|Moultrie's been so good, but it seems people haven't yet noticed how valuable he's become in getting Mississippi State to becoming an SEC contender. (US PRESSWIRE)|
By Matt Norlander
It’s time to discuss Arnett Moultrie, who’s become among one of the best big men in the country. It’s time to mull and debate his place amid the higher horde in the Player of the Year race. He’s a candidate. I’m not seeing him right now as top-three, -five or -eight, but top 10 or top 12? Yes, absolutely.
Moultrie is not without flaw (I think his shot-blocking could be so much better) but still Mississippi State’s best player, by far, and more surprising than that is the junior’s turned into one of the most valuable transfers in college basketball in the past decade. Not only did he come into a program that already had a big man with NBA potential (Renardo Sidney), he’s melded his play into just what coach Rick Stansbury needs to turn MSU into a second-weekend NCAA tournament team. Moultrie didn't try to take over with this team; it just happened naturally, and now, dear God, it's looking like we can take MSU seriously.
This wasn’t predictable. Moultrie was seen as a great addition to the program from the get to the go, but this kind of production (give me just a second and I’ll get that ready for you) is beyond expectation.
Prior to Mississippi State, Moultrie, 6-11, was at UTEP, where his play was overlooked consistently. To be fair, he wasn’t playing good teams and UTEP wasn’t as good as the Bulldogs are now. He also did not score (less than a point per possession), shoot (just above 50 percent from the floor) or rebound (good-not-great rates of 10.3 on offense and 19.1 on defense) as well while a Miner. He lacked drive.
“I didn’t always have this work ethic I have now,” Moultrie told me last week. “Once I transferred, that’s what triggered it. That's when I started to work more.”
Moultrie has led MSU to its top-20 ranking in both the polls (No. 17 in Top 25 [and one]) and coming off that 25-point, 13-rebound performance in a 56-52 home win over Alabama Saturday, the slender stilt should be talked alongside of Draymond Green, Mike Scott, Herb Pope, Marcus Denmon and Harrison Barnes. Actually, I take that back — Barnes is well behind Moultrie at this point.
“This past year has been … amazing for me. When I became eligible, I wanted success from the start,” Moultrie said. “I do believe we have the best front court in the country.”
Run the Floor, one of the better independent college hoops blogs out there, had this to say about Moultrie last week, prior to his Alabama outburst: “He's had double digit rebounds in 11 of 13 games, and double digit points in 8. He's one of two SEC players grabbing at least 15 percent of their own team's misses. He rarely commits fouls, draws them at the highest rate on the team, and makes 87 percent once he gets to the line. He's versatile. He can face up, he's got moves on the block, and he can go by you. He makes 56 percent of his 2s and has an offensive rating over 121.”
Those numbers are even better following MSU’s home wins over Tennessee and the Tide, although Moultrie did only snare four caroms in the Tennessee game, he made up for it with 13 points, four blocks and just one foul, which also adds to his value. Only four times has Moultrie been held to single digits; Mississippi State lost three of those four, only beating middling Texas A&M.
As for the foul thing, it's huge. Luke Winn recently charted foul tendencies among big men on good teams, but didn't get to Mississippi State. I haven’t charted when Moultrie gets his whistles, but there’s really no need to. He’s never had a game with four fouls, and he’s only fouled out once, which, no shock here, ended up in a Bulldogs loss (98-88 to Arkansas).
Moultrie averages 1.9 fouls per game. For a critical man on the interior, that’s huge. Does he lack aggressiveness? No because, as Run the Floor stated, Moultrie's getting to the line plenty. For every two field goals he takes, he shoots a free throw -- a 50-percent rate, and that's very good for business.
What I loved about Moultrie in talking to him on the phone was his blunt, aggressive, to-the-point style in discussing the team. He’s been ticked recently with how badly they've been playing defense. Again, this was prior to the Tennessee and Alabama wins.
“I’m not sure why it’s been like that,” he said, “but whatever it is we need to change. Our guards need to do a better job guarding the ball. Our man to man defense, it sucks right now.”
Against Tennessee the Bulldogs held the Vols to .97 points per possession (anything under one point per possession is good). Alabama was even more inefficient, scoring .9 PPP against Moultrie and Co. Much improvement there.
“Our attitude is, we have a lot of weapons at the offense ends, but we need to get better on both sides of the ball,” Moultrie said. “I’m not satisfied and I need to look forward to doing it better.”
By "it" he meant leading the team, playing better defense and taking chances away from other teams on the glass. He’s excelled. Mississippi State’s got a solid corps with freshman Rodney Hood (also supremely underrated), Dee Bost and stud sub Deville Smith. Moultrie has become and should remain the centerpiece. I don’t think MSU wins the SEC, but if they flirt with it, you’ll start to hear more about how influential he is. Why not have the conversation now?