Mark Lyons

Sean Miller

Sean Miller: ‘we may not be that good’

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Expectations are higher than they have ever been for Sean Miller at Arizona. Fresh off of a run to the Sweet 16 and with a dynamite 2013 recruiting class consisting of Aaron Gordon and Rondae Jefferson, the Wildcats will most likely open the season as a Top 5 team.

And, why shouldn’t they be ranked that high?

With the preceding two players entering the program and being immediate difference makers in conjunction with T.J. McConnell, who is one of the top point guards in the country, now eligible, Arizona has the pieces to make an even deeper run in the NCAA Tournament come March. Sure they’re young, but the talent is there, and Sean Miller is one of the best young basketball minds in the game.

Even still, Miller has his concerns.

He told AZ Central last week on his team’s high praise and preseason ranking: “It’s just the way it goes but I do believe with where we’re rated, how good we’re supposed to be, we may not be that good. I don’t know yet. We have a lot of interchangeable players but from a pure body perspective we may be one man down on the front line.”

At the time, the eligibility of forward Zach Peters, who transferred from Kansas due to be closer to his family after suffering multiple concussions last year, was in flux. It frustrated Miller, and only complicated matters of what his rotation would look like if Peters wasn’t ruled immediately eligible.

Fortunately for Miller, he can now breathe a little easier as Peters was finally ruled eligible by the NCAA.

Okay, so Miller now has that extra body he needed on the front line. But, what about his team’s ability to shoot the basketball, a department they were so strong in last season? Miller said in late August: “I don’t think there’s a college basketball program of the 347 that have shot more basketballs than we have this summer.”

A month later, his concerns about scoring from the perimeter are still there: “And shooting in particular, although I don’t know if I’d say we’re not going to be a good shooting team, we have a number of guys we’re going to count on that haven’t done it or are going to have to do it better so that remains to be seen as well.”

The three point shot was a big part of Arizona’s offense last season as they attempted 675 threes (56th in the country), and connected on 37.1% of their attempted (45th in the country). With graduation claiming Mark Lyons, Solomon Hill, and Kevin Parrom, plus Grant Jerrett leaving for the NBA after his freshman year, Arizona is without four of their top perimeter threats.

One of the major storylines to follow in the season’s opening weeks is what role Aaron Gordon plays within the offense. If he demonstrates the ability to play the three and knock down a jump shot at a high clip, that will certainly go a long way in putting Miller at ease.

Arizona, like every other team, has problem areas entering the year. Yet, even with Miller’s concerns which aren’t unfounded by any stretch, Arizona is still one of the top teams in the country. I will posit that that the Wildcats will indeed be “good,” rather than “not that good” as Miller claimed — chalk that statement up by Miller as nothing more than preseason jitters.

Is Sean Miller concerned about Arizona’s perimeter game?

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Arizona is a sure bet to begin the season ranked in the Top 10, and may even crack the Top 5. They have one of the top recruits in the country in Aaron Gordon who will make his presence immediately felt. Rondae Hollis-Jefferson will be one of the top freshmen in the country next year, alongside Gordon. T.J. McConnell, a transfer from Duquesne who sat out last season, will be the starting point guard.

What is there for Sean Miller to be concerned about?

Coaches always find something that has them worried; it’s seemingly in their DNA for this to happen. For Sean Miller, Arizona’s perimeter game may be an area that has him a little uneasy heading into the 2013-14 season — a season in which much is expected of the Wildcats. The three point shot was a big part of Arizona’s offense last season as they attempted 675 threes (56th in the country), and connected on 37.1% of their attempted (45th in the country).

With graduation claiming Mark Lyons, Solomon Hill, and Kevin Parrom, plus Grant Jerrett leaving for the NBA after his freshman year, Arizona is without four of their top perimeter threats. Only rising junior guard Nick Johnson is a proven perimeter threat from last year’s squad. However, McConnell is a solid three point shooter as he connected on 43.2% of his attempts at Duquesne in 2011-12.

