Mark Lyons Could Be the Missing Piece For ArizonaPosted by AMurawa on May 8th, 2012
Despite the fact that Sean Miller had inked a top-three recruiting class, his roster at Arizona was lacking in one key area: point guard. However, this weekend’s news that Xavier transfer Mark Lyons had committed to Miller (for the second time – it was Miller who had originally recruited Lyons to the Musketeers) goes a long way toward not only clearing up the picture in the Wildcat backcourt, but putting the Pac-12 back on the map for the 2012-13 season.
With elite recruits along the frontline like Kaleb Tarczewski, Grant Jerrett, and Brandon Ashley and a group of talented returnees, there was already plenty of reason for Cat fans to be excited going into next year, but the huge hole at point guard left by consecutive offseasons during which the incumbent point guard transferred out of the program (Momo Jones last summer, then Josiah Turner this season) threatened to limit the upside of the roster. But, despite the fact that Lyons is by no means a true point guard, and he butted heads with Chris Mack (resulting in Lyons’ decision to leave the program) the graduating senior could be the missing piece for a season as the program waits on Duquesne transfer T.J. McConnell to gain his eligibility in 2013-14.
Lyons is a scoring combo guard who spent most of his three seasons at Xavier playing off of the ball. However, he’s got the handle and presence to man the point full-time for the Wildcats and, for a team with a lot of nice pieces but no real go-to scorer, he will be able to fill that need as well. Lyons’ junior season at Xavier was marred by his involvement in the infamous on-court brawl with Cincinnati early in the year, but all told, it was by far his best season. He averaged 15 points, shot nearly 40% from deep and posted the best offensive efficiency rating of his career while taking a higher percentage of his team’s shots than ever before. He excels at getting into the lane and scoring on offense, while he is a pestering on-ball defender. At Arizona, however, he will need to prove that he can play with the ball in his hands on a regular basis and get his new teammates involved. He will have plenty of help in the ballhandling area from guards like sophomore Nick Johnson (who had appeared to be the frontrunner to take over the point guard spot despite his struggles in his handful of chances at that position in his rookie campaign) and Jordin Mayes, as well as point forward Solomon Hill, who led the Wildcats in assists last season, but Lyons has an ability to create for himself and his teammates that those others do not have.
In the end, this is a good match for both sides. The Wildcats get to plug their hole at point with a talented and experienced player, while Lyons gets the chance to run a very talented club for a coach he knows well with an eye toward proving to professional scouts that he can man the lead guard spot at the next level. Lyons will need to not only make adjustments to his game, but he will also need to show an improved attitude — something that a change of scenery could help with. Without an answer at the point, Arizona looked to be a talented and dangerous team albeit with limited upside. With Lyons in tow, the Wildcats are solidified as a Top 10 team going into next season and it turns the Pac-12 conference into a force to be reckoned with.
It’s long been said that the Pac-12 needs UCLA and Arizona – its two flagship programs in basketball – to be good in order for the conference to make a splash on the national stage. And now, after a year in which both programs struggled mightily, each has one of the top three recruiting classes in the nation to pair with some interesting returning pieces. And while one of those two teams should be the preseason favorite (it may be a coin flip or a matter of personal preference to pick one), the Pac-12 features two other teams – Stanford and Colorado – who look to be teams capable of earning an NCAA Tournament invite. Throw in perennial contenders Washington and California along with an Oregon team who should never be counted out so long as Dana Altman is roaming the sidelines and a USC team that should be significantly better, and we’ve got the makings of a very interesting league next season. It’s been a dark stretch in the conference in recent years, but with the offseason’s much-needed influx of talent into schools up and down the coast, the Pac-12 is once against headed in the right direction.