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February 11, 2011

Megargee: Possible Cinderella stars to watch

MORE: Huguenin: Projecting the field of 68

It happens every March.

After starring in relative obscurity for most of the season, a standout performer from a low-major conference finally bursts onto the national scene by delivering a huge performance in the NCAA tournament.

Remember how Louis Dale and Ryan Wittman helped send Cornell to the Sweet 16 last season? Or how Siena's Ronald Moore hit two huge 3-pointers in a first-round victory over Ohio State two seasons ago? Valparaiso's Bryce Drew and Weber State's Harold "The Show" Arceneaux had their shining moments more than a decade ago, yet their names inevitably get mentioned at some point during the first week of the tournament when a lower-seeded team threatens to pull an upset.

Who will be this year's Drew or Arceneaux?

We decided to take a guess by listing 10 top players from traditional one-bid leagues. We also have included their season statistics and where their teams ranked in their respective conference standings through Thursday's games.

You won't find Hofstra's Charles Jenkins on this list because the Colonial Athletic Association often sends more than one team to the NCAA tournament. You also won't see Cleveland State guard Norris Cole here because the Vikings have a legitimate shot at earning an at-large bid even if they don't win the Horizon League tournament.

All the guys on this list play for teams that almost certainly won't earn NCAA bids unless they win their respective conference tournaments. And all of these players are good enough to carry their teams to conference tournament titles, even if their teams aren't necessarily atop their league standings at the moment.

Some of the players on this list already have delivered big performances in previous NCAA tournaments. Some of them are seeking their first taste of March Madness. But even if some of these players aren't familiar to you now, you just might hear their names quite a bit next month.

Oakland C Keith Benson
Season averages: 17.3 points, 9.9 rebounds, 3.7 blocks
Team record: 17-9 overall, 12-1 in the Summit League (first place)
Buzz: Benson ranks third nationally in blocks, and he is fifth in the Summit League in scoring and second in rebounding. He was named the Lou Henson Mid-Major player of the year last season by collegeinsiders.com and closed the year by recording 26 points and nine rebounds in an NCAA tournament loss to Pittsburgh. Benson, a 6-foot-11 fifth-year senior, is the second player in Summit League history with 1,000 career points and 1,000 rebounds. Benson has averaged 16.6 points and 9.2 rebounds in 13 games against teams from the six major conferences over the past two seasons. That includes a 26-point, 10-rebound effort Dec. 14 in an 89-82 upset of Tennessee, which was ranked seventh in the nation at the time.

Wofford F Noah Dahlman
Season averages: 20.4 points, 5.5 rebounds, 1.2 assists
Team record: 13-12 overall, 10-4 in the Southern (tied for second place in South Division, 1.5 games behind College of Charleston)
Buzz: Dahlman made the most of Wofford's grueling non-conference schedule by scoring 33 points against Xavier, 19 against Georgetown, 17 against Clemson and 15 against Minnesota. He has performed even better in conference play, as his 11-point effort Wednesday in a 67-58 loss to Davidson ended a string of seven consecutive games with at least 22 points. Dahlman, a 6-6 senior, ranks fourth nationally with a .627 field-goal percentage. Dahlman helped Wofford earn an NCAA bid last season as the Southern Conference's player of the year and the league tournament's most outstanding player. The Terriers will have their hands full getting back to the dance this season, as they already lost their two regular-season meetings to Southern Conference leader College of Charleston. Don't blame Dahlman: He averaged 23.5 points and 10 rebounds in Wofford's two meetings with Charleston.

Morehead State F/C Kenneth Faried
Season averages: 17.1 points, 14.2 rebounds, 2.2 steals, 2.0 blocks, 1.3 assists
Team record: 18-8 overall, 10-4 in the Ohio Valley (second place, one game behind Murray State)
Buzz: Faried is probably the best pro prospect on this list because his tenacity on the boards should translate well to the NBA. How good a rebounder is this guy? Of all the Division I players whose careers began after 1973, Wake Forest's Tim Duncan and Syracuse's Derrick Coleman are the only ones with more career rebounds. Although his 6-8 frame makes him a relatively undersized center, Faried ranked second nationally in rebounding last season and leads the nation in that category this season. Faried has three of the five 20-point, 20-rebound games in Division I this season. And he averaged 17.5 points and 15 rebounds in early-season losses to Florida and Ohio State. "That guy wants to be a pro," Florida coach Billy Donovan told reporters after the Gators' 61-55 win over Morehead State. "That's Dennis Rodman all over again. If I was an NBA general manager, I'd be taking him right with my pick. That's what a next-level guy looks like, in my opinion."

Texas Southern F Kevin Galloway
Season averages: 11.8 points, 6.9 rebounds, 6.3 assists, 1.7 steals
Team record: 11-10 overall, 9-1 in the Southwestern Athletic (first place)
Buzz: The well-traveled Galloway began his college career at USC, spent a year at the College of Southern Idaho, then played one season at Kentucky before landing at Texas Southern. Galloway, a 6-7 senior, has found a home at his fourth school and could pull off a rare feat by leading his conference in rebounds and assists. Galloway is running away with the SWAC assists title and ranks second in the league in rebounds. Galloway transferred from USC before the Trojans reached the NCAA tournament, and Kentucky didn't earn an NCAA bid in his lone season with the Wildcats. Wouldn't it be ironic if this former USC and Kentuckyplayer finally got his first taste of the NCAA tournament while suiting up for Texas Southern?

