Mark Lyons helps No. 9 Arizona edge Utah 68-64

Utah rallies in the second half, but Arizona gets a burst to capture a Pac-12 win.

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Mark Lyons helps No. 9 Arizona edge Utah 68-64 (Yahoo! Sports)

Arizona's Mark Lyons (2) goes to the basket as Utah's Glen Dean (1) falls in the second half during an NCAA college basketball game on Sunday, Feb. 17, 2013, in Salt Lake City. Arizona defeated Utah 68-64. (AP Photo/Rick Bowmer)

SALT LAKE CITY (AP) — Arizona coach Sean Miller shuffled his lineup hoping his team would rebound from its worst loss of the season.


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Michael Lyons’ 45 aren’t enough vs. No. 24 Colorado State

Air Force’s Michael Lyons scores 45 points, the third-highest single-game mark this season.

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Arizona Basketball: Why Mark Lyons Is the Wildcats’ Most Indispensable Player

The Arizona Wildcats are off to one of the best starts in their 100-plus year history and I believe a large part of that falls on the shoulders of senior transfer student from Xavier University, Mark Lyons.

Last year’s team and this year’s are light years apart with the addition of Lyons and a stellar freshman class. It is the true leadership that Lyons brings that makes this team as good as it is. 

The Wildcats finished last year at 23-12 (12-7 Pac-12) and lost the regular-season finale against rival Arizona State. They advanced to the final of the Pac-12 Tournament and lost a heartbreaker to Colorado. They went on to lose big at home in the first round of the NIT Tournament to Bucknell.

That was last year. Seniors Kyle Fogg and Brendon Lavender went on to the NBA and with the departure of Josiah Turner and Jesse Perry, Coach Miller needed a new captain and point guard.

Lyons stepped up.

Lyons has been clutch all year long. And by clutch, I mean coming through for the team when it needs him the most. If you look at Lyons on paper or from a statistical standpoint, there are some glaring deficiencies.

But he is best in the crucial final minutes, which has enabled Arizona to remain undefeated.

The opening weekend of Pac-12 Conference play was a tough one for the Wildcats, with razor-thin victories over Colorado and Utah. The games came down to free throws. Lyons is nails when it comes to banging in free throws in high-pressure situations. He is an unbelievable 10-of-10 from the line in the final minute this year for Arizona and was 13-of-13 at Xavier last year.

Lyons is the reason the Wildcats are 14-0, not 10-4. See what I mean below:

  • Dec.15—Florida led by five with less than a minute left on the clock and it was Lyons that nailed a layup with seven seconds remaining to seal the one-point victory 65-64.
  • Dec. 25—San Diego State led by as many as six points in the second half and took a narrow one-point lead with 31 seconds left. Skylar Spencer fouled Lyons with 13 seconds left and he hits them both to take the lead back and win the game 68-67.
  • Jan. 3—Colorado led by 10 with under two minutes left to play. Lyons scored eight points from that point. He was 4-of-4 from the line including the final two points to tie the score with nine seconds remaining. Arizona went on to win in overtime 92-83.
  • Jan. 5—Arizona had dominated this game from the opening tip, but when Utah mounted its final comeback pulling within one with 1:07 remaining, it was Lyons that pulled down a rebound with 11 seconds remaining, drawing the foul. The ice was running through his veins and he drained both free throws to put the Wildcats up 60-57, ensuring another victory.

Being clutch is what makes Lyons indispensable.

Yet he also leads the team in scoring with 14.1 points per game, assists with 3.1 per game and free throw percentage at 88 percent. Unfortunately, he also leads the team in turnovers with 39 and his field-goal percentage of 42 percent is the lowest of all players who average over 20 minutes per game. 

On paper, those are problems. In real time, they don’t matter as long as he continues to pull through when the game is on the line.

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Lyons helps No. 5 Arizona cruise past Miami

Mark Lyons scored 19 points as No. 5 Arizona dominated Miami 69-50 Sunday in Hawaii.

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Lyons scores 20 in No. 8 Arizona’s 66-54 win (Yahoo! Sports)

Arizona's Mark Lyons (2) dunks as Clemson's Adonis Filer (3) defends during the first half of an NCAA college basketball game on Saturday, Dec. 8, 2012, in Clemson, S.C. (AP Photo/Rainier Ehrhardt)

CLEMSON, S.C. (AP) — Arizona coach Sean Miller knew all about Mark Lyons’ offense, speed and ball-handling skills.


