A few big games in the NCAA Tournament can elevate names from relative obscurity to legendary status. It’s not an exaggeration, even if it reads like the script for a dramatic intro package: You can bring up Fennis Dembo more than a generation after his epic Tournament with Wyoming, and college basketball fans almost universally recognize.
In the weeks leading up to the NCAA Tournament the last few years, I spotlighted a few players with the potential to gain such college basketball lore. In the interesting of own-horn-tooting, I was more publicly and aggressively in on Stephen F. Austin star Thomas Walkup than most. I am confident that one of the following names will have a similar impact on the next edition of Madness.
Zach Lofton, New Mexico State
New Mexico State’s flirtations with the AP Top 25, and the growing din contemplating a potential at-large case for the Aggies, mean more national exposure for New Mexico State. Should Chris Jans’ club continue dominating in the Western Athletic Conference, I suspect more attention will be paid to guard Zack Lofton. He already made an appearance on Sportscenter in the past week after vaporizing a would-be defender from UT-Rio Grande Valley.
That is one tasty, ankle-breaking, SportsCenter-making shot! Check out the Whataburger Play of the Game from Saturday’s 90-67 win over UTRGV, featuring #23 Zack Lofton #WobbleOn #SpicyKetchup pic.twitter.com/bT75NSxlNZ
— NM State MBB (@NMStateMBB) February 5, 2018
New Mexico State features one of the best inside-outside combinations in the country, pairing the guard Lofton with forward Jemerrio Jones averaging a double-double. And the explosive scoring Lofton’s the perfect NCAA Tournament star, capable of getting his points from deep (he’s a 42 percent shooter from behind the 3-point arc) or slashing on the drive.
Mike Daum, South Dakota State
#24 needs 24 for 2K.
Come join us tomorrow night at 7 p.m. as we take on the Bison and support Mike Daum on his quest to become the second Jackrabbit ever to obtain 2,000 career points. #GoJacks#FindAWay pic.twitter.com/c34v9xqb2g
— JackrabbitBasketball (@GoJacksMBB) January 31, 2018
Already a darling among the mid-major crowd, South Dakota State forward Mike Daum is tailor-made for NCAA Tournament stardom. He’s an excellent scorer, putting up north of 23 points per game, with a varied offensive game. Daum can score in the paint or step behind the 3-point line. He’s a menace on the boards with an average just shy of 10 per. And, with a nickname like “Dauminator,” he’s an easy sell to the casual audience.
Daum foreshadowed his lofty potential in South Dakota State’s 2016 NCAA Tournament matchup with Maryland, scoring 16 points and grabbing six boards off the bench in a 79-74 loss. Daum has since developed into a legit NBA prospect who can matchup with any of the best forwards in college basketball.
As of this writing, ESPN’s Joe Lunardi projects Daum and the Jackrabbits to draw Oklahoma. The prospect of Mike Daum and Trae Young on the same court has me salivating.
Zach Thomas, Bucknell
Bucknell’s a program with a history for taking down powerhouses in March. The Bison stunned Kansas in 2005, then followed it up the next year with a defeat of Arkansas. In 2012, Bucknell knocked off Arizona at McKale Center in an opening-round NIT matchup.
This year’s Bison squad could be similarly equipped to stun a big-time opponent — especially if scoring machine Zach Thomas gets hot.
Thomas is a dangerous 3-point shooter, yet equally adept scoring off the drive, which results in a 21.2-point per game yield. Defending Thomas can be a tricky proposition, as the versatile swing-man feeds well off of center Nana Foulland and point guard Stephen Brown, both of whom are posting around 15 points per game.
Dylan Windler, Belmont
Dylan Windler looks like the best player at Belmont since current NBA guard Ian Clark. Windler has a similar ability to score from the perimeter, shooting better than 42 percent from deep. At 6-foot-7, Windler combines his shooting touch with an ability to tussle in the paint. He averages close to a double-double and connects on nearly 56 percent of his attempts from inside the arc.
His ball-handling and fearlessness in the paint could poise matchup problems for inconsistent defenses; for a team such as Arizona, Belmont and Windler would be a nightmare draw.