full strength Sunday. Fellow starter Renardo Sidney (sprained left hand) also returned from a two-game absence as the Bulldogs recorded their highest scoring output of the season, defeating North Texas 82-59.Moultrie, putting up 16.0 points and an SEC-best 10.8 rebounds per game, totaled 20 and nine, respectively."I'm just glad to be back," he said. "I wanted to come out and be aggressive offensively and get in a good rhythm for this big game we've got (this) weekend."Following a five-day break, Mississippi State figures to be well rested for this matchup with the Mountaineers (4-1), winners of three straight.West Virginia defeated Akron 77-56 on Monday behind a season-high 19 points from freshman Jabarie Hinds and a fourth consecutive double-double from senior Kevin Jones, who had 18 points and 12 boards.However, the Mountaineers continued to struggle at the free-throw line. They shot a season-worst 14 of 27 from the foul line Monday and are at 59.4 percent for the season."For the last two weeks they have to make a hundred before they can leave, and it's charted, so I know what percentage they're shooting," coach Bob Huggins told the school's official website. "I don't understand it."The Mountaineers also have been plagued by turnovers, committing a Big East-worst 16.8 per game.Huggins is unsure how his team going to respond in its first matchup with a major conference opponent and first road game. West Virginia was 5-6 in true road games last season, including 1-4 against ranked teams."We're not going to know unless we do it," he said. "We're going to be alright. We get young and dumb and we've got to get away from that. We're going to be young but we've got to get away from the dumb."While slowing down Moultrie surely won't be easy, the Mountaineers also could have difficulty containing freshman standout Rodney Hood and the versatile Bost. Hood is averaging 16.0 points on 65.6 percent shooting over his last three games while Bost leads the Bulldogs with 17.0 points per game."They've got great athletes," Huggins said. "Dee Bost is really a good athlete ... Hood is really long and then when you have Sidney and Moultrie inside -- they change shots; they block shots, they do a good job of rebounding the ball and try and limit you to one shot."West Virginia took the only previous meeting, 63-62 on a last-second 3-pointer in the 2007 NIT semifinals.Mississippi State hasn't opened better than 7-1 since winning its first 13 games in 2003-04."This is going to be a heck of a challenge," coach Rick Stansbury told Mississippi State's official website. "Hey, West Virginia is a really good basketball team. We're making steady improvement but this is a big basketball game for early in the year."