Cedric Simmons showed Shelden Williams and the rest of the nation that he is going to be a force to be reckoned with; Marcus Slaughter is a much better all-around player this year and has been proving that emphatically lately; Marcus Williams is one of the few bright spots in what has been a turbulent season so far for Arizona fans; Richard Roby is becoming one of the best 3-point shooters in the NCAA for the surging Colorado Buffaloes; Daniel Gibson redeems himself with one of the best shooting performances we've seen all year and Quinton Hosley is a JUCO transfer that has Fresno State fans as excited as they've been for a while.
Cedric Simmons, 6-10, sophomore, center, NC State
28 points, 9 rebounds, 7 blocks, 3 steals, 2 assists, 2 turnovers, 11/18 FG, 6/8 FT
Simmons started off extremely hot and did not quiet down the entire game. He did it in a variety of ways, mostly with his back to the basket, off of offensive rebounds and running the floor in transition, keeping Shelden Williams on his heels the entire game. Simmons blocked his shot numerous times both straight up and from the weak-side, and altered countless others.
Despite playing for a team that seemingly does not fit his style at all with their Princeton style of offense that feature multiple ball-handlers at all positions and perimeter shooting big men, Simmons showed that NC State is a team that can do more than just hurt you by playing a stifling zone and knocking down threes. The reason this was possible was that Dukes strategy coming into this game appeared to be to not sag up their perimeter defense no matter what and instead leave Shelden Williams all by himself on an island in the post. Simmons took advantage of him multiple times in one and one situations thanks to his size, quickness and length, and the help defense never came. He was more assertive and decisive than weve ever seen him, spinning towards the basket knowing exactly what he wanted to do, attacking Williams relentlessly on every possession with a jump-hook or baby hook shot, not backing down and showing surprisingly good touch around the rim that we ordinarily arent used to seeing.
Despite this one excellent game, though, Simmons is still far from being a perfect prospect and needs to find a way to add consistency and plenty of polish to his game. Hes still figuring out what he is capable of doing on the offensive end outside of 5 feet, learning how to use his left hand, staying out of foul trouble, and just being a complete all-around player night in and night out. Being more of a prospect for the 2007 or 2008 draft, there are a lot of reasons to continue to follow him and check up on his progress. He certainly raised the bar telling us what we can expect from him in the future.
Marcus Slaughter, 6-8, junior, SF/PF, San Diego State
Last 3 games: 60 points, 52 rebounds, 7 assists, 7 blocks, 5 steals, 6 turnovers, 17/32 FG, 26/31 FT
Slaughter has been an absolute animal on the glass as of late, pulling down an impressive 52 rebounds in his last 3 games. Hes also been scoring at a good clip with 60 points in those games on a solid 17/32 shooting from the field and 26/31 from the line. Together these stats all begin to paint a distinct picture for you about the progress Slaughter has made over the past few months, with the most notable improvement coming in his aggressiveness and general attitude. Slaughter has been attacking the glass relentlessly this season, ranking 7th in the nation in rebounding with over 11 per game thanks to his superb quickness, excellent hands, long arms, tenacious attitude, instincts and much improved motor. Hes been living at the line this season and is hitting close to 80% of his free throws, up from 70% last year. His FG% is up as well to a very solid 50% on the year.
At 6-8 with a 6-11 wingspan his frame is prototypical for an NBA small forward. He was almost strictly an inside player in his first two seasons at San Diego State, but is now starting to move his game out to the perimeter and is making some small, but important strides in this area lately. His ball-handling in particular looks better, being able to lead the break or put the ball on the floor from the perimeter and attack his man. Slaughter has very powerful legs and is able to get to the basket in just two very large strides from the 3-point line thanks to his athleticism, often being sent to the line because of how tough it is for big men to contain him. When properly utilized, Slaughter is one of the toughest players to defend on the west coast because of his all-around versatility at the power forward position. Few can keep up with his combination of strength and athleticism both inside and out, but especially on the glass. His passing ability is much better as well, showing better decision making skills, an improved attitude, and just a better all-around understanding of the game. His assists are way up while the turnovers are down on the year to back this up.
In terms of weaknesses, they mostly revolve around his position at the next level, less around how good of an actual basketball player he is. While his ball-handling is much better than what it was last year (being almost non-existent in tight half-court situations), it is still not NBA small forward caliber. Hell have to work hard to continue to add polish to this part of his game, particularly with his left hand. In terms of range on his shot, he has not hit even one 3-pointer this season, but has also only attempted one. Its tough to assess this part of his game without actually seeing it, but his delivery from mid-range does not look particularly smooth either. Since he only defends post players at the Mountain West conference level, his perimeter defense is largely untested as well. He has done a better job of staying out of foul trouble this season, and is generally showing a better activity level from what I remember of him last year.
Regarding Slaughter and the draft this year, things got very murky. Had he not burned his draft card last year as a sophomore, he would have been a shoo-in to test the waters and see where he stands. As of right now he will have to be extremely careful with whatever he decides to do, because if he is not at least a lock for the top 40--which he definitely is not--then he has no business declaring. Showing similar improvement next year to what he did this season would probably be what puts him over the top, but otherwise he is playing with fire if he decides to roll the dice.
Fortunately for him (and in no small part due to his efforts), his team is rolling lately at 5-1 in the MWC for sole possession of first place. The Aztecs have one of the most athletic teams on the west coast regardless of conference, and could be a real headache for any team if they are able to win the automatic bid and make the NCAA tournament. If not, most of their talent returns next season and they should be a force to be reckoned with.
