The early portion of the college basketball season has been a resounding success for the Arizona Wildcats and while certain teams have played the UA a lot closer than many have anticipated, UA appears to progress significantly with each game that passes.
Early indications that the incoming freshmen are all in the right frame of mind and three of the four have contributed significantly to start the 2012-13 campaign. The fourth, Gabe York, has looked good in spurts but he is fighting for minutes in a position that has some depth whereas the other three are post players that have been thrust into action due to immediate need.
The newcomer who has made the biggest impact, however, is senior transfer Mark Lyons, who has filled a needed role in the backcourt and brings some much-needed leadership to a program that looked a bit lost for the majority of last season. While not a “true point guard”, Lyons fits the mold of many successful modern point guards that have prospered in the college ranks.
In Lyons, UA has the type of player it thought it was getting in both Momo Jones and Josiah Turner. Jones showed flashes before his ultimate departure, but Turner turned out to be one of the most disappointing prospects in Arizona history.
So far as a Wildcat, Lyons has been one of the most positive influences on the team and true leader. His three-point shooting has been nothing short of remarkable and his ability to push the ball up the floor has fit right in line with the style of play Sean Miller likes to bring to the table.
His play has also rubbed off on other players and opened the floor for the rest of the squad. The Wildcats are tied for fifth in the nation in three point shooting percentage thanks in large part to Lyons efforts in shooting and breaking down the defense.
A season ago, opponents would simply play zone defense against Arizona and force UA to beat them from the outside. The results were often successful for the opposition and UA was left on the outside of the NCAA Tournament looking in.
Now with Lyons, UA has shot more successfully from the outside and forced teams that want to play zone to man-up instead. That has allowed the Wildcats to establish a presence in the pant with Kaleb Tarczewski, Grant Jerrett, Brandon Ashley and Angelo Chol and the collective results have been very impressive thus far.
The addition of Lyons has also taken some pressure off upperclassmen Solomon Hill, Kevin Parrom, and Jordin Mayes. His three years of playing high-level basketball combined with his postseason experience gives Arizona another player to guide the talented youth on the team.
With Lyons and the freshmen on the roster, Arizona looks much more balanced, not to mention deep. In recent years, UA was either not talented enough or was too reliant on one player and it cost it at one point or another. Even in the season where Derrick Williams guided the squad to the elite eight, there were plenty of holes that were left unfilled.
Now the Wildcats have few holes and while there isn’t a player to carry the load on the roster yet like Williams did, this team is designed to make a deeper tournament run in 2013. You can’t get too much further than where Williams took Arizona in 2011, so you can get a hint of just how far many believe this team can go with the way it’s constructed.
The stars seem to be aligning and everything is right in the world of college basketball for the fans in Tucson. However, it only takes one slip-up to derail all of the progress the team has made. There are a couple of big tests coming up -- including one against highly-touted Florida – but UA appears to be loaded with talent and depth at all positions and has every opportunity to defeat the Gators in McKale.
After the end of out of conference play, the Wildcats enter conference play in a league where they are clearly the favorites at his point in time. Assuming the team stays healthy, Arizona is likely to win the Pac-12 this season unless a team like UCLA wakes up and realizes its potential. Given the talent-level, the depth, the coaching and the competition, Lyons and company should be competing for a top seed in the NCAA Tournament when that time arrives.