Let’s talk some basketball. As in the revived, revitalized, refreshing, riveting, and record-breaking K-State basketball team coached by Jerome Tang. Tuesday’s 116-103 win over the sixth-ranked Texas Longhorns moved the Wildcats to 13-1 overall and 2-0 in the Big 12 in the 2022-23 season. Not only was it their second consecutive victory over a ranked opponent, but they also tied the Big 12 record for points in a game, set by Baylor in 2008, and set the school record for points in a game. They shot 61 percent from the field, 56.5 percent from three-point range, and 93.9% from the free-throw line (also a school record.) Are we havin’ fun yet?
Jerome Tang’s team has been fun to watch all season. They play fast, high-flying offense and also play tough-minded defense. Tang has instilled a family-like atmosphere within the program, holding weekly and sometimes daily team events at his house, such as cookouts and karaoke. It has given the players and coaches a chance to bond with each other, and it shows on the court.
While I didn’t have any expectations for K-State going into this basketball season, it didn’t take me long to realize that this was an NCAA tournament team in the making. They won the Cayman Islands Classic tournament early in the season by beating Rhode Island, Nevada, and LSU. They followed up the tournament championship by losing at Butler, but have since reeled off seven straight victories. The LSU win is looking like a really good one since LSU is 12-2, with their only other loss being at Kentucky by three points. At the time, you could see this year’s Wildcat team is more talented and athletic than any that we’ve seen from K-State in a while and that it also has a lot of potential.
Forward Keyontae Johnson is turning out to be a steal. He is a first-team all-Big 12 talent, and he is playing like it, averaging 18.4 points per game and 6.9 rebounds per game. He leads the team in both categories and ranks third in scoring and sixth in rebounding in the Big 12. Heck, if he keeps this up, he may end up being a candidate for player of the year in the league.
Marquis Nowell has been like the energizer bunny keeping the pace going for this team every game. He is second on the team in scoring, averaging 15.9 points per game (which also ranks eighth in the Big 12), and also leads the team in assists (8.5 per game) and assist-to-turnover ratio. Add in the surprise human highlight reel Nae’Qwan Tomlin’s 11.6 points per game (many on highlight-reel dunks) and 5.6 rebounds per game, and K-State has a spectacular one, two, three punch that they haven’t had since at least Dean Wade, Barry Brown, and Kamau Stokes in 2018-19. Desi Sills, David N’Guessan, Cam Carter, Abayomi Iyiola, and Tykei Greene have all had some great moments thus far during this young season. The future sure looks bright for this program.
Can this team keep up this blistering pace and contend for the Big 12 title after being picked to finish last by the media and coaches? I don’t think they’re quite that good yet, but I wouldn’t put anything past the Tang Gang. I’ll be happy with a top-half finish in the Big 12 and a decent seed in the NCAA tournament. A couple of tournament wins would be gravy at this point. All I can say so far is that K-State athletic director Gene Taylor hit a monstrous 500-foot homerun with the hire of Jerome Tang.