“In February you need tests and you need to find out where you are at this point. This isn’t football. You can drop games in basketball and still be fine, so let’s find out where we are, and see if that’s good enough,” Calipari said Monday.
Mississippi State has lost three straight Southeastern Conference games to drop to 6-6 in league play, but Calipari warned that the Bulldogs should not be underestimated.
He said center Arnett Moultrie is “a double-double” and one of five players that could go for 30 or more points on a given night. He says Moutrie is “very long and active, skilled offensively, can block shots. He’s going to be a handful.”
Moultrie averages 16.5 points and 10.8 rebounds per game and shoots 54.9 percent from the field. Calipari plans to have “our team having to guard him” rather than one particular player.
“He’s a good as anyone in our league. He’s that talented. It’ll be a challenge for us,” Calipari said. “Their guards are good, too, though. You’ve got five (players) that could go for 30, so you’re not saying, ‘Let’s stop this guy.’ You can’t do it that way.
“It’ll be at home, it’ll be sold out, white-out, blue-out, blackout, whatever they’ve got going on. It’s the game, so it’ll be tough. They’re going to play great, and we’re going to have to play a good ballgame to have a chance.”
Moultrie, who transferred to Mississippi State last year, impressed LSU coach Trent Johnson.
“He’s a pro. It’s one thing to be explosive, but to be skilled is another. He is a great athlete who is a great basketball player,” Johnson said. “It’s hard to find a lot of weaknesses. He is special, and (Mississippi State coach) Rick (Stansbury) knew it coming out of the summer tour. He is efficient. Look at his percentages and what he is shooting. A lot of guys are great athletes and not great basketball players. He is a great athlete and great basketball player.”
Point guard Dee Bost averages 15.8 points per game and leads the team with 135 assists and 55 steals. Freshman Rodney Hood adds 11.1 points and 5.0 rebounds, and center Renardo Sidney, whom Stansbury said will be a “game-time decision” after he missed the last game with back spasms, contributes 10.4 points and 5.2 rebounds.
Auburn coach Tony Barbee says Bost is the team “catalyst” on the talented roster.
“They are not anywhere near as good without Bost and the plays he makes,” Barbee said. “Early in his career he thought he needed to score every time down the floor. He’s grown into a leader. He still scores when they need a bucket, but he makes things happen.”
Stansbury likes the way Hood, who averages 34.8 minutes, has handled starting every game and playing such a big role.
“He has probably exceeded expectations and has been very, very solid, probably playing more minutes than we anticipated,” Stansbury said. “At times he’s not been as aggressive as you would like him to be and being a freshman may take a back seat, and that is understandable. But the poise he has played with and the ability to not let the game speed him up, those are things you don’t know about freshmen.
“For the most part, he’s been a calming effect on our team, and that’s unusual for a young guy.”
“They are very balanced. Sidney and Moutrie in the post are good, and they stretch defense with (Jaylen) Steele’s shooting, and then they have Hood and Bost,” Johnson said. “They are probably one of the best teams in the country.”
Calipari said he doesn’t like watching the Bulldogs’ recent games “because they won’t play that way against us.” Instead, he expects to see them playing inspired to snap their losing streak and enhance their NCAAresume.
“The talent on the team, no one’s questioned it. I think they’ve got a bunch of really good players, and any of them can go off at any point,” Calipari said. “They’re not afraid to let loose. That’s how they play, and if they let loose and they’re making shots — what if they come in and make 15 3’s, which they’re capable of doing? Well, we just go on to the game Saturday. Arnett could go for 35 or 40, (but) what you do is try to make that stuff difficult, and they may do it anyway. They’ve got great size, and they’re skilled.”