The unofficial start to college basketball season is conference media days, and the Big 12 conference is hosting its men’s basketball media days in Kansas City on Wednesday. All 10 schools will have representation from their head coach and players, including Kansas State’s first-year head coach Jerome Tang and players Markquis Nowell, Keyontae Johnson and Nae’Qwan Tomlin.
EMAW Online’s Alec Busse highlights some of the biggest headlines for Kansas State heading into Kansas City.
WHAT IS VIEWED AS A SUCCESSFUL FIRST SEASON FOR TANG?
Tang spent nearly two decades with Scott Drew as an assistant coach while at Baylor, helping the Bears turn into one of college basketball’s best programs over the last five seasons. It’s unrealistic to expect Tang to immediately turn the Wildcats into one of the best programs in the country, let alone a strong Big 12 Conference.
But what are the expectations for a team filled largely with transfer talent in its first season at Kansas State? Is an NCAA Tournament in the first season a realistic goal for the Wildcats? Maybe not. But Tang’s team could also surprise and find themselves in the Tournament with a quality season.
There’s a lot of positive public momentum around Kansas State basketball right now because of the energy that Tang has infused into the program with his public appearances and personality. But how well does that all transfer to the court?
WHAT KIND OF STYLE WILL TANG EMPLOY THIS SEASON?
While at Baylor, Tang was able to be part of a program that became known for playing pesky defense with elite guard play. Look no further than the Bears trio in 2020-21 which included Jared Butler, Davion Mitchell and MaCio Teague.
Replicating that type of style in Manhattan, Kan., would create for an incredibly fun brand of basketball to watch, and it looks like Tang is trying to develop strong guard play with Nowell returning and the additions of transfer guards through the portal.
But what kind of tempo does Tang want to play at? How aggressive does he want his defenses to be in trying to force turnovers? Tang likely won’t dive too deeply into these details, but some stylistic structures of his teams at Kansas State will rise.
WHAT ARE THE KEY ELEMENTS TO TANG’S CULTURE?
One of the most identifiable parts of Baylor’s success is the culture that Drew has built in Waco, and Tang was part of that for a long time. The Baylor program thrives off of an acronym of J.O.Y. Jesus, Others, Yourself.
Tang, a minister by trait, is aiming to establish a culture in Manhattan that is strong and something that players look forward to contributing to. What are the principles to Tang’s culture and how have the Wildcats gone about establishing that in his first few weeks as the head coach?
Culture is a buzzword that is often overused in sports, but it really is important in college basketball and establishing a culture early in a tenure helps the program get off the ground floor more quickly. Use the success Mick Cronin has had at UCLA early in his tenure as an example. Tommy Lloyd’s first season at Arizona is another quality example of how a strong culture can elevate a program.
WHAT ARE REALISTIC EXPECTATIONS FOR KEYONTAE JOHNSON?
Florida transfer Keyontae Johnson is expected to be one of Kansas State’s best players this season. Still, Johnson didn’t play at all last season after tragically collapsing on the court during a game in the 2020-21 season. It was revealed that Johnson had a heart condition and Florida’s doctors didn’t permit Johnson to play last season.
A former NBA prospect, Johnson has been cleared to play for Kansas State in 2022-23 but has not played for much of the last season and a half. What kind of expectations are realistic for a former 14-points-per-game player?
Johnson is an impressive athlete and he’s proven to be a lethal three-point shooter in his career having shot a quality 38 percent from three back in 2019-20 before playing just four games for Florida the following season.
If Johnson is able to return to the type of player he was as a Gator, the Wildcats likely have an All-Big 12 player, and that would undoubtedly raise the floor of the program heading into their first season with Tang as the head coach.
But he hasn’t played competitively in more than a year and a half, so what is his return to action plan, and how does Kansas State plan to execute it early in the season?
WHERE IS DESI SILLS AT IN HIS TRANSITION TO THE PROGRAM?
Desi Sills is expected to be one of K-State’s most integral players this season, but he wasn’t able to join the team for practices until a couple of weeks ago, due to some off-the-court issues that needed to be handled before he was able to begin practice.
Sills is an important piece in K-State’s backcourt, along with Nowell this season. A former Arkansas Razorback and last season Arkansas State standout, Sills averaged 12.6 points per game. But he’s been an inconsistent shooter throughout his career. If Sills turns into a quality three-point shooter the Wildcats could have one of the best shooting backcourt in the Big 12 with Nowell, Johnson and Sills.