Jerome Tang’s year one was one for the record books. After weathering the offseason, the Kansas State Wildcats are back for year two with their new head coach.
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What a run it was for the Kansas State Wildcats last season. In Jerome Tang’s first season at the helm after almost 20 years as an assistant at Baylor, his Kansas State Wildcats made the Elite Eight. Wins over Montana State, Kentucky, and Michigan State turned the national spotlight on the Wildcats, and the overtime win against the Spartans might have been the game of the tournament. 19 assists from point guard and NYC native Markquis Nowell, including the greatest alley-oop of the decade, punctuated an electric performance at MSG for Tang’s group.
The magic didn’t last forever, though, and the wheel of fate spun in the favor of an even bigger Cinderella the next round, as Florida Atlantic won a close game, 79-76, to advance to the Final Four.
However, it was improbable that the Wildcats even got that far. After Bruce Weber resigned, nine Kansas State players with playing time the previous season left, including Nijel Pack (averaged 13.6 PPG for Miami and 26 points in a win over Houston in the tournament.) Tang basically had to start the roster over from scratch, save for Nowell, who returned as a holdover from the Weber era, and Ismael Massoud.
Tang hit the portal hard, as he needed to. Keyontae Johnson, a former SEC first-teamer who hadn’t played a full season since suffering a medical emergency in a 2020 game against Florida State, was brought over, as was Desi Sills, a former double-digit scorer for Arkansas via Arkansas State, David N’Guessan, a rotation piece from Virginia Tech, and Cam Carter, after a low-usage freshman year at Mississippi State. In all, Tang brought in 11 new players, and it worked to perfection.
Holdover Nowell averaged 8.25 APG, good for 2nd nationally, and both him and Johnson averaged 17+ PPG. Tomlin and Carter each started all 36 games, and averaged 10.4 PPG and 6.5 PPG, respectively. N’Guessan averaged 6.4 PPG and 3.5 RPG, and scored in double figures in 2 of 4 tournament games with the Wildcats. Sills started the last 9 games of the season, a stretch in which the ‘Cats went 7-2. Overall, it’s hard to argue any other coach did a better job of rebuilding a roster in one year than Tang did.
Wins over his former boss Scott Drew (twice) and an overtime win over Kansas were highlights of the conference season, as was a 116-103 road win over Texas in which Nowell scored 36. Despite losing two in a row to end the season, including a loss to TCU in the Wildcats’ first game in the Big 12 tournament, the lack of momentum didn’t seem to affect Tang’s group once they entered the big dance.
This year, the Wildcats are forced to regroup and reload, as Johnson, Nowell, and Sills all ran out of eligibility. Tang ran to the portal to replace them, grabbing a huge pickup with Tylor Perry from North Texas (not to be confused with the filmmaker and Madea creator Tyler Perry), as well as two more double-digit scorers, talented forward Arthur Kaluma from Creighton and late addition guard Ques Glover from Samford, who spent most of the summer as a BYU commit. Another late addition was Will McNair, who, by way of Mississippi State, spent time as a Providence recruit this summer. Dorian Finister and Jerrell Colbert also return.
The freshman class is nothing to scoff at, either, with Dai Dai Ames, R.J. Jones, and Macaleab Rich all joining the program. Ames especially could see extended playing time as a very talented backcourt option.
Perry and Carter will man the two starting guard spots, and it will be interesting to see Perry in a faster-paced offense. (North Texas’s tempo ranked 363rd out of 363 teams in offensive tempo last year, and Perry still averaged 17+ PPG.) While he didn’t distribute at an extremely high rate, (just 2.1 APG) he’s a more than accomplished scorer who will greatly impact the Wildcat offense. Carter returns after a so-so season in his first year as a Wildcat. He clearly has the trust of Tang, who started him every game last season, but only scored 6.5 PPG with a 48.3 TS% and overall 38.4 FG%, worst on the team. However, there is a high likelihood Carter boosts those numbers this season, especially with the Wildcats having to fill the gaping void left on the offense by the departures of Nowell and Johnson. It’s not inconceivable that Carter doubles his scoring average from last year, and he’ll be an integral part of this Kansas State team.
Coming off the bench as a 6th man, most likely, is Ques Glover, who has now spent time on 4 campuses in his college career. After struggling to find a role at Mike White’s Florida program, he transferred to Samford, where he became one of the best guards in the SoCon, consistently one of the more underrated mid-major conferences. After two years averaging 14+ PPG, he committed to BYU before making a last-minute change to Kansas State. Similar to Perry, he’s not the tallest guard, and he’s listed at just 6 feet tall. He averaged just 2.1 APG last season at Samford, but collected 4.4 APG the year before that. Glover is more than capable of getting the ball to the right places, and while he’s no Markquis Nowell, who is?
