By Jon Rothstein
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Sean Miller was okay with what had been assembled.
Entering his fourth season as head coach of Arizona, Miller looked at his potential roster for next year in mid-April and was beyond comfortable. Despite the transfer of incumbent point guard Josiah Turner, the Wildcats had put together one of the nation’s top recruiting classes and had enough solid veterans returning to be in position to compete for a PAC-12 title and a bid to the NCAA Tournament.
“I felt good about our team heading into next season,” Miller said on Monday. “I knew we were deceptive because we had certain pieces like Kevin Parrom and Jordin Mayes that weren’t at their best last season, and that would change next year.”
Then the landscape drastically changed when Xavier announced that Mark Lyons wasn’t going to return to the Musketeers in 2012-13, and he’d be eligible to transfer to a school without sitting out a year since he’d already completed his necessary undergraduate coursework.
Found money? It certainly seemed that way.
For Miller and Lyons, the connection was instant. Miller recruited the talented guard when he was head coach at Xavier and he needed an elite-level player to lead his offense.
Lyons, meanwhile, craved the chance to have the ball in his hands more after playing alongside Tu Holloway for his entire college career. Other schools called but the situation pointed towards the Wildcats when the process began, and it stayed that way until Lyons committed to the Wildcats two weeks ago. The marriage has all the makings of one that should benefit both parties.
“There aren’t many players in college basketball that have his on-court resume,” Miller said of Lyons, who averaged 15.1 points per game last season. “I coached Mark at Xavier when he was a partial qualifier, and since then he’s won three conference titles and been to three Sweet 16′s.”
The presence of Lyons should ease the burden on both Mayes and Nick Johnson, two combo guards who would have had to play point guard had Lyons not wound up in Tucson.
“He’s going to take pressure off everybody,” Miller said of Lyons. “He’s been well coached and he moves his feet really well defensively. He’s a tremendous competitor.”
Despite the fact that this will be Arizona’s third point guard in three seasons, Lyons should be the perfect bridge for Miller to get to next season when he hands the baton to Duquesne transfer T.J. McConnell, who will sit out this year but have two seasons of eligibility remaining.
“Each point guard has their own personality, and as a head coach you have to adapt to that personality,” Miller said. “We want our point guard to be good offensively, pressure the ball on defense, and maybe most importantly be an extension of the coach on the floor.”
The addition of Lyons immediately makes Arizona — along with UCLA — the co-favorites to win the conference. Stanford, Washington and potentially USC should all be in the top half of the league as well.
“The PAC-12 will be much improved from last year,” Miller said. “As far as our team goes, we have 10 legit guys now. We’re going to have a very inexperienced frontcourt and a real seasoned backcourt. We have a chance to be a better shooting team as well. We know there’s always going to be expectations here, and I knew what I was getting into when I took the job. You can’t duck expectations, it’s the gift of being at Arizona. That’s why we have 14,500 [fans] at every game.”
If you had to place a bet, who would you pick to take the PAC-12 next season? Arizona or UCLA? Sound off with your thoughts and comments below…