Miller told the Daily Wildcat, “I don’t think there’s a college basketball program of the 347 that have shot more basketballs than we have this summer.”

Now, Miller’s comment can be interpreted one of two ways: 1) The three point shot will remain a big part of Arizona’s offense, and the fact they have put up so many shots over the summer reaffirms that. Or, 2) Having lost four perimeter threats from last year’s team, Miller has deemed it important that other players emerge to fill these roles.

According to Miller, rising sophomore forward Brandon Ashley’s shot has improved.

While Gordon and Hollis-Jefferson are poised to have a huge freshmen seasons, they are both streaky shooters that won’t be relied on to hit the outside shot.

That leaves rising senior guard Jordin Mayes as a player Miller may look to as a source for outside scoring. As a freshman, Mayes was one of Arizona’s best three point shooters (45.3%), but last year he shot just 30.8% from beyond the arc. Along with Mayes, Gabe York will most likely see additional minutes in the back court as a shooting guard. Ranked as one of the top shooters in the country for the class of 2012 recruiting class, York saw minutes sparingly last season.

Am I nitpicking by scrutinizing Arizona’s perimeter game? Probably. But, so too is Sean Miller.

Solomon Hill, Mark Lyons help No. 7 Arizona outlast Stanford

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For a team that has so much youth in its regular rotation, it was Arizona’s two seniors who powered the Wildcats to a win over an upstart Stanford team Wednesday night.

Mark Lyons scored a season-high 25 points and Solomon Hill had 23, the two accounting for nearly 66 percent of Arizona’s overall offensive output in a 73-66 win at McKale Center in Tuscon, Ariz.

Hill played the last four minutes of regulation with four fouls, but avoided fouling out. His emphatic dunk with 1:08 to play to all but put the final nail in Stanford’s coffin.

The Cardinal did not go down without a fight, though.

Stanford used the same energy it had found in its previous two games to jump out to a 10-0 lead in the first four minutes Wednesday night.

Guard Aaron Bright was hot both off the dribble and from three-point range, scoring seven of those first ten for the Cardinal. His dribble penetration opened up perimeter opportunities for teammates all night and Bright finished with 16 points.

A key matchup coming into Wednesday night’s game is how reigining Pac-12 Player of the Week Josh Huestis and versatile junior Dwight Powell would fare against the young but talented Arizona front line of Kaleb Tarczewski and Brandon Ashley.

Tarczewski and Ashley combined for six points on just 2-of-9 shooting from the floor, while Huestis finished with his fifth double-double of the season, 10 points and 10 rebounds. Powell was the Cardinal’s most effective offensive option, finishing with 24 points and 10 rebounds.

Without that offensive help from the Arizona front line, more weight fell on the shoulders of the veteran guard Lyons, who responded as he often has in Pac-12 play. He did his best to counter Bright’s hot shooting from the outside with 9-of-13 shooting from the floor.

With 15:39 to play, a Bright three-pointer pushed the Stanford lead to three, 37-34. On the next possession, a Lyons assist led to an Ashley. The Xavier transfer then followed that up with a layup that gave Arizona its first lead of the game, 38-37, with 14:35 to play.

Dwight Powell’s athleticism and versatility became important for the Cardinal through the middle of the second half. Stanford went to him on four of five straight possessions, attacking Ashley and forcing him to foul out with 6:40 to go.

Solomon Hill became Arizona’s most effective scorer in the latter half of the second, scoring five straight points to tie the game at 54 with 4:44 to play.

Angelo Chol competed in the paint to grab eight rebounds and add six points.

Daniel Martin is a writer and editor at JohnnyJungle.com, covering St. John’s. You can find him on Twitter:@DanielJMartin_

Mark Lyons wins point guard showdown in Arizona victory over Arizona State

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Mark Lyons scored 24 points on 8-of-15 shooting to lead No. 7 Arizona past Arizona State, 71-54, at Wells Fargo Arena in Tempe, Ariz., on Saturday.

