Mark Lyons has been getting buckets even longer than Joe Paterno has been covering up horrible actions in his football program. In high school and later at prep school, the man they call "Cheek" developed a reputation as a gifted scorer whose athleticism and aggressive demeanor led to an impressive ability to put points on the board. The Schenectady native has teamed with Tu Holloway to become part of one of the best - and certainly most confident - back courts in the Atlantic 10.
The year Lyons spent at prep school served him pretty well; he carried Brewster Academy to the semifinals of the National Prep Championships. He also co-captained the team, led them to a 31-4 record, and posted 21 points per game. He ran right around the top 100 in most recruiting rankings, ultimately signing on with Xavier under the Sean Miller regime.Lyons sat out a year as a partial qualifier at Xavier; it's worth noting that - between that and the year he spent at prep school - Cheek is now a 22-year-old junior. He made up for lost time as a freshman, posting 9.4/3.0/2.5 in his first 13 games as a Muskie. A bone bruise to his left knee slowed him for the remainder of the season, but Lyons still posted 7.8/2.5/2.0 as a freshman. He came into his own as Tu's wingman last season, throwing up 13.6/3.1/3.0 on .408/.336/.728 shooting. Lyons' physical gifts and attacking style on the floor make him a reliable second scorer, and he comes into the season as maybe Xavier's most explosive offensive player.
Best case: Lyons channels the best parts of his game - ability to get to the rim, knocking down open threes, athleticism - with a discipline that has heretofore been wanting from his play. With Redford and Martin available to spread the floor, Cheek doesn't have to try to force things on the perimeter. His first step and the inability of teams to sag off him to double makes him a difficult player to contain off the bounce, and he continues to post big numbers and line himself up for a monster senior season after Tu departs.
Worst case: At 22 and certainly possessed with a certain level of hubris, Lyons decides that it's his turn to make waves from the Xavier back court. He loses patience with the offense and spends too much time trying to showcase his individual abilities. Poor decision making begins to become a larger problem, and the offense lacks flow with Mark on the floor. While he does have the skills to make things happen, the team ultimately suffers.
Most likely: Word coming out of the Xavier camp is that Lyons spent his summer working on the parts of his game that made him vulnerable to poor performances last year. He highlighted the inability to knock down mid-range and pull-up jumpers as part of his problem last year, no doubt thinking back to his early foul trouble in the Marquette game. Possessed with a self-awareness not often found in 22-year-old athletes, it would seem that Mark is lined up and ready to do some damage this season. He should be able to carry the team offensively for stretches while also having the mental acuity to keep himself out of trouble. Look for a big year from Cheek.