Special to PGU from PacHoops.com
The ongoing narrative surrounding the arrival of Arizona’s new point guard – a fifth year, graduate transfer from Xavier University – had a lot to do with the kid’s attitude. They questioned whether it could mesh or whether it was even a good one. Stemming from his awkward departure with Chris Mack and assumptions surrounding a fight with the Cincinnati Bear Cats, the smoke led many to believe fire.
What’s more, they questioned whether he could play point guard. His skill set would suggest he was best suited to play off the ball, a combo guard making plays to the basket and not necessarily involving his teammates. Or at least not setting them up for offensive success.
And so at this point, with a fluid end to the season in which the Wildcats are just an unfortuitous result away from packing the year up, it’s fair to answer these two questions.
Mark Lyons has been a model Wildcat. His teammates have loved him and responded to his leadership. He’s served as the lightning rod of criticism as Arizona struggled down the stretch and while it may have been difficult to play with him at times (we’ll address that in answering question 2), the overarching theme here is he’s become and has been accepted for his role which he’s excelled in.
A role that was to include being the point guard at Arizona. A major role on any team and a role Sean Miller doesn’t find any more or less daunting considering the school’s history and what his 2012-13 PG has accomplished. Lyons, for the most part, has been a sound version of the player that he is. Which is to say he’s been a combo guard and that’s fine. He two-guarded his way to a 14-0 record and he two-guarded his way to a 9-7 finish down the stretch. Arizona has been best when he’s been Mark Lyons – aggressive and slashing – and not a shell of a point guard trying to be something he is not.
But there was a third component to this addition, but this one was certainly not a question. It was, in fact, an answer.
Mark Lyons, in his previous three seasons as an intercollegiate athlete, has danced thrice and competed in two Sweet 16s. He’s been there and he’s done that. The bright lights and the big stage are not going to scare this young man. That was the answer.
And this March he’s been the answer. He’s connected on 63% of his shots en route to 50 points and the third Sweet 16 of his career. That’s why Lyons came to Arizona; it’s why Miller took a voucher on the kid he’d initially recruited; it’s why Lyons stares down the barrel of a challenge and doesn’t quiver. Ask Patric Young about it.
But herein lies his greatest challenge yet. He has yet to surmount this sixteen team hurdle and he has yet to face a talent like Ohio State point guard (true point guard for whatever that’s worth), Aaron Craft.
Craft is good, if not great, and specializes in creating turnovers. If there’s been a complaint (and there has) regarding Mark Lyons, it’s been the turnovers. He turns if over at a 20% rate while the feisty Craft grabs about two-steals per game. As a team, Ohio State is the second most steal-capable team in the nation (as per ST%).
Turnover prone, meet turnover capturing.
And this game will indeed boil down to defense as neither team is particularly adept at acquiring great amounts of points. All eyes will be on the battle of ball handlers, Craft v. Lyons, on the biggest stage of their seasons. And then the toughest team will survive.
So whatever your thoughts have been on Lyons, whether his inability to distribute the way a true point might has proven a disappointment, or his toughness has been a fresh dose for a program seemingly lacking that bite, or you’ve perhaps found him a distraction, final judgment should be withheld through the end of this year.
Because whether it’s fair or not, college hoops is defined by success in March.
And because Mark Lyons came to Arizona to have success in March.