To the casual college basketball fan, interest waxes and wanes on the strength of the game’s biggest stars. The casual fan isn’t tuning in to watch Virginia — which continues to prove year in and year out that it’s one of the best programs in the country — suffocate its opponent at a glacial pace. No, they come for the star power.
Trae Young of Oklahoma has taken the college basketball world by storm, drawing comparisons to Steve Nash and Steph Curry. There’s a bevy of prospects at power programs in the running to be the top pick in the NBA draft. Many folks tune in nightly to see what superhuman feats Deandre Ayton, Marvin Bagley, or Mo Bamba will do with their talents. Grayson Allen is STILL in college!
There are a lot of really good players in the college ranks, especially among the Power Whatever Number You Use To Determine High Majors. But I’m not here to tell you about one of those.
Allow me introduce you to Mike Daum.
For the uninformed, Mike Daum is a redshirt junior forward at South Dakota State, and he’s as pure a bucket getter as they come. Daum is capable of scoring from anywhere on the court, and he’s been invading the nightmares of opposing coaches for years.
Just how good of a scorer is he? Well, he averaged 25.1 points per game last year, which made him the top returning scorer in college basketball this year. This year, his average has dropped to a measly 23 per game, but it’s largely due to the overall quality of the Jackrabbits offense. South Dakota State is ranked 33th nationally in offensive efficiency per Kenpom, so the Jackrabbits aren’t just good for a mid-major, they’re good period.
It all revolves around Daum, though, and head coach TJ Otzelberger has unleashed him upon the rest of the country. There are few players, if any, who have a greener green light than Daum does. He’s been in the top 20 of usage nationally in each of the last two years. He does it all efficiently, though. His career shooting splits are 51.5 percent/42.1 percent/84.9 percent, which are even more impressive when you consider his size (6’9, 250 pounds) and the volume of shots he takes.
Look, I can throw a bunch of numbers at you and talk about percentages and advanced stats or whatever. Better yet, how about you just see for yourself how tough he is to cover. Here are some highlights from his 51-point outing against Fort Wayne last season, which was the highest mark in college basketball last year:
HOW DO YOU GUARD THAT?!
He scores from literally every spot on the floor. He stepped out and hit threes, he took guys off the bounce to get to the rim, and he gave the defenders some old-fashioned post buckets. It was also the second time that season that he gave the Mastodons at least 40 points after he scored 42 in their first matchup.
Daum is no stranger to monster stat lines, but that one just happened to be the gaudiest of them all. He’s put up at least 30 points 18 times in his career and is tied for the 30-point outings this season with six. He’s hit at least 20 points in 44 games, and he’s hit double digits in 80 of his 88 career games. The dude can get buckets in his sleep.
When you watch Daum, it’s hard to make a comparison given his diverse skill set that isn’t often seen at the mid-major level. Perhaps the closest comparison you could make is to a guy that Otzelberger had a major hand in recruiting to Iowa State: Georges Niang.
Both Daum and Niang are stretch fours who are just as comfortable on the block as they are out on the perimeter. They can make plays off the bounce despite not being the most fleet of foot, and both guys present matchups anywhere on the court.
Let’s get a little bit more extreme, though. What if I told you Daum’s game can be compared to that of Doug McDermott. It’s not as far-fetched as you might think.
Those numbers look damn near identical. Both are incredibly efficient, high-volume scorers. Granted, McDermott did it against much better competition in the Missouri Valley and Big East, but buckets are buckets and Daum can get them regardless of who he’s playing. Also, Daum just surpassed McDermott for the most 30-points, 10-rebound games since 2010 last week with his 37 and 12 line against North Dakota State.
Now that I’ve introduced and informed you about just how damn good Daum has been so far, you might be wondering what’s next. To start, there’s a really good chance you’ll see him in the NCAA Tournament. The Jackrabbits are the favorites in the Summit League and will have the benefit of playing the conference tournament in Sioux Falls where the program has won four of the last six tournaments.
After that, Daum will have a decision to make. He’s already 22 and will turn 23 before the start of next season. It would probably be smart for him to at least test the waters of the NBA draft, where he could be an attractive prospect for NBA front offices. He’s among the best shooters in the country, and his 7’4 wingspan makes his shot nearly impossible to block.
If he returns to school, however, he would be eligible to go to another program as a graduate transfer. Would he stick with the Jackrabbits or make the switch to a high-major program to face better competition? He said before the season that he was committed to the program for his final two years, but that opportunity to go higher will always be in the back of his mind.
For now, Daum will be content dropping buckets left and right all over college basketball, and you should take the time to enjoy it while he’s still here. Enjoy the scoring outbursts. Enjoy the barrage of threes and fluid post moves. Enjoy a player who has turned himself into appointment television.
Enjoy Mike Daum because he’s damn good, and it’s time for people to know about it.