Mark Lyons is the nation’s most important transfer

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With a few talented returnees and one of the nation’s best incoming classes the Arizona Wildcats have the look of a team that will be one of the favorites in the Pac-12 in 2012-13.

A surplus of young big men and some talented wings, led by seniors Solomon Hill and Kevin Parrom and sophomore Nick Johnson, can return the Wildcats to the NCAA tournament.

So what’s missing? A top-level point guard. That’s where former Xavier guard Mark Lyons comes into play, and his talent combined with Arizona’s potential is why he’s the nation’s most important transfer.

Is it a risk to bring in a fifth-year player who’s had some disciplinary issues in the past?

It certainly is, because while it can take a considerable amount of time for many teams to build a contender it doesn’t take much to turn a stable foundation into rubble.

However a look at the numbers from last season show that this is a risk that Sean Miller, who recruited Lyons to Xavier before leaving for the Old Pueblo, and his staff had to take.

According to Ken Pomeroy’s numbers (subscription required) both of the players who were originally expected to share the point guard duties in 2012-13 had higher turnover rates than assist rates in 2011-12.

Jordin Mayes was to be the only returning point guard for Arizona, and he finished 2011-12 with a turnover rate (19.2) nearly seven points higher than his assist rate (12.8).

Mayes also had the lowest offensive rating (91.4) of any Wildcat who finished the season with a possession percentage of 17% or higher. While he can improve heading into his junior season, those numbers to fit the role of a player having to play 30+ minutes per game.

Nick Johnson, an outstanding athlete and defender, is better served at the ‘2’ instead of the point. Johnson saw spot duty at the point last season due to the many issues of Josiah Turner, most notably starting at Florida in December.

But like Mayes, Johnson’s turnover rate (20.0) was higher than his assist rate (18.6) albeit at a far closer ratio. Johnson finished with an assist-to-turnover ratio of 1.3 while Mayes checked in at 1.1.

Incoming freshman Gabe York is better equipped to play off the ball at this stage in his career, so it’s highly unlikely that he sees serious time at the point in 2012-13.

Lyons, on the other hand, finished last season with an assist-to-turnover ratio even to that of Johnson’s (1.3) and had better tempo-free numbers (per Ken Pomeroy’s website; subscription required) than both (assist rate: 19.0; turnover rate: 16.2).

Numbers aside, I’ll take Lyons’ decision-making with the ball in his hands.

Lyons did have the benefit of playing alongside Tu Holloway for three seasons, and with Holloway being the primary ball-handler there wasn’t as much pressure on Lyons to run the show.

But in spite of this and the occasional disciplinary issues that have been documented, the fact that this is Lyons’ final shot could prove to be a motivating factor.

Successful teams have good guard play and Arizona is in need of help in this department. Lyons has the talent needed to provide a considerable boost on the perimeter, and that’s why he’s so important.

Raphielle is also the assistant editor at CollegeHoops.net and can be followed on Twitter at @raphiellej.