Big men roam Tobacco Road

Wolfpack's Simmons emerges from crowd of talented centers

ACC notebook

December 14, 2005|By PAUL MCMULLEN | PAUL MCMULLEN,SUN REPORTER

There's no shortage of quality big men among the Atlantic Coast Conference's four North Carolina schools.

Duke's Shelden Williams leads that pack.

If the conference has one beast who can bump Williams off the block, it's Wake Forest's Eric Williams.

North Carolina is getting great mileage from 6-foot-9, 235-pound Tyler Hansbrough, who leads the Tar Heels and all ACC freshmen in scoring, rebounding and field-goal percentage.

Hansbrough is not considered the best NBA prospect among rookies on Route 15/501; 6-10 Josh McRoberts can play with his back to the basket and help out on perimeter traps for the Blue Devils.

N.C. State, the other Tobacco Road school, has gone to the past four NCAA tournaments and last season's Sweet 16 thanks to a Princeton-style offense that more often than not used the center at the high post. The Wolfpack, however, hopes it has found a true center in sophomore Cedric Simmons, who might be the most improved player in the ACC.

Other than one good week in February, Simmons was frequently lost last season in a deep rotation in which eight others got 10 or more starts. He was listed at 6-9 and 216 pounds, but his numbers were small, 3.5 points and 1.8 rebounds a game.

Simmons added nearly 20 pounds in the offseason, and has done much more than win a starting position. He leads the Wolfpack in scoring (12.6) and rebounding (6.9). Duke's Williams is the only ACC player averaging more blocks than Simmons' 2.6 a game. If he met the minimum of five shots made a game, his field-goal percentage of .636 would stand second to that of Wake's Williams.

Since the start of last season, Simmons is the only Wolfpack regular who hasn't attempted a three, but with 16 assists, he is finding the open man, just like a Princeton-style big man must.

"The offense was difficult to read last year," said Simmons, who turns 20 next month. "We still run the Princeton offense, but I stay down low more often than I did last year. It's important that we have a guy who can go inside, bang a little bit."

No. 25 N.C. State (6-1) has lost only in the ACC/Big Ten Challenge, at Iowa, but it wasn't Simmons' fault. While his teammates were a combined 12-for-42 from the field, he hit five of his eight attempts for 13 points and added 13 rebounds, eight blocks and five assists.

Miami goes to Raleigh on Sunday for the final ACC game of 2005.

Slow down

The young quarterback was having trouble at the next level, unnecessarily rushing through his options and making dumb passes.

Kyle Boller?

No, Greg Paulus.

A native of Syracuse, N.Y., Paulus was regarded as one of the nation's top football quarterback prospects in the Class of 2005, but also played in the McDonald's All-American basketball game. A number of major programs would have let him attempt both sports, but he gave up football to play basketball for Duke.

When sophomore DeMarcus Nelson fractured his right ankle Nov. 23 against Drexel, Sean Dockery moved to the wing and Paulus became the Blue Devils' point guard, perhaps for good. Duke survived his five-turnover effort and won at Indiana. Against Virginia Tech and Pennsylvania, he had six assists to eight turnovers, but he might have turned a corner against Texas.

Paulus was out of control early against the Longhorns, driving the baseline and forcing a pass that went harmlessly out of bounds, but he didn't commit a turnover the rest of the way.

Mike Krzyzewski simplified the game plan for Paulus while simultaneously incorporating some new cuts for J.J. Redick. The more patient Paulus is, the greater the likelihood Redick will leave his defender behind a screen.

Tap-ins

The Big Ten and Big East rate better in one of the online replicas of the RPI, but half of the ACC's 12 teams are in the Associated Press Top 25. ... Unranked Clemson, the only unbeaten in the league besides Duke, plays three games in as many days in Puerto Rico next week. ... Virginia is the only team in the conference without a winning record, and the Cavaliers figure to go below .500 Saturday at No. 9 Gonzaga.

paul.mcmullen@baltsun.com

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