BY STEVE MEGARGEE
South Dakota State forward Mike Daum already has experienced the NCAA Tournament twice before. Now he wants to discover what it feels like to win on college basketball’s biggest stage.
Daum, one of the nation’s most prolific scorers, heads a list of several notable players from one-bid leagues relishing their chance at the spotlight this week. South Dakota State (28-6) is the No. 12 seed in the West Region and faces Ohio State (24-8) on Thursday in Boise, Idaho.
“Being able to say I won a game in March Madness would be something I’ve dreamed about ever since I was a little kid,” Daum said. “It would be a blessing to be able to do this.”
Daum’s had a couple of shots before. He scored 16 points in a 79-74 NCAA Tournament loss to Maryland two years ago and had 17 points last season when South Dakota State fell 66-46 in the opening round to Gonzaga .
Those games provided a rare national showcase for Daum, one of the nation’s top players from outside the major conferences.
After redshirting his first year at South Dakota State, Daum has developed into a two-time Summit League player of the year. The 6-foot-9 junior is one of five finalists for the Karl Malone Award given annually to the nation’s top power forward.
Daum ranks sixth among all Division I players in scoring (23.8) and 14th in rebounding (10.4) this season. He’s ready to apply the lessons learned from South Dakota State’s last two NCAA appearances while trying to lead the Jackrabbits beyond the first round.
“The size and length is the biggest noticeable aspect of other (NCAA Tournament) teams,” Daum said. “We don’t have a lot of guys who are 7-footers or 6-9 with 7-foot wingspans in the Summit League, guys who are unbelievable athletes. When we get into the NCAA Tournament, you play a team with a full roster of guys like that. For us, it’s just mentally preparing for things like that.”
Here’s a rundown of some other potential NCAA Tournament impact performers from one-bid leagues:
JOE CHEALEY (guard, College of Charleston)
Next game: Friday vs. Auburn at San Diego
Notable: Chealey scored 32 points as Charleston erased a 17-point, second-half deficit to beat Northeastern 83-76 in overtime in the Colonial Athletic Association championship game . The 6-4 senior has been named first-team all-CAA two straight years. He has 18.5 points per game.
CLAYTON CUSTER (guard, Loyola of Chicago)
Next game: Thursday vs. Miami in Dallas
Notable: Custer was named the Missouri Valley Conference’s player of the year. The 6-1 junior has 13.4 points and 4.3 assists per game. He has helped Loyola earn its first NCAA berth since 1985 . Custer was part of the 2014-15 Iowa State team that made the NCAA field, but he didn’t play in the NCAA Tournament.
JON ELMORE (guard, Marshall)
Next game: Friday vs. Wichita State in San Diego
Notable: This 6-3 junior has two triple-doubles and ranks eighth in Division I in scoring (22.8) and seventh in assists (6.9). He has led Conference USA in scoring and assists each of the last two seasons. Elmore also has 6 rebounds per game. He could become the first Division I player to average at least 22 points, 6 rebounds and 6 assists in a season since Memphis’ Penny Hardaway in 1992-93.
DEMONTRAE JEFFERSON, (guard, Texas Southern)
Next game: Wednesday vs. North Carolina Central in Dayton, Ohio
Notable: This 5-7 dynamo averages 23.4 points and 4.5 assists. He served a five-game suspension but returned to lead Texas Southern to a Southwest Athletic Conference Tournament title. He scored 29 against TCU , 24 each against Kansas and Baylor , 22 against Clemson and 20 against Gonzaga .
JEMERRIO JONES (forward, New Mexico State)
Next game: Friday vs. Clemson in San Diego
Notable: The Western Athletic Conference player of the year averages 13.1 rebounds to rank second among all Division I players. The 6-5 senior also has 11.1 points per game. He has five double-doubles in his last six games. He has reached the 20-rebound mark five times in his last 11 contests.
JAIRUS LYLES (guard, Maryland-Baltimore County)
Next game: Friday vs. Virginia in Charlotte, North Carolina
Notable: This 6-foot-2 graduate student sank a tiebreaking 3-pointer with less than a second left as UMBC upset top-seeded Vermont in the America East championship . Lyles has averaged 20.2 points to earn first-team all-America East honors.
GARRISON MATHEWS (guard, Lipscomb)
Next game: Friday vs. North Carolina in Charlotte.
Notable: Mathews helped Lipscomb earn its first NCAA invitation by leading the Atlantic Sun with 22.1 points per game. The 6-5 junior scored 33 points in the Atlantic Sun championship game . He’s scored at least 23 points in seven of his last 10 games.
D’MARCUS SIMONDS (guard, Georgia State0
Next game: Friday vs. Cincinnati in Nashville, Tennessee
Notable: Simonds leads the Sun Belt in scoring (21.1) and is the league’s player of the year. The 6-3 sophomore scored 27 points as Georgia State beat Texas Arlington 74-61 in the Sun Belt championship game .
JONATHAN STARK (guard, Murray State)
Next game: Friday vs. West Virginia in San Diego
Notable: This 6-foot senior has led the Ohio Valley Conference in scoring each of the last two years and was named the OVC player of the year this season. He averages 21.8 points and has scored at least 22 points in 11 of his last 13 games. Stark has made 3.52 3-point baskets per game to rank sixth in Division I .
ZACH THOMAS (forward, Bucknell)
Next game: Friday vs. Michigan State in Detroit
Notable: Thomas leads the Patriot League in scoring (20.3) and rebounding (9.2). The 6-7 senior is the Patriot League’s player of the year. He had a 24-point, 10-rebound performance against Arkansas and also scored 21 against North Carolina and 17 against Maryland .
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