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Arizona Basketball: What Impact Will Mark Lyons Have on Wildcats?

Not content with adding the nation’s third-best recruiting class, Arizona coach Sean Miller also brought in one of the country’s most talented transfer players in Mark Lyons. The former Xavier standout becomes the immediate leader in the Wildcats’ backcourt, where he’ll take over the point guard duties from the departed Josiah Turner.

Lyons brings a lot to the table for an Arizona squad with high hopes and a No. 12 preseason ranking, but these are the three areas where he’ll make his presence felt the most strongly:

 

1. Scoring

Putting points on the board is Lyons’ specialty, and it’ll be a welcome ability on a team that didn’t get the scoring it hoped for from last year’s backcourt. Even playing alongside shot-hungry Tu Holloway, Lyons averaged 15.1 points per game for Xavier a season ago.

Lyons is also a serious three-point threat (.392 from long range last year), and he’ll have plenty of opportunities on this season’s Wildcats. By forcing the defense to spread out and cover the three-point arc, he’ll open up scoring chances inside for Grant Jerrett and the other low-post playing freshmen.

 

2. Defense

Lyons will provide a noticeable upgrade to what had been an iffy defensive group on the perimeter. His 1.3 steals per game would have led last year’s Wildcats, whose top two ball hawks (Kyle Fogg and Josiah Turner) are gone anyway.

Lyons, now a senior, is only likely to get better as an individual defender, mainly for the fact that he’ll face more favorable matchups. His 6’1”, 200-pound frame made him an undersized shooting guard, but at the point he’ll actually have the size advantage against some Pac-12 foes.

 

3. Floor leadership

This is the one area in which Lyons—a career shooting guard—is being asked to contribute something he hasn’t demonstrated in the past. Playing mostly off the ball a year ago, he posted a worrisome assist-to-turnover ratio of 1.3.

However, Lyons is an adept ball-handler, and the attention his own scoring ability commands will help open up defenses.

He’ll also have a couple of major advantages he didn’t have with the Musketeers—Pac-12 defenses aren’t generally as strong as those in the Atlantic 10, and he now has multiple go-to scoring options down low in Kaleb Tarczewski and his classmates.

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Arizona Basketball: Mark Lyons Passes First PG Test at LeBron’s Skills Academy

Mark Lyons transferred to Arizona to get a fresh start.

Very few people questioned Lyons’ basketball abilities. Many people wondered if he was the kind of player that is more trouble than he was worth

Lyons was recruited out of high school by Sean Miller, and it was their prior relationship that led to his decision to take his talents to Tucson.

One of the challenges that the 6’1″ senior faces is moving from primarily playing SG for the first three years of his college career at Xavier to becoming the floor leader for his first and final year at the U of A.

Mark Lyons and his new Arizona teammate, Solomon Hill, spent the last weekend in Las Vegas at the LeBron James Skills Academy.

Besides being a great place for instruction and high-level competition, the LBJSA gave Lyons’ an initial public opportunity to demonstrate his playmaking and team leadership skills.

Judging from a variety of comments made, Lyons passed his first PG test.

Pras Murthy of Pointguardu.com observed:

“Mark Lyons continued to be very vocal, always talking on the court. Anytime a teammate got an open look, you could hear Lyons yelling ‘good shot.’ Lyons is a floor general and will have no problem telling players where they need to be or what they need to do. Lyons was mostly a facilitator today, as his teammates were finishing and his team was winning.”

NBE Basketball Report’s Raphielle Johnson says:

“If this weekend is any indication Arizona should be in good hands with Mark Lyons running the show.”

But the real work has just begun.

The next steps towards Lyons becoming the Wildcats’ coach-on-the-floor will come through Arizona’s pre-season trip to the Bahamas next month.

Lyons and the team, under NCAA rules, get to practice ten times leading up to the trip.

This will give him a perfect chance to jell with the team and continue the transition.

ESPN’s Andy Katz states:

“Lyons has to prove to the staff, the returning players and a top five recruiting class that he can be a true leader. A number of other teams are taking trips, but I’m not sure there is a player that has to show his ability to be a trusted teammate as much as Lyons does on this trip.”

