College / Mar 14, 2012 / 1:30 pm

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

Pierre Jackson

Pierre Jackson (photo. Baylor Athletics)

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.

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Q: WHO IS THE NEXT SHAKA SMART?
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.

Q: WHO IS THE NEXT NORTH CAROLINA?
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.

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