Another name to watch in the backcourt is freshman Dai Dai Ames. The no. 83-rated recruit in the last class, according to 247Sports, is another shorter guard at 6’1. He reminds me a lot of former Houston Cougar Tramon Mark, and he has the potential to be the breakout candidate of the Big-12 (Big-16?) in the 2024-25 season, if not this season. Sure, the Wildcats have Perry, Carter, and Glover. But Ames is special, and that needs to be said. Capable of producing an offensive spark as well as defensive stops consistently, there is no way there are 82 better recruits than Ames this cycle. This was a recruiting coup by Tang. When #4 takes the court for the Wildcats, make sure to watch. If there are just 10 Ames believers, I am one. If there is just 1 Ames believer, it is I. If there are none, I have disappeared off the face of the Earth. Expect big things.
Freshman R.J. Jones and returnee Dorian Finister will also provide roles for the Wildcats, and the backcourt depth is almost completely reloaded even after the losses of Nowell and Sills. Expect a little dropoff (how could one replace Nowell’s on-court ability and locker room presence?), but these guards are good to go.
In the frontcourt, Tang did well by picking up Creighton transfer Arthur Kaluma, who was presumably due for a big season with the Bluejays. He’ll start at one of the forward spots and will provide a physical presence at the wing. He’s started in 67 of 68 career games played, and is an excellent rebounder. He is much better of a scorer inside the arc than outside of it, and only shot 31.1% from deep last year. He also needs to improve on taking care of the ball, as he led the Bluejays in turnovers per 40 minutes last year, but he did do a great job at getting to the line often. Taking over for Keyontae Johnson is a tough task, but Kaluma is up to the challenge and is a great pickup for Tang and his staff.
Returning players Nae’Qwan Tomlin and David N’Guessan combined for 54 starts between the two of them last season, and will occupy the two other frontcourt starting spots. Both standing close to 6’10, they do have different skill sets. Tomlin has more talent than N’Guessan with the ball in his hands, but N’Guessan has shown flashes of an outside shot (he somehow had a better 3PT% than FT% last year) and has improved statistically every year as his role expanded. N’Guessan eventually developed into a very reliable, efficient, scorer, who led the team with a 70.6 FG%. He scored in double-digits against Kansas, Michigan State, and TCU. He did, however, miss games in December and January with an injury, and hasn’t averaged 20+ MPG once in his career. When he’s on the court, though, he’s a valuable post presence.
Tomlin will provide more offensively, and he’s integral to the Wildcats’ success this year. With the departure of Johnson and his 17+ PPG, there’s buckets to go around to this frontcourt, and Tomlin will be one of the main beneficiaries. While he did well in averaging 10.4 PPG last year, he’s due to improve on that number and could score upwards of 15 PPG this year. He certainly has the potential to. As the tallest player in the starting lineup and a natural hooper, he’ll lead the team in rebounds barring a breakout from Kaluma.
Don’t sleep on 5th-year Will McNair and freshman Macaleab Rich, either. McNair, who spent a brief stay in Rhode Island before coming over to Manhattan, is the largest player on the roster with a 6’11, 265 frame. The former Mississippi State Bulldog will provide a steady rotational role, especially when Tomlin or N’Guessan get into foul trouble. Rich is a freshman but already has a D-1 frame at 6’7, 240. It’s a crowded frontcourt, but Rich has the potential with guard skills at the forward position.
Overall, this is a team that might not have the flash that last year’s squad did, but could be better and more balanced. The ceiling of this team cannot be overstated, as an all-upper-classmen veteran starting five is joined by valuable freshman recruits in the rotation. Their non-conference schedule is more difficult than last year, with games against USC and Villanova. In-conference, of course they’re in the always-difficult Big 12, but it’ll be easier than last year’s slate with the additions of BYU, Cincinnati, and UCF, although they will now have to play Houston. Last year’s record 26-10 is certainly attainable, even with the losses of Johnson and Nowell. Despite all that Nowell brought to the offense, it’s important to note that newcomer Tylor Perry brings some aspects to the offense that Nowell didn’t have, like consistent shooting and being 5’11 instead of 5’8. (I, the author, am also 5’8, so I don’t mean that as a slight. It’s just objectively better to be taller on the basketball court.)
If Perry can parlay historical numbers in the always-underrated C-USA to the Big 12 (bet on that happening), and Cam Carter improves his shooting, the backcourt will be fine. If Kaluma, Tomlin, and N’Guessan all play up to their highest potential, which is extremely high, the country better look out. Throw in a deep rotation, and there’s no reason to sleep on Jerome Tang. Currently, Kansas State has higher odds (+1300) to make the Final Four (which they almost did last year) than Auburn (+1000) and Saint Mary’s (+1200). That just doesn’t sound right, and it wouldn’t be all that of a shock to see the Wildcats take on Glendale this April.
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Head coach: Jerome Tang (2nd season, 2nd at Kansas State)
2022-23 record: 26-10 (11-7)
2023 postseason finish: Lost to FAU, 76-79, in Elite Eight
Notable departures: Markquis Nowell (NBA), Keyontae