When the bracket for the 2018 NCAA Tournament was revealed Sunday night, Ohio State's matchup against South Dakota State caught the eye of Chris Holtmann, not so much the possible second-round game.
The No. 5 seed Buckeyes are set to take on the No. 12 seed Jackrabbits on Thursday at approximately 4 p.m. from Boise, Idaho in the opening round of the tournament, Ohio State's first appearance in the Big Dance since 2015. However, should the Scarlet and Gray win, a possible rematch with No. 4-seed Gonzaga looms in the round of 32.
The first matchup between the two schools this season wasn't particularly close, as the Zags handed Ohio State its first loss of the Holtmann era, 86-59, in the first round of the PK80 Invitational on Nov. 23.
The possibility of a rematch isn't the focus of the Buckeyes, however, as South Dakota State presents its own challenges. For starters, the Jackrabbits haven't lost a game since late January.
"Most all of our preparation will be on South Dakota State. You have to try and win that first one, and we have great respect for (SDSU)," Holtmann said Sunday. "You look at the numbers, it's really impressive."
South Dakota State ranks sixth in all of Div. I in scoring offense, dropping in 84.9 points per game, and is led by junior forward Mike Daum, who averages 23.8 points per game this season by himself. Daum, who stands 6-foot-9, also pulls down 10.4 boards per game.
Holtmann acknowledged Daum as a potential NBA prospect and said he presents multiple challenges for his team, which has lost three of its last five games entering the tournament.
"I think our guys have a great appreciation for how well you need to play in (the tournament). You're playing a very good opponent, South Dakota State, who I believe has an NBA player on their roster. (They have) had an outstanding year," Holtmann said. "We will get to digging in on them and preparing for them. Let the sleepless nights begin."
Those sleepless nights won't be caused much by Ohio State's loss to Gonzaga, however, at least not now, according to Holtmann and his players.
Keita Bates-Diop, who scored just seven points in the Nov. 23 loss to the Bulldogs, said Ohio State's sights are solely on South Dakota State.
"Especially not now in tournament time," Bates-Diop said when asked if he would allow himself to think about a possible rematch. "You lose, you're done. You don't even get the chance to play that game, so we are just focused on who we're playing."
Ohio State's first opponent in the NCAA Tournament has dealt with a similar layoff to the Buckeyes, as the Jackrabbits have not played since March 6, when their conference tournament concluded with a 97-87 win over South Dakota.
Holtmann, whose team has not played since a March 1 loss to Penn State in the Big Ten Tournament, said Sunday that he isn't sure either team's layoff will factor into Thursday's final result.
"I suppose it's better, but at the end of the day I don't know how much that all factors in," Holtmann said. "I am kind of anxious to see what I feel like after the fact. How that may or may not affect us."
Regardless of opponent, extended layoff or anything else, Holtmann said he believes his team is prepared and focused on the task at hand, which is to simply play well and try to advance.
"I don't think there is any complacency within our guys in any way," Holtmann said. "I think they understand we are going to have to play really well. I think they are very hungry for more."