 

For Lyons, this one-year chance will determine a lot in terms of his future NBA possibilities. At his size, he will be evaluated only as a PG.

For Sean Miller, who pulled in one of the top recruiting classes in the nation, this is the beginning of what could be an exciting time for the program.

If Lyons can changeover from “being the show” to “running the show,” watch for the Cats to make a deep run in the NCAA Tournament, with a shot at getting to the 2013 Final Four in Atlanta.

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Arizona Basketball: Is Mark Lyons the Wildcats’ Best Option at Point Guard?

There will be no getting-to-know-you period for Xavier-transfer Mark Lyons at Arizona. It is a guaranteed one-year fling.

Lyons, who chose Arizona over Kentucky and Kansas, owns a final year of eligibility when he graduates from Xavier this summer, and that year is set to be used immediately.

He used everyone’s favorite loophole—a rule that allows graduate students (usually redshirt seniors like Lyons) who have already completed degrees at previous institutions to transfer to another school if their current school does not offer their desired area of study. It was the same rule that landed Arizona’s football team the nation’s third-leading tackler, former Akron linebacker Brian Wagner.

Arizona was looking for a player in Lyons’ exact situation—a veteran who can run the point for one season before Duquesne-transfer T.J. McConnell takes over that role in 2013. 

McConnell is the point guard of the future. The junior-to-be, who will have to sit out this season, opted to play for Sean Miller over Virginia’s Tony Bennett.

But the present at PG is still in question.

With a vacancy at the position with the departure of Josiah Turner to SMU, it seems a natural fit for Lyons—who will likely have to play there, according to ESPN, if he’s going to make an NBA roster—to take over instantly.

It’s probably Lyons’ gig if he can make the transition. 

The New York native averaged 15.1 points, 3.2 rebounds and 2.8 assists last year as a shooting guard, as the Xavier PG post was occupied by star Tu Holloway.

And he was recruited to Xavier by Miller.

Via The Arizona Daily Star:

“Very seldom do you leave a player as a coach and then get a chance to coach him again,” Miller said. “I’m excited to have his experience.

“He’s one of the most competitive kids that I’ve been around and I look forward to him sharing that senior mantle with Kevin Parrom and Solomon Hill.”

On the surface, it appears a perfect fit.

But his commitment doesn’t come without issues. Although Lyons was signed out of high school by Miller, he never played under the current Arizona coach, as Miller jetted out of Cincinnati in favor of Tucson the next season.

Lyons clashed with Miller’s close friend and current Xavier coach Chris Mack, eventually leading to his departure from the program.

Said Mack, via Cincinnati.com:

“After our end-of-season meeting with Mark it became apparent that a change for both parties was the right thing moving forward,” Mack said in (a press release).

“During our meeting expectations were outlined for his fifth and final season, areas in which I believe needed improvement. Mark did not recognize these expectations as being important and ultimately it was decided that a change of scenery would be in his best interest. I wish Mark well.”

He was also involved in the Cincinnati vs. Xavier tussle that blighted the early college-hoops season.

There is a chance that Lyons will be unable to conform to his new role—or that whatever the vague issues were with Mack will re-emerge.

There are also other players already on the roster with substantial experience in the PG slot at Arizona who could prove superior options.

Jordin Mayes regressed as a sophomore, but many of his issues were caused by injuries to his feet. Those limited his mobility, and he seemed to labor at times. Still, he’s experienced, a reliable ball-handler and a dangerous three-point shooter when healthy.

Nick Johnson is also small for the 2-guard spot. At 6’2″, Johnson seems to be more of a playmaker than a shooter, his stroke fading late in the season. He also played well as the floor leader (except his shooting), when pinned with that duty upon Josiah Turner’s suspensions.

It’s possible that either of them could take on the bulk of the point-guard duties, with Lyons emerging more suited for the off-guard job—his area of focus during his stay at Xavier. 

Lyons is not locked in as the starter at this point. Miller said as much:

No one’s going to promise any of these guys before they show up at Arizona that they’re the next starting 2-guard or starting point guard. One of the things I’m excited about is we have some hungry guys in our locker room right now.

