If Ohio State is the surprise team in the Big Ten this season, redshirt junior forward Keita Bates-Diop is the league’s most shocking revelation.
After a disappointing freshman year in 2014-15, Bates-Diop began to show promise as a sophomore when he averaged 11.8 points and 6.4 rebounds.
Then, like the Buckeyes themselves, Bates-Diop disappeared from the college basketball landscape when he suffered a stress fracture in his left leg last season and sat out all but the first nine games.
Just as Ohio State has resurfaced to relevance in the Big Ten under new coach Chris Holtmann, the 6-foot-7, 235-pound forward has re-emerged. In fact, he’s become something of a force of nature.
Bates-Diop’s coming-out party went to a new level when he followed up a 27-point, 13-rebound performance at Iowa with a 32-point, seven-rebound performance in a home win Sunday over then-No. 1 Michigan State.
“He’s such a matchup nightmare for everybody,” Maryland coach Mark Turgeon said after practice Wednesday in College Park.
How the Terps plan to contain Diop when the teams meet Thursday in Columbus, and whether they have the defensive matchups to do it, is up for debate.
Turgeon could start any one of three players on Diop — 6-7 sophomore Kevin Huerter, 6-4 freshman Darryl Morsell (Mount Saint Joseph) or even 7-1 senior Michal Cekovsky.
“Diop and I think [Jae’Sean] Tate both present matchup problems … especially with their height,” Huerter said Wednesday. “Tate is really a [power forward] playing [small forward] and Diop is a [small forward] playing [power forward]. We’re going to have to change up our defenses on them all game.”
There’s also a possibility that 6-9 redshirt freshman Joshua Tomaic is on Diop when he’s on the court.
Tomaic did a good job on forward Tyler Cook in Sunday’s 91-73 win over Iowa, drawing an offensive foul that Turgeon called “the defensive play of the game.” It led to Cook picking up his fourth personal and quickly getting disqualified with his fifth on a technical.
“I think Josh has really grown up a lot the last year and a half, I think he has a good feel for what we’re trying to do defensively,” Turgeon said. “I think his post defense has gotten better, his awareness and understanding has gotten better. We all have a lot of confidence in Josh.”
Bates-Diop has become the most legitimate challenger to Michigan State sophomore forward Miles Bridges and Minnesota junior forward Jordan Murphy as the early favorites for Big Ten Player of the Year.
Not that Bates-Diop has been as big a surprise in Columbus.
“We knew he’d be hungry coming off an injury,” fifth-year senior guard Kam Williams (Mount Saint Joseph) said in a telephone interview Tuesday. “As soon as he was cleared and to do stuff on the court, we tried to help him do everything he could to help his play come to fruition on the court.”