Where have you gone, Harold Arceneaux? Back in March of 1999, “The Show” scored 713 points in a single season for Weber State, was named Big Sky player of the year, and led the 14th-seeded Wildcats to a 76-74 NCAA first round win over No. 3 North Carolina with a stunning 36-point performance. (Woah, woah, woah.)
People still remember that game, because it featured an easy narrative hook: there was this one guy who went completely nuts from the floor. Harder to recall an individual from any of the other 15 teams who pulled 14-over-3 upsets, unless you’re either an alum or it happened recently. Can you name one guy from that Northwestern State 2006 team, even the player who hit the game-winning shot against Iowa? How about Austin Peay 1987? UALR 1986?
Solid team play is totally overrated, at least when it comes to fond remembrances down at the local watering hole. For those purposes, teams that rely way too much on a single star are far more easily recalled and cherished. Here and now at the beginning of conference play, with the 2011 Big Dance ten weeks in the future, it’s as good a time as any to speculate on who that next unknown small-conference star to join the eternal March Madness highlight reel might be.
Anatoly Bose, Nicholls State — The Southland Conference has long been a children’s treasury of positive basketball lessons: share the ball and stay within the system, and championships will surely come. This is where teams once reigned like defense-first (and second, and third) Southeastern Louisiana 2005, and that Round of 32 Northwestern State team the next year, and the Texas A&M Corpus Christi team that almost upset Wisconsin to cap its first year in the league. It’s been a long time since one guy took the conference over, even though Texas-Arlington’s Marquez Haynes tried his best these past two seasons.
Now comes a senior swingman from Nicholls’ long-running Australian pipeline, a 6-foot-6 midsize model who’s currently the nation’s second-leading scorer on a per-game basis (26.2 ppg), and third on the list when it comes to points per 40 minutes (30.6). No other player in Division I is utilized on as many of his team’s possessions; Bose is America’s leader in usage percentage (FGA + (FT Att. x 0.44) + (Ast x 0.33) + TO] x 40). Twenty-eight of this year’s points came in a gigantic upset of LSU in Baton Rouge, and the Colonels are 6-4 in non-conference. Sure, three of those wins were against lower-division opponents (the man in question hit seven threes against Dillard of the NAIA), but Nicholls still has the 44th strongest schedule as per the Pomeroy SOS ratings. A few Bose 35-point performances in March, and J.P. Piper’s squad might leapfrog over league favorites Stephen F. Auston and the defending champions from Sam Houston State.
Vlad Moldoveanu, American — The 6-foot-9 senior from Bucharest, a Romanian national team member, was a little-used first-half sub during his freshman year at George Mason in 2006-07. When his playing time was cut back further, he left before the semester break of his sophomore season. Once he was eligible at American in December 2009, he played as long as foul trouble would allow him to. He’s cut back on the hacking this time around (no DQ’s and only two four-foul games), and is putting together a solid senior season. Just before Christmas, he put up 23 in a losing effort at Pittsburgh.
At press time, his Eagles are one of just three of the eight Patriot League teams with a winning record, and the only one that’s at least one game clear of .500 (8-5). How much does American rely on Moldoveanu? He’s scored 28.5 percent of the team’s points, takes 27 percent of its shots, and, perhaps in keeping with a Euro-style big man’s style, he puts up 30 percent of the team’s three-point attempts (74 so far, with a 35 percent conversion average). American missed out on the NCAA Tournament in 2010 after two straight appearances; those teams were typified by their balanced attacks, and this one would not be.
Norris Cole, Cleveland State — The Vikings have been one of the best mid-major stories of the season’s first two months, and they’ve gone 13-1 (lone loss: at West Virginia) by way of a killer defense that yields only .91 points per possession. Until 2010 national runner-up Butler barreled through high-major competition on the way to the Diamond Head Classic championship in Hawaii last week, Cleveland State was not only arguably the best team in the Horizon League, they were the best team in the Horizon League.
Gary Waters’ team scores a phenomenal 1.05 points per trip, but that’s all the more remarkable due to the offense’s distinct lack of dimension. It’s a team ruled by guards, and 6-foot-2 senior Cole is king of kings. He scores 29 percent of the team’s points, is already over 300 for the year, and has put up 210 shots — 60 more than his closest teammate. He’s used on 32 percent of the team’s possessions, 24th in Division I. And he has notable March experience, too. On Friday, March 20, 2009, as a sophomore, Cole led his team with 22 points on 8-for-18 shooting as No. 13 Cleveland State took down No. 4 Wake Forest 84-69 for the team’s first NCAA win since 1986. Get past Butler again, and the Vikings will be back for another attempt. If you’re looking for the next Show, Cole could very well provide it.
It doesn’t always work. For every Bose and Cole and Moldoveanu, there’s a Xavier Silas. The former Colorado Buffalo-turned-Northern Illinois Huskie is used on 36 percent of his possessions and is second in the nation at 31.4 points per 40 minutes, but his team is 3-7.
And the burden of being a high-usage star on a championship team can be heavy indeed. The NCAA Tournament’s graveyard is filled with 25 point-per-game scorers who were shut down by double teams and then scrap-heaped. Not even the power conferences are immune. Take a brief moment to remember poor Lucas Cameron Harangody, who singlehandedly lifted Notre Dame to the 2010 Big Dance, didn’t score in the first round until the final minute as the Fightin’ Irish were put out by a feisty Old Dominion team that featured a total of zero future professional benchwarmers.
But the dream remains. Somewhere out there, there’s a guy ordering his teammates give me the damn ball, over and over… in the hope that someday, atop a blue and black NCAA logo in some distant NBA arena, he’ll be able to say told you so.