But given his reason for transfer was to get a chance to showcase his point guard skills for the next level (I mean, to pursue a graduate degree in a field not offered at Xavier), the money is on him taking over up top.

The outlook at the point after this year appears very healthy.

Miller referred to McConnell as among the best point guards in the country after Duquesne visited the McKale Center earlier this season. And the two have family history that spans several decades. 

He’s a clone of Miller, a former standout point guard during his college days at Pitt, in terms of style and background.

McConnell’s commitment added another layer to the situation involving controversial freshman point guard Turner, and whether or not he would ever return to the program.

There was not a scholarship available for McConnell to fill at the time of his commitment, meaning a transfer was necessary in order for him to join.

According to TucsonCitizen.com, the NCAA limit is 13 scholarships. However, because Arizona is still on scholarship sanctions from infractions made during the Lute Olson era, Miller can carry just 12 on the roster at this time.

Someone had to leave. Turner seemed like the most obvious candidate. And that’s exactly what happened, though he left Arizona without a true point guard during McConnell’s transfer year.

But a few hours after Turner, junior post Kyryl Natyazhko also said goodbye to Tucson to pursue pro opportunities, and thus a slot was opened for Lyons to slide in.

Arizona now must hope that the on-court evolution of the new member of the backcourt plays out as smoothly as the scholarship situation.

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Lyons Makes Arizona a National Championship Contender

The biggest thing separating Arizona from their 27th NCAA Tournament appearance in the last 28 years in 2012 was the quality of play at point guard.

Nick Johnson made a valiant effort, Jordin Mayes could never get healthy and Josiah Turner didn’t seem mature enough to adapt to college basketball.

Enter Mark Lyons.

The 6’1″ Lyons was a part of Sean Miller‘s last freshman class at Xavier. He redshirted during Miller’s last season in Cincinnati in 2008-09. 

Arizona received excellent play from its forwards and shooting guards in 2011-12. Seniors Kyle Fogg, Jesse Perry and Brendon Lavender and Junior Solomon Hill were the Wildcats most consistent players last season. Arizona’s 1.08 assists to turnover ratio ranked just 83rd in the country. Arizona’s 21 turnover deficit ranked 212th in the country in turnover margin per game.

Enter Mark Lyons.

Lyons 1.27 assist to turnover margin was not much better than the Arizona guards. He will be moving to point guard after playing off the ball for most of his Xavier career. With Tu Holloway at the point for the Musketeers, Lyons was the second option running the offense.

He agreed with Xavier coach Chris Mack that a mutual parting of the ways was better. 

Lyons and Arizona are a good fit.

The Wildcats definitely need a point guard after prodigy Turner was suspended twice last season and eventually decided to transfer to SMU following the season.

The transfer of former Duquesne point guard T.J. McConnell creates a one season need.

He will be eligible in the fall of 2013 per NCAA transfer rules. As a fourth-year junior on pace to graduate, Lyons will be eligible immediately. He will enroll in a to-be-determined graduate program at Arizona, not offered at Xavier. Both McConnell and Lyons were third team all-Atlantic-10 in 2012.

Lyons will give the Wildcats more a scoring point guard than the “pass-first” point Miller was in college and that Turner was supposed to be. Arizona advanced to the 2011 Elite Eight with scoring point guard Lamont “MoMo”Jones.

Point guard was the missing link for Miller entering the 2012-13 season.

Their incoming recruiting class was ranked No. 1 before the spring signing period. Shabbaz Muhammad to UCLA and Nerlens Noel to Kentucky pushed the Bruins and UK above UA. The addition of Lyons might change that. 

Arizona had to frequently play a small lineup in 2012.

Their incoming class will change that. Power forwards Brandon Ashley and Grant Jerrett, Center Kaleb Tarczewski and the return of Solomon Hill, Kevin Parrom and Angelo Chol give the Wildcats one of the best frontlines in the country.

Arizona’s mix of experience with Seniors Parrom and Hill, and Junior Mayes gives Miller great experience to go with Sophomores Chol and off-guard Johnson and the incoming recruiting class.

Their run to the Elite Eight in 2011 was a Jamelle Horne missed three-point shot from announcing Arizona was completely back. 

If this unit gels as expected, Arizona should become of the elite powers in college basketball like it was for almost 20 years under Lute Olson. 

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