Marcus Williams, 6-7, freshman, shooting guard, Arizona
22 points, 6 rebounds, 2 assists, 9-13 FG, 3-3 3P
With the Cardinal building momentum down the stretch, it was Williams that drove strong to the basket, hit silky smooth outside jumpers, and came up with crucial offensive rebounds. His driving lay-in with 14 seconds left in regulation sent the game into overtime, and another crucial basket with just over two minutes remaining in overtime put Arizona in the lead for good. Williams finished with 22 points on 9-13 shooting, including a perfect 3 of 3 from beyond the arc.
From an NBA perspective, there is a lot to like about Marcus Williams. At 6'7, he has ideal wing size, and is very much a pure shooting guard. Williams isn't the most explosive athlete out there, but everything about his game defines the term "smooth". He is very comfortable scoring off the dribble or pulling up in the midrange and is also shooting 47% from behind the arc. Take away one aspect of his game, and he will find a different way to beat you. While Williams will need to get quite a bit stronger before he is ready for the physical rigors of the NBA, he is already very much a factor on the glass for the Wildcats.
It is very easy to see Marcus Williams developing into a full-fledged star as early as next season. Consistency is a typical freshman issue that he will have to overcome (just 3-13 shooting in his most recent game, an Arizona win over California on Saturday), but Williams has all the tools to develop into a very special player.
Richard Roby, 6-6, sophomore, shooting guard, Colorado
27 points, 7 rebounds, 6 steals, 1 assist, 4 turnovers, 1 block, 12-21 FG, 3-7 3P, 0-2 FT
A big reason for that is the play of their sophomore stud Roby who has established himself as a legit NBA prospect. Roby has nice size for the shooting guard position at 6-6 with very long arms to go along with that. His best attribute as far as the NBA is concerned has to be his outstanding stroke from the perimeter, featuring deep range, effortless mechanics and a quick release. Watching him shoot it is not hard to notice how much talent he has in this area. He moves off the ball extremely well and is generally a very intelligent player in everything he does. He does not force the issue and is very adept at finding teammates with a variety of shrewd passes, showing an outstanding feel for the game. Defensively he uses his long arms to the fullest to get in the passing lanes and even block shots when the opportunity arises. Being more than just a one-dimensional player on the catch and shoot, Roby can score pulling up off the dribble from mid-range as well. He uses the threat of his shot very well to get his man in the air and then smoothly slash right by him, but lacks a bit of strength to finish at the basket and is better off elevating for a jump-shot instead. Not being a very explosive athlete, he doesnt have a great first step or very good ball-handling skills and therefore isnt the best slashing threat in the world.
There has been some early-entry talk revolving around Robys name lately and you have to wonder if the hype might be coming a little prematurely for him. In a draft that appears to be stacked with wing players, its tough to see where a player like Roby fits in in the first round. Hes yet to fully grow into his frame, is lacking a lot of polish beyond his shooting stroke, and is not really an explosive athlete. While he has his half brother Kenyon Martins complexion, he certainly does not have his quickness or hops. Thats not to say hes not an extremely talented player, but it will probably take an NCAA tournament run or a couple of superb performances against some of the top perimeter talent in the league before he truly solidifies himself as a first round prospect.
Daniel Gibson, 6-2, sophomore, shooting guard, Texas
37 points, 5 rebounds, 3 assists, 1 turnover, 3 steals, 13-16 FG, 9-12 3P, 2-2 FT
Against Baylor this past weekend Gibson made his coach look especially smart, knocking down 9 of his 12 shots from behind the arc and scoring 37 points to go along with just 1 turnover. His defense (as well as the entire teams) has picked up considerably as well, holding Aaron Bruce to just 2 points on 1-7 shooting. In one particular stretch where the Bears cut a substantial lead to just 6 points, Gibson responded by reeling off 20 straight points to put the game firmly back in Texas favor. He did it in a variety of ways in this game, using his phenomenal stroke to knock down contested shots from the perimeter showing a super quick release, putting the ball on the floor and finishing creatively around the basket in athletic fashion, using his shifty speed to get by his man in transition, and even pulling up for a mid-range shot or floater from the middle of the lane. Gibson looks extremely comfortable in his new role as Texas J.J. Redick, and even though it might not be the best thing for his personal draft stock considering his lack of size at the shooting guard position, its definitely better than letting him tank it completely like he was early on. What weve learned in the past few years anyway is that there is definitely a place in the NBA for scoring guards like a Ben Gordon or Eddie House. What was a bit more concerning in this particular game (as well as in the entire season so far) was once again the way he ignored his talented front-court, seeing LaMarcus Aldridge in particular post up and seal off his man time after time by being unable to find a way to get him the ball with a simple post-entry pass. As long as his shot is falling then all will be well in Longhorn nation, but you have to wonder what they are going to do in an NCAA tournament game if it isnt
Quinton Hosley, 6-6, junior, Fresno State
35 points, 7 rebounds, 4 blocks, 3 steals, 1 assist, 4 turnovers, 10-14 FG, 5-8 3P, 10-11 FT
This past week, Hosley exploded for 35 points in Fresno State's win against Nevada. In addition to going 5 of 8 from 3-point range, he also battled admirably with Nick Fazekas on the defensive end. Hosley plays a bit of combo forward for the size-challenged Bulldogs, but clearly has the build and athleticism of a power wing. His shooting form is sound, albeit streaky, and he has a motor that allows him to be a factor on the glass and in the open court. Hosley followed up his big outing with 18 points and 16 rebounds against Julian Sensley and Hawaii.
It would be nice to see Quinton Hosley against some high-major competition, but we have another year and a half to get a better read on him. Put us in the "intrigued" category, for now.