The nation’s scoring champion was quietly absent from the NCAA Tournament last year. Actually, Howard’s James Daniel, who averaged 27.0 points per game, didn’t hoist a shot in any postseason tournament. That didn’t sit well with the soon-to-be senior guard.
"We’re trying to build something that’s going to last a long time," Daniel told the Las Vegas Review-Journal back in November, when his name had shot to the top of the national scoring list to begin the season. "Nobody likes to lose. But we’ve got a group of guys who really get along and care about each other. We all want to make this team successful and that’s more important to me than leading the country in scoring."
Unfortunately for Daniel and coach Kevin Nickelberry, nothing was built last season, at least in terms of postseason appearances. The Bison went 12-20, including 6-10 in MEAC play, and lost in the first round of the conference tournament to North Carolina Central. This was a step back from a 16-16 (10-6) campaign the year before, and showed that despite Daniel’s scoring, losing James Carlton to graduation was too much.
Yet Daniel makes Howard a team to watch next season, and history has placed an exciting opportunity in front of him. No player has repeated as the country’s leading scorer since Saint Peter’s Keydren Clark did so in 2003-04 and 2004-05. And here sits Daniel, who is perfectly positioned to make the repeat a reality in a league that registered the lowest conference RPI in 2015-16.
But will Howard be worth watching for more than just him? Daniel’s notoriety is a part of -- but certainly not the entire -- endgame for a Bison program that hasn’t finished with a winning record since 2001-02.
"We need this. The athletic program needs for basketball to be successful." Nickelberry told SBNation’s Mike Rutherford in February. "We’ve taken the jump, but getting in the Tournament, getting in the postseason validates it."
As important as Daniel will be next season, fellow senior James Miller is just as vital to that turnaround. Miller was a key part of Howard’s solid season two years ago (11.5 points per game, 35.8 three-point percentage), but a fractured hand ended his junior year in November. One of the five games he did play in was a 27-point effort against UMass in which he hit three shots from distance.
Even with all of Daniel’s baskets, Howard posted the 333rd ranked adjusted offensive efficiency according to KenPom. A large part of that was due to the Bison's struggles from the three-point line, where they shot just 29.5 percent. Adding Miller, a 34.3 percent career three-point shooter and established scorer, back into the mix will help, as will another year of development from seniors Marcel Boyd (10.4 ppg, 52.9 eFG%) and Damon Collins (10.1 ppg). Nickelberry has to hope that adds up to a better season, even if it means Daniel takes on a slightly reduced offensive role.
Fewer points, but more wins? That’s a deal Daniel probably wouldn’t hesitate to make.