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Ex-Wildcat Justin Simon is a lockdown defender at St. John’s

Think Arizona could use him right about now?

NCAA Basketball: Nebraska at St. John Anthony Gruppuso-USA TODAY Sports

One of the reasons the Arizona Wildcats have underperformed early in the 2017-18 campaign is because of their lack of a defensive stopper, someone who Sean Miller can trust to guard the opposing team’s best player.

Miller recently said that there is no one on the roster close to being that player.

Kadeem Allen was that guy last year, but he graduated and none of the returners or highly-touted freshmen have been able to fill that void.

Maybe Rawle Alkins can when he returns from a broken foot, but you know who else could have taken on that role? Justin Simon.

Remember him? The former Arizona guard who transferred to St. John’s?

Well, the Wildcats sure could use him right now. The Red Storm have the No. 11 defense in the country, holding teams to 85 points per 100 possessions, and Simon is their go-to perimeter defender.

And he’s a darn good one.

Simon is No. 1 college basketball in defensive win shares (0.9), 12th in the country in defensive rating (77.5), and 20th in defensive box plus/minus (8.2).

The highest-rated defender on Arizona’s roster — Keanu Pinder — has a 6.5 defensive box plus/minus.

After that it’s Ira Lee who has a 3.5 DBPM. Deandre Ayton leads Arizona in defensive win shares at 0.5, a significant notch below Simon.

Simon, who splits time at the 2, 3, and 4 for St. John’s, is averaging 2.9 steals and 1.1 blocks per game, which would be team-highs on Arizona.

The 6-foot-5 wing is also a terrific rebounder, tracking down 8.7 boards per game — another area this Arizona team struggles in.

The former four-star recruit averaged just 7.5 minutes in 24 games in his freshman season at Arizona, mostly because he couldn’t carve out a role offensively.

Simon wasn’t as polished of a ball-handler and distributor as anticipated (he was recruited as a point guard) and he was a non-threat as a shooter. The Temecula, Calif. native averaged just 2.3 points per game with the Wildcats, and statistically was Arizona’s least effective offensive player.

Simon still isn’t a great offensive player at St. John’s, but he is much-improved, averaging 9.1 points per game while shooting 48 percent from the field — mostly scoring inside the 3-point line (though he is 5-for-5 from 3) — while averaging 3.9 assists per contest.

Simon would have been behind Kadeem Allen, Parker Jackson-Cartwright, and Allonzo Trier on the depth chart entering his sophomore season at Arizona, plus he would have had to compete with Alkins and Kobi Simmons for minutes, which is why he cited playing time as the No. 1 reason why he left the UA (though he probably would have gotten plenty as a sophomore since Arizona was ravaged by injuries/suspensions at the beginning of the 2016-17 season).

While Simon is thriving in New York, it’s hard not to wonder how he would fit at Arizona right now if he stuck it out in Tucson.

He could have been the active, disruptive perimeter defender this “lifeless” Arizona team sorely needs.


Follow Ryan Kelapire on Twitter at @RKelapire