Who’s Next? 12 NCAA Tournament Stories To Watch In 2012, Part 1

By: 03.13.12
Mark Lyons

Mark Lyons (photo. Xavier University Athletics)

It makes sense, given its roots in the ivory towers of higher education, but no sport attracts volunteer experts quite like college basketball. Major League Baseball, the NBA and the NFL may have embraced new math, but college hoops has its own science: That thing we call Bracketology.

And in almost every interview I’ve heard and column I’ve read from these experts this season, one question has been consistently asked and answered: “Who is the next VCU?”

Following the 11th-seeded Rams’ run to the 2011 Final Four that turned Shaka Smart into a star and put every D-1 blueblood on blast, this year people want to ID early the next underdog that will shock the world. But that’s the thing with NCAA teams that come out of nowhere – you aren’t supposed to see them coming.

But we’re still going to try, right? With an eye on finding the next VCU – as well as the next North Carolina, the next Jimmer Fredette, and the next Shaka Smart, among others – here are the 2012 NCAA Tournament stories that will remind you a lot of last year:

*** *** ***

Player that will, as close to single-handedly as possible, carry his team to a national championship.

A: Draymond Green, SF/PF, Michigan State
Once upon a time in East Lansing, they were comparing Steve Smith to Magic Johnson because he was a tall point guard who threw flashy passes. Today, Draymond Green is actually a closer representation to what Magic once meant to the Spartans.

Green won’t be running point in the NBA anytime ever, but the 6-7, 230-pound hybrid forward has his prints on every page of Michigan State’s winning cookbook: Scoring (16.1 points, leads the team), rebounding (10.4 boards, leads the team), passing (3.6 assists, second on the team), defense (1.5 steals and 1.0 blocks, first and second on the team, respectively), and leadership (Tom Izzo told Michigan Live last week, “If they want to say Draymond coaches the team, I’m cool with that.”). This year, the senior led State to a Big Ten championship and a No. 1 seed in the West Region.

More than Smith, more than Shawn Respert, more than Mateen Cleaves, Green might just be the most valuable of all of Michigan State’s most valuable players over the years. After Magic, of course.

Double-digit seed that will make the Final Four.

A: Xavier
I wouldn’t be surprised at all if Team Zip ‘Em Up knocked off Notre Dame in the first round, then ran through Duke and Baylor to make the Elite Eight. After that, it’s anybody’s national championship.

The Musketeers have a tough, talented and experienced backcourt with senior Tu Holloway and junior Mark Lyons. Freshman wing Dezmine Wells contributes 10.2 points and a momentum-swinging highlight or two per game. Senior seven-footer Kenny Frease became famous this season for getting punched out during the Xavier/Cincinnati brawl, but don’t forget that before the fight, Frease had outplayed Yancy Gates to the tune of 13 points, 13 boards and four blocks. And it’s just a hunch, but I’m expecting one shining moment or two from backup guard Brad Redford. He only plays about 11-12 minutes a night, but the kid has a ratchet more potent than anything Tony Montana ever used.

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