STARKVILLE — Neither Mississippi State coach Rick Stansbury nor Baylor coach Scott Drew have a guarantee about what the result will be when their teams meet tonight in Dallas.
They do know it’ll be fun however.
“It’s going to be a great matchup,” Drew said. “Both are athletic. Both are very long and talented. I think you are going to see a lot of great plays.”
When the No. 15 Bulldogs (12-1) and No. 6 Baylor (12-0) meet at American Airlines Arena (8 p.m., ESPN2), it will be just the eighth this season between two programs in the Associated Press Top 15 and a decent test before both teams enter the rigors of conference play.
“It’s very obvious we’re going to play one of the better teams in the country,” said Stansbury. “Scott (Drew) has done a terrific job with them and has them playing at a very high level. This will be, no question, our most difficult challenge, task, of the season.”
Baylor, who are one of six teams still left unbeaten in the nation, has completely transformed itself from a inconsistent bunch that failed to make the NCAAs after a preseason Top 10 ranking last year to become one most efficient offensive teams in the country with a shooting 50.2 field-goal percentage that ranks among the top 10 nationally.
“They don’t have many weaknesses right now at all,” Stansbury said.
The matchup will feature one of the best point guard and power forward, pick-and-roll matchups in the country as Mississippi State brings the experience of senior Dee Bost and Arnett Moultrie to counter the up-tempo style of former junior college All-American Pierre Jackson and consensus future NBA lottery pick Perry Jones III.
Jackson has had a roller coaster first few months in Division 1 basketball with an assist-to-turnover rate of one to one but has picked up the consistency lately especially in a a thrilling 83-81 overtime victory over West Virginia in Friday’s Las Vegas Classic championship game.
Jackson, who is averaging 13.8 points in the past eight games while going 14 of 24 from 3-point range, scored a season-high 23 on Friday, including the game-tying 3-pointer with 18 seconds left in regulation.
“Pierre is so quick,” Drew said. “Pierre has a winner’s heart. He will not shy away from taking a big shot. What’s most (important) about that is that he makes them.”
Bost, one of the best on-ball defenders that Jackson will see all season, will get the opportunity to check the Baylor point guard and instantly have five inches of height advantage over the 5-foot-10 junior college transfer. MSU’s Wooden Award nominee struggled offensively in his last game only hitting 3-of-14 from the field but contributed on defense and mostly running the team in the lead guard role during MSU’s 82-67 victory over Northwestern State in Jackson.
All of the scouting eyes might be on the Moultrie-Jones matchup as the Bulldogs junior already has a Southeastern Conference leading seven double-doubles while averaging 17.8 points per game and is sixth nationally in rebounding per contest at 11.7. These numbers come two years after impressing coaches in the Lone Star state while a freshman at the University of Texas at El Paso.
“I knew coming out of UTEP he was an outstanding player,” Drew said. “I think he’s gone to another level.”
Jones III is another 6-foot-11 sophomore that can run the floor and prefers to play in the Bears up-tempo offense while averaging a team-best 14.1 points and 6.9 rebounds. His decision to come back for his two season of college basketball instantly made him the favorite for Big 12 Conference Player of the Year consideration.
“If you want to have a guy that has a chance to match up (with Jones), it’s Arnett,” Stansbury said.
Mississippi State University officials said Monday evening that junior center Renardo Sidney is being listed as “day to day” following the first practice back together since the Christmas holiday.
After tonight, the Bulldogs are back in action at 2 p.m. Saturday against Utah State at Humphrey Coliseum.
Tickets are being offered at a discounted rate of $5.