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Arizona-commit Justin Simon may not be a PG, but that may not matter

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PHILADELPHIA — For all intents and purposes, Justin Simon’s recruitment is done and overwith.

The 6-foot-5 guard from California committed to Sean Miller and the Arizona Wildcats in the spring, yet another in a long line of elite west coast recruits pledging to play in Tucson. It was a fairly early commitment for the five-star prospect, who ranks No. 23 in the Class of 2015, according to Rivals, as he made his decision prior to his final July live recruiting period.

What that means is that instead of heading out on the road over the course of the 15 evaluation days in July with a goal of proving himself to recruiters around the country, the most important month in an aspiring college player’s career has turned into, well, just another month for Simon.

“I’m glad my process is over,” Simon told NBCSports.com from the Reebok Breakout Classic this week.

A typical five-star recruit will spend his summer playing on courts that are lined with the kind of hall of fame-caliber head coaches and high major assistant coaches that would make an average college basketball fan blush, as the top programs in the country will make a point of tracking all the players they are targeting throughout the summer. Coaches that have already earned a commitment from a player will do the same, a recruiting technique known as babysitting.

As far as Simon is concerned, he’d be happiest if Arizona’s coaches were the only ones that didn’t show up to a game he played all summer long.

MORE: All our content from the 2014 July Live Recruiting Period

“I’d like to have some guys to play with,” Simon said with a laugh, driving home the point that he doesn’t need to be babysitted. He’d rather Miller and his staff worry about finding a scoring guard to replace Tyler Dorsey than be concerned with having to sit court side every time he takes the floor.

“Coach Miller’s doing a great job recruiting guys,” he said. “I chose Arizona because they have great locker room guys and great people already.”

At the high school and AAU level, Simon spends quite a bit of time playing on the ball. He’s 6-foot-5 with a 6-foot-11 wingspan, but he’s a very capable ball-handler and an excellent distributor. He has the vision and passing ability to make plays for his teammates when his penetration draws extra defenders, which is one of the reasons that he’s able to consistently rack up assists at this level.

The question is going to be whether or not Simon ends up as a full time point guard at the college level. As of now, Simon is at his best when he’s allowed to use his physical tools to make plays. He’s terrific in transition and athletic and rangy enough to make plays at the rim. He threw down a pair of windmill dunks during a game at the Elevate Hoops Showdown tournament. Simon is also a terrific defender, both on the ball and playing in the passing lanes, and when he has the ball in his hands in the open court, it’s a virtual certainty that someone on his team will be getting a high-percentage shot.

The problem?

That skill set will make a player look excellent in AAU and camp settings. What happens when Simon is forced to run an offense, or bring the ball up while playing Sean Miller’s more deliberate tempo? The other question mark is his ability to shoot the ball. It’s no where near consistent enough, meaning that it would be possible to play far enough off of Simon to take away his driving ability.

“My jump shot around the arc, I need to develop that better, and more consistency on my pull-up,” Simon said.

Put all of that together and we get to a point where the question has to be asked: can Simon be a point guard on a team that will be competing for a national title, or is he a do-it-all perimeter player?

The answer to that question might lie in who the Wildcats landed in the Class of 2014: four-star point guard Parker Jackson-Cartwright, a 5-foot-9 playmaker. Or it might lie in who else Arizona is recruiting in the back court in the Class of 2015. They originally accepted a commitment from Tyler Dorsey before parting ways last month and have been heavily involved with — and have offers out to — both Isaiah Briscoe and Allonzo Trier. All three are ball-dominant scoring guards that spend a lot of time playing with the ball in their hands.

If Miller is targeting a perimeter attack of Jackson-Cartwright, Briscoe and Simon, does he really think that Simon is going to be a full-time point guard?

To a point, this conversation is moot, because regardless of what position Simon will play in college, he will be an impact player on both ends of the floor.

Johnson, Paige help No. 9 Tar Heels roll past Panthers 85-64

North Carolina's Isaiah Hicks (4) dunks against Pittsburgh during the first half of an NCAA college basketball game in Chapel Hill, N.C., Sunday, Feb. 14, 2016. (AP Photo/Gerry Broome)
AP Photo/Gerry Broome
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CHAPEL HILL, N.C. (AP) Brice Johnson scored 19 points to lead a dominating offensive performance that helped No. 9 North Carolina beat Pittsburgh 85-64 on Sunday.

Marcus Paige added 15 points for the Tar Heels (21-4, 10-2 Atlantic Coast Conference), who shot 59 percent to stay atop the league ahead of the next renewal of their fierce rivalry with Duke.

