COLUMBUS, Ohio — Ohio State basketball coach Chris Holtmann didn’t know much about Summit League champ South Dakota State when the Jackrabbits were announced as the Buckeyes’ first-round NCAA Tournament opponent, but he already had his eye on what might be the most intriguing player matchup of the first round.
“We’re playing a very good opponent in South Dakota State, who I believe has an NBA player on the roster and has had an outstanding year,” Holtmann said.
An NBA prospect? At South Dakota State? As improbable as that might be, it’s true. And it will likely be best-on-best, as Big Ten Player of the Year Keita Bates-Diop will be tasked with slowing down South Dakota State’s 6-foot-9 forward Mike Daum.
Daum, an unheralded recruit from Kimball, Neb., has transformed into one of the nation’s most lethal offensive weapons. He had the highest 2016-17 scoring average of any returning player in the country at 25.1 points, and he’s nearly matched that this year by putting up 23.8 points per contest over 34 games. He also averaged 10.4 rebounds per game, but perhaps the most astonishing stat is that despite his size he’s made 42.1 percent of his 216 attempts from 3-point range.
Players like that are a nightmare for higher seeds come NCAA Tournament time, when one standout performance can end an accomplished team’s season in stunning fashion. Daum has no shortage of scoring ability, as he showed when he put up 51 points against Fort Wayne during his junior season. Watch the highlights and try to not be amazed.
But the good news for the Buckeyes is they’re able to counter Daum with the Big Ten Player of the Year. Bates-Diop has his own set of gaudy statistics, averaging 19.4 points and 8.8 rebounds per game. And with 54 blocks in 32 games, his shot-altering ability could prove good enough to slow down Daum on the offensive end.
Whatever happens, the matchup between two star prospects should make the meeting between Ohio State and South Dakota State one worth watching.