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

Every year March Madness provides shining moments and special stories that, while unique in the details, essentially mirror each other from one Dance to the next. With an eye on finding this year’s breakout stars and big-name letdowns, here are the 2012 NCAA Tournament stories that will remind you a lot of last year:

Before proceeding, you should probably check out Tuesday’s Part 1 entry: Part 1, featuring Ohio State, Kansas, Austin Rivers, and the next Kemba Walker.

*** *** ***

Mid-major coach that will become the most wanted man in America by the end of this tournament.

A: Gregg Marshall, Wichita State
Don the robe and preach the gospel of loyalty all you want, but when it’s actually your career and your mortgage in the discussion, money often talks louder than loyalty.

The last two mid-major coaches to make their name in the NCAA Tournament – VCU’s Smart and Butler’s Brad Stevens – decided to stick with their schools rather than take the promotion at a power-conference school. As it stands, Stevens is one more CBI campaign away from familiar anonymity, while Smart’s allure will similarly fade unless he turns his Colonial Athletic program into a national power (or at least an East Coast version of Gonzaga).

The next name set to blow up is Gregg Marshall – who ironically can boost his profile by beating VCU and Smart in the first round this year – and something tells me he’s not going to let his big opportunity pass. After leading Winthrop to seven NCAA tourneys in nine years at the helm, Marshall came to Wichita State in 2007, and after winning last year’s NIT, has the Shockers back in the Big Dance as a 5-seed. A win over VCU and a very conceivable win over 4-seed Indiana in the second round, and the 49-year-old Marshall will be on the radar of every AD looking for a men’s basketball coach, if he isn’t already.

Illinois has a vacancy, as do South Carolina and Nebraska. More jobs will open up over the next couple of months, too. Marshall could have his pick if he wants to make it.

Team that won’t win it all this year, but will exit the tournament as the early favorite to win next year’s championship.

A: Baylor
Sophomore forward Perry Jones III (14.0 ppg, 7.7 rpg) didn’t have the National POY type of season some were expecting when he turned down the NBA last summer, but with the way college basketball works now, that’s actually a good thing if you’re a Baylor fan.

Jones’ talent and potential is worthy of a Top-5 pick, and he displayed enough of it to lead the Bears to a 3-seed and a Big 12 silver medal, but Jones is also leaving just enough doubt among pro scouts that there’s a slight chance he comes back for his junior year to raise his stock. (But not if he plays in the NCAAs like he played against Kansas State in the Big 12 tourney, dropping 31 points on 11-of-14 shooting to go with 11 boards.)

Even if Jones goes pro, he and senior big man Quincy Acy won’t be leaving the Bears’ cupboard bare. Incoming freshman Isaiah Austin is a five-star seven-footer, Ricardo Gathers is a Top-10 power forward in the high school senior class, and UCLA transfer J’Mison Morgan is a 6-11, 250-pound former high school All-American.

Then there’s current freshman wing Quincy Miller, another player with lottery-pick ability but a lot left to show. If Miller comes back to Waco, he’ll be joined by sky-rising classmate Deuce Bello, junior point guard Pierre Jackson, sophomore shooter Brady Heslin, and incoming freshman L.J. Rose, a Top-10 point guard in the high school Class of 2012.

The Bears probably don’t have the experience and consistency to win it all this year, but next year they’ll be a serious contender.

Dark horse Final Four pick that could easily get knocked out in the first round.

A: Florida State
I have to wonder if the Seminoles, as Bill Walton once said on national TV, “shot their wad” in the ACC Tournament. Emotional, hard-fought, down-to-wire wins over Duke and North Carolina back-to-back are not only physically draining, but also a potentially overwhelming thrill for any ACC team who has that built-in underdog mentality whenever the Tobacco Road royal families are on the court.

With an ACC title in hand, a lot of people are starting to look at FSU as a sleeper Final Four squad – Dick Vitale picked them to make it to New Orleans following the Selection Show – thanks to a solid defense and junior guard Michael Snaer (14.5 ppg).

The challenge for Leonard Hamilton‘s staff and players will be maintaining that conference tourney momentum without dwelling on what happened last week. Because first-round opponent St. Bonaventure is no 14-seed pushover, having knocked off St. Joe’s, UMass and Xavier in the A-10 Tournament and boasting a future NBA player in power forward Andrew Nicholson.

Mid-major player that will become a household name, and later, crack an NBA rotation.

A: Andrew Nicholson, PF, St. Bonaventure
The reigning A-10 Player of the Year (and one of the five under-the-radar players we proclaimed having some serious skill) stamped 26 points, 14 boards and eight blocks on Xavier in the conference title game. Measuring 6-9 and 225 pounds and sans dreads, Nicholson isn’t the YouTube hit-making athlete or personality that Faried was last year for Morehead State and is now for the Nuggets, but he’s a skilled post player whom Xavier coach Chris Mack called “a poor man’s Tim Duncan.” He’ll be making noise in the NBA by this time next year.

Mid-major player that will become a household name, then vanish into overseas pro obscurity.

A: Carlon Brown, Colorado
There’s a good chance that Brown, who averaged 15.8 points and 2.3 steals in the Pac-12 Tournament on his way to tourney MVP honors, will do something Vince Carter-like before the Buffaloes are done in the Dance. Or at least J.R. Smith-like. The 6-5 wing is an aggressive slasher who will also get out in transition and put a hurting on the rim.

After that? Brown is ranked 73rd among NCAA seniors by DraftExpress.com. And you know NBA teams are always itching to get more four-year college players on their roster. Ain’t that right, David Lighty?

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?

Follow Austin on Twitter at @AustinBurton206.

Follow Dime on Twitter at @DimeMag.

Become a fan of Dime Magazine on Facebook HERE.