Arizona-Arizona State was hyped for much of the week, due in large part to the backcourt matchup of Lyons and point guard Jahii Carson for Arizona State. It had all the important contrasts: veteran vs. freshman, favorite vs. underdog, transfer vs. patient redshirt.

Lyons has drawn criticism so far this season, with detractors citing Lyons’ move to point guard from shooting guard as a reason to be wary of Arizona, come March.

Carson, on the other hand, is the young, quick, scoring-oriented point guard in the modern mold. He’s able to score for himself off the dribble, but can also create for others.

Lyons ultimately won the battle Saturday, though both had their own struggles with foul trouble. Carson finished with 22 points on 7-of-13 shooting.

Arizona continues on its quest for a Pac-12 championship, while coach Herb Sendek on the Sun Devils have done an impressive job of turning around a 10-21 season last year to already have 14 wins in 2012-13.

Daniel Martin is a writer and editor at JohnnyJungle.com, covering St. John’s. You can find him on Twitter:@DanielJMartin_

Xavier transfer Mark Lyons commits to Arizona

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Xavier transfer Mark Lyons is officially headed to Arizona, he tweeted Sunday afternoon.

“Excited to be a wildcat!!!!!!!” the tweet reads.

Lyons left Xavier in April and it was rumored from the beginning that he could end up at Arizona.

Wildcat coach Sean Miller recruited Lyons while he was the head coach at Xavier, and Lyons will be able to play right away at Arizona, taking advantage of the NCAA’s one-year graduate transfer rule that allows players to play immediately at another institution as they pursue a graduate degree in a field not offered at their current school.

Lyons averaged 15.5 points and 3.4 rebounds this past season for the Musketeers as part of a strong backcourt that also included senior Tu Holloway.

The 6-1, 188-pound native of Schenectady, N.Y., fills a one-year need for Arizona, as they wait for Duquesne transfer TJ McConnell to become eligible.

Of the guards on the Arizona roster in 2011-12, point guard Josiah Turner transferred to Southern Methodist this off-season and Nick Johnson is more of a shooting guard than point guard.

Arizona is bringing in a Top 3 recruiting class in the country, in addition to Lyons, with the emphasis on size. Forwards Grant Jarrett, Matt Korcheck, and Brandon Ashley join center Kaleb Tarczewski in the frontcourt, and high-flying Gabe York comes in at the shooting guard position.

The Wildcats finished 23-12 this past season and lost in the first round of the NIT to Bucknell.

Daniel Martin is a writer and editor at JohnnyJungle.com, covering St. John’s. You can find him on Twitter:@DanielJMartin_

Report: Mark Lyons will not return to Xavier, could transfer

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CBSSports.com’s Jeff Goodman is reporting that guard Mark Lyons will not return to Xavier in 2012-13.

Goodman’s sources say that off-court and on-court incidents could have played into the decision.

Lyons was suspended for two games early in the year for his part in the Cincinnati-Xavier brawl that took place December 10.

On the year, Lyons averaged 15.5 points and 3.4 rebounds this past season as a backcourt complement to now-graduating senior Tu Holloway.

Goodman reports that Lyons is expected to transfer, but could enter the NBA draft, so long as he declares before the NBA’s April 29 deadline.

With Holloway and Lyons out next season, the Musketeers will be losing nearly 33 points worth of scoring in their backcourt, and will also lose senior big man Kenny Frease, who averaged nearly 10 points and six rebounds.

Xavier will be adding two guards into the mix from the Class of 2012, though: Brewster Academy (N.H.) postgraduate Semaj Christon and New Jersey native Myles Davis.

From the Class of 2013, Mack will be waiting on highly coveted guard Chris Thomas, who recently verbally committed to Xavier.

Daniel Martin is a writer and editor at JohnnyJungle.com, covering St. John’s. You can find him on Twitter:@DanielJMartin_