Iona F Michael Glover and Siena F Ryan Rossiter
Season averages: Glover: 19.1 points, 10.5 rebounds. Rossiter: 19.0 points, 13.1 rebounds.
Team records: Iona: 14-10 overall, 8-5 in the Metro Atlantic (fourth place, three games behind Fairfield). Siena: 10-13 overall, 7-6 Metro Atlantic (sixth place, four games behind Fairfield).
Buzz: We included Glover and Rossiter together because they play for conference rivals in similar situations. Iona and Siena are long shots to earn the MAAC's automatic bid. But Glover and Rossiter are good enough to carry their respective teams to a tournament title if they get hot. Glover leads the MAAC in scoring and ranks second in rebounding. Rossiter ranks second in the MAAC in scoring and second in the nation in rebounding. Glover originally signed with Seton Hall and showed he was a Big East-quality player by collecting 25 points and 16 rebounds in an 83-77 loss to Syracuse. Rossiter is Siena's leading career rebounder and has recorded double-doubles in 18 of Siena's 23 games this season. Rossiter is the only player on this list whose team has a losing record, but Siena has won the MAAC tournament in each of the past three seasons.

College of Charleston G Andrew Goudelock
Season averages: 24.2 points, 4.2 assists, 3.8 rebounds, 1.1 steals
Team record: 18-7 overall, 11-2 in the Southern (first place in South Division)
Buzz: Three years after Stephen Curry carried Davidson to a regional final, another hot-shooting guard is aiming for the opportunity to lead a different Southern Conference upstart on a similar run. Goudelock, a 6-2 senior, is the nation's second-leading scorer this season and ranks behind only Hofstra's Charles Jenkins in career points (2,298) among active players. He leads the nation with 87 3-pointers and is making 43.3 percent of his shots from beyond the arc. Goudelock opened the season by collecting 27 points and 10 assists in a 75-74 loss to Maryland. He also scored 31 in a 91-78 upset at Tennessee and had 28 in a 74-69 loss to North Carolina. Goudelock hasn't exactly slowed down since the start of conference play. He scored a career-high 34 points and went 8-of-12 from 3-point range Wednesday in an 85-67 victory over Elon. He's 16-of-31 on 3-pointers over his past three games.

Lipscomb F/C Adnan Hodzic
Season averages: 18.5 points, 7.4 rebounds
Team record: 15-10 overall, 10-6 in the Atlantic Sun (fourth place, 4 1/2 games behind Belmont)
Buzz: Hodzic, a 6-8 senior from Bosnia who played his high school ball in Indianapolis, ranked second in the nation in scoring at 22.7 points per game and also averaged 9.1 rebounds last season. Although his numbers are slightly down this season, he still leads the Atlantic Sun in scoring and ranks second in rebounding. He averaged 15.3 points and 7.8 rebounds in non-conference losses to North Carolina, Baylor, Alabama and Memphis. Hodzic's performances against Atlantic Sun leader Belmont underscored his value. He scored seven points -- ending a streak of 72 consecutive games in double figures -- in an 88-52 loss to Belmont on Jan. 13. In the rematch, Hodzic had 26 points and seven rebounds as Lipscomb won 73-64 to hand Belmont its only conference loss. Although Lipscomb is fourth in the Atlantic Standings, don't count out the Bison. No. 5 seed East Tennessee State beat No. 6 seed Mercer in last season's Atlantic Sun tourney championship game.

Central Connecticut State F Ken Horton
Season averages: 18.8 points, 8.6 rebounds, 2.0 assists, 1.6 blocks, 1.5 steals
Team record: 17-7 overall, 10-3 in the Northeast (second place, one game behind Long Island)
Buzz: Horton has delivered one of the most triumphant comebacks in all of college basketball this season. After leading Central Connecticut State in scoring and rebounding two years ago, Horton missed the 2009-10 season with a torn labrum in his left hip. Horton, a 6-6 junior, has returned this season and is playing better than ever. He leads the Northeast Conference in scoring and blocks and ranks second in the league in rebounding. Horton's most recent performance exemplified his remarkable versatility. He had 23 points, 11 rebounds, six steals and six blocks Wednesday in a 71-55 rout of Bryant. Horton also is a solid outside shooter who has gone 41-of-114 from 3-point range.

Lehigh G C.J. McCollum
Season averages: 22.1 points, 7.9 rebounds, 2.3 steals, 2.0 assists
Team record: 13-11 overall, 4-5 in the Patriot League (fourth place, four games behind Bucknell)
Buzz: McCollum made a national name for himself last March by capping a brilliant freshman season with a 26-point outburst against Kansas in the NCAA tournament. He has followed that up this season by leading the Patriot League in scoring and ranking second in rebounding. He led all national freshmen in scoring last season and has the most career points of any sophomore in the nation. Lehigh has dropped four of its past seven games to fall into the middle of the Patriot League pack, but we believe McCollum is a dominant enough player at this level to help carry the Mountain Hawks to a couple of upsets in the Patriot League tournament.

Montana C Brian Qvale
Season averages: 14.5 points, 8.6 rebounds, 3.3 blocks
Team record: 17-7 overall, 9-3 in the Big Sky (second place, one game behind Northern Colorado)
Buzz: Qvale leads the Big Sky in rebounds and is sixth in the league in scoring. He ranks sixth nationally in blocks and has made 61.9 percent of his shots. Qvale, a 6-11 senior, already has set Montana's single-season record (78) and the Big Sky's career record (230) for blocks. His non-conference performances include a double-double against UCLA and a 27-point, 18-rebound effort in a 71-66 victory over Oregon State. He delivered five consecutive double-doubles last month, but his six-point performance in a 63-45 loss to Big Sky leader Northern Colorado on Jan. 6 showed how critical he is to the Grizzlies' success.

Steve Megargee is a national writer for Rivals.com. He can be reached at smegargee@rivals.com.

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