UNC had plenty of balance, shared the ball and got out in transition in arguably their best performance in weeks, using a 13-0 second-half burst to blow the game open. UNC finished with 26 assists on 32 baskets, 24 points off turnovers and scored 16 fast-break points after managing a combined five in the past two games.

Michael Young and James Robinson each scored 15 points to lead Pitt (17-7, 6-6). But the Panthers shot 37 percent and committed 19 turnovers, and a strong effort on the glass did little to offset their troubles.

The Tar Heels were playing their first home game in two weeks after a difficult three-game road trip that started with losses at Louisville and Notre Dame. Then came Tuesday’s game at Boston College, where the Tar Heels struggled against a winless league team then had a scare when Hall of Fame coach Roy Williams briefly collapsed in a second-half huddle after an attack of vertigo and had to leave the sideline for the rest of the game.

Williams was back in the office on Wednesday’s off day, returned to practice Thursday and told reporters Friday he was fine and even cracked jokes about a two-decade history with vertigo dating to his Kansas years.

Getting back home certainly helped everyone feel better. After wrestling with shooting struggles for much of the past month, UNC’s offense kicked back into an efficient and balanced gear, while Paige – the player the Tar Heels are practically begging to jolt free from a prolonged shooting slump – looked more like his old self against the Panthers.

That included one second-half play in which he caught a crosscourt pass from Theo Pinson in transition and made sure to step back behind the arc before burying a 3-pointer.

The Panthers had lost three of four since a 5-2 league start coming in, including 65-63 on a late tip-in at No. 12 Miami on Tuesday. And Pitt again had trouble getting their offense going, failing to crack 70 points for the third straight game.

TIP-INS

Pittsburgh: Second-leading scorer Jamel Artis scored five points on 2-for-8 shooting. … Pitt finished with a 41-29 rebounding advantage. … Pitt made 9 of 21 3-point attempts.

UNC: Justin Jackson scored 14 points. … UNC made 8 of 15 shots from 3-point range and 13 of 15 free throws. … Jackson and Pinson had six assists each. … UNC managed just one offensive rebound.

UP NEXT

Pittsburgh hosts Wake Forest on Tuesday.

UNC hosts Duke on Wednesday.

Follow Aaron Beard on Twitter at http://www.twitter.com/aaronbeardap and the AP’s college basketball site at http://collegebasketball.ap.org

Denzel Valentine dominant as No. 8 Michigan State whips Indiana

Michigan State's Denzel Valentine (45) shoots over Indiana's Kevin Yogi Ferrell during the first half of an NCAA college basketball game, Sunday, Feb. 14, 2016, in East Lansing, Mich. (AP Photo/Al Goldis)
AP Photo/Al Goldis
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Trailing by one point at the half, Indiana appeared to be in good shape at No. 8 Michigan State. However the fact that they were unable to slow down Denzel Valentine, who scored 15 first-half points, was a major concern for Tom Crean’s Hoosiers. Sure enough the national Player of the Year candidate continued on his tour de force in the second half, scoring another 15 points and dishing out seven assists as the Spartans rolled to an 88-69 victory.

For the game Valentine finished with 30 points, five rebounds, 13 assists and just one turnover. Of Michigan State’s 48 second half points, Valentine had a hand in 29 of them with all seven of his assists resulting in Michigan State layups. It was a dominant performance from one of the nation’s best players, a versatile guard whose four games missed due to injury may have led to some overlooking him when it comes to those national Player of the Year conversations.

When Valentine’s on everything else flows smoothly for Tom Izzo’s team, as his ability to both score and create results in quality looks for teammates who would struggle if they had to get that part of the job done themselves.

The biggest beneficiary Sunday afternoon was forward Matt Costello, who finished the game with 22 points and 11 rebounds. Of Costello’s ten made field goals (10-for-12 FG) five were assisted by Valentine, and he accounted for 13 points and seven rebounds in the second half. As a team Michigan State shot 63.3 percent from the field and assisted on 16 of their 19 made field goals in the second half, turning a tight contest into a blowout.

Tum Tum Nairn returned the court for the first time in seven games, but he played just two minutes and his time on the court will be managed carefully by Izzo moving forward. For many teams not having your point guard at full strength would represent a crippling blow, but that hasn’t been the case for Michigan State thanks in large part to Valentine. Michigan State went 4-3 in those seven games without Nairn, but the three losses were by a total of three points.

Valentine’s ability to make his teammates better will be a key factor down the stretch for Michigan State, and that skill was what led to the Spartans blowing out Indiana on Sunday.