Screen Shot 2014-07-11 at 9.15.43 AM

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

1 Comment

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 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.

No. 1 Kentucky survives without Tyler Ulis in lineup

Tyler Ulis
AP Photo/Chuck Burton
Leave a comment

Less than a week after giving No. 2 Maryland all they could handle, Illinois State went into Lexington and gave No. 1 Kentucky fits.

The Redbirds never really threatened UK in the second half, but they went into the break tied and were within single digits down the stretch, eventually losing 75-63.

Kentucky was flustered. They turned the ball over 15 times compared to just eight assists, they shot 2-for-12 from three and just 29-for-46 (63 percent) from the charity stripe. They simply did not handle Illinois State’s pressure all that well.

And there was a reason for that.

Tyler Ulis didn’t play.

Sometimes it’s difficult to appreciate just what a player brings to a team until that player is not in the lineup, and that was precisely the case with Ulis on Monday night. It was crystal clear what he provides Kentucky. Beyond leadership and the ability to break a press without throwing the ball to the other team, he’s a calming presence. He doesn’t get rattled when a defender is harassing him and he doesn’t get overwhelmed by a situation like a mid-major threatening the No. 1 team in the country in their own gym.

He’s everything you look for in a pure point guard, and for as good as Jamal Murray and Isaiah Briscoe have looked at times this season, it should be crystal clear who the most important player on this Kentucky team is.

LSU loses to Charleston, eliminates at-large bid margin for error

Ben Simmons
AP Photo/Kathy Willens
Leave a comment

Ben Simmons scored 15 points and grabbed 18 rebounds, the second time in his six-game career that the LSU freshman has collected that many caroms, but that wasn’t enough for the Tigers to avoid dropping a game on the road to the College of Charleston, 70-58. It was the third straight loss for Simmons’ crew, as they fell to Marquette and N.C. State at the Legends Classic last week.

But here’s the thing: LSU didn’t just lose.

The game really wasn’t close.

LSU was down by as many as 23 points. It was 39-17 at the half, and that was after Charleston had a shot at the buzzer called off upon review. They made a bit of a run in the second half but never got closer than seven. When LSU would cut into the lead, the Cougars would respond with a run of their own, killing LSU’s spirit while keeping them at arm’s length.

[RELATED: Ben Simmons’ one college year a waste?]

Now, there are quite a few things here to discuss. For starters, LSU’s effort was, at best, apathetic, and, at worst, regular old pathetic. The team has a serious lack of leadership that was plainly evident on Monday night; would Fred VanVleet let his team fold against a program picked to finish at the bottom of the SoCon? Would Tyler Ulis? For that matter, would Tom Izzo or Mike Krzyzewski or John Calipari?

Perhaps more importantly, does any of that change when Keith Hornsby and Craig Victor get back?

Simmons did show off his potential — 18 boards, four assists, he even made his first three of the year — but he also showed precisely why there are scouts that are trying to curtail the LeBron James comparisons. Simmons was 4-for-15 from the floor with seven turnovers against a mediocre mid-major team. There are so many things that Simmons does well, but scoring efficiently — particularly in half court setting — and shooting the ball consistently are not on that list.

But here’s the biggest issue: LSU may have put themselves in a situation where they aren’t a tournament team. As of today, they’re 3-3 on the season with losses to a pair of teams that, at best, seem destined to be in the bubble conversation on Selection Sunday in addition to this loss to Charleston. The rest of their non-conference schedule is ugly. The only game worth noting is at home against No. 6 Oklahoma at the end of January.

The NCAA factors in non-conference schedule strength when determining at-large teams. You need to at least try, and LSU didn’t try; they have one of the worst non-conference schedules in the country.

The great thing about being in the SEC — as opposed to, say, the Missouri Valley — is that the Tigers will have plenty of chances to earn marquee wins. Six, by my court: Kentucky twice, Texas A&M twice, Vanderbilt on the road and Oklahoma at home. They probably need to win at least two or three of those games to have a real chance, and that’s assuming they can avoid anymore horrid losses in the process.

The season isn’t over six games in, not by any stretch of the imagination.

But LSU has done a hell of a job eliminating their margin for error.