Who’s Next? 12 NCAA Tournament Stories To Watch In 2012, Part 2

By: 03.14.12
Kris Joseph

Kris Joseph (photo. SU Athletic Communications)

Team lacking a marquee star that will contend for a national title on the strength of their defense.

A: Syracuse
“Star-studded” is almost always a prerequisite for a No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament. Washington’s top-seeded 2005 squad was so deep that Brandon Roy came off the bench. Kentucky’s top-seeded 1996 team had seven or eight NBA players on the roster. Even the mid-major St. Joe’s group from 2004 had Jameer Nelson and Delonte West in the backcourt.

Consider this year’s Syracuse Orange the winning-ugly version of that “Dazzling Dozen” Kentucky squad. These Orange managed to go 31-2, win their first 20 games before suffering a loss, own the nation’s No. 1 ranking for several weeks, and serve time under a ravenous media floodlight during the Bernie Fine scandal, all without one star breaking out from the pack.

It’s not for lack of talent – more like an abundance of balance – yet only one ‘Cuse player is an across-the-mocks NBA first-round pick: sophomore sixth man Dion Waiters. Senior forward Kris Joseph and sophomore center Fab Melo could also go in the first round, but Melo has been ruled ineligible for the NCAA Tournament, so he won’t be able to help Jim Boeheim‘s run at a second national championship.

With several members of the Orange willing and able to step up and be The Guy any given night, the one constant has been their defense – Boeheim’s infamously aggravating 2-3 zone, and an occasional full-court press that Nolan Richardson would approve. Even without the Big East Defensive Player of the Year (Melo), the Orange D is crushing enough to take them all the way to New Orleans.

NBA Lottery pick whose name you won’t hear because his team is not here.

A: Arnett Moultrie, PF/C, Mississippi State
Normally I stay away from phrases like, “He just wants it more” and “He has more heart,” because there’s no way any outsider can truly know what happens in that space between a man’s spine and his sternum.

But in trying to figure out how Arnett Moultrie took the spot that once upon a time seemed reserved for Renardo Sidney as Mississippi State’s next big star, I’m stumped. I guess Moultrie just wanted it more.

Standing 6-10 and hovering around 300 pounds, Sidney is the more talented of the two. I still believe that. He’s Chris Webber mixed with Kevin Garnett when he’s at his best – except he rarely seems to make it there. Moultrie, meanwhile, pushes the limits of his 6-11, 230-pound frame. The UTEP transfer was an immediate game-changer for the Bulldogs this year, killing the Renardo apologist argument that Sid just needs time to find his niche in Rick Stansbury‘s system. (Thanks for that, Arnett.)

Monday night’s NIT first-round matchup against UMass told the story of a season. Moultrie (15.8 ppg, 10.6 rpg) put up 34 points and six rebounds, showing his entire offensive repertoire and hitting clutch shots while anchoring Mississippi State in a double-overtime loss. Sidney (9.9 ppg, 5.3 rpg) played 16 minutes in the 50-minute game, saddled by foul trouble and finishing with three points and three rebounds.

Sidney has the talent to be an NBA All-Star, but at this point he’s going to need a titanic (not Titanic) senior year to even get drafted. Moultrie was more like a makeshift canoe on the NBA radar as recently as a year ago, and now he’s on his way to being a lottery pick. I guess he just wants it more.

Who do you think is this year’s biggest Final Four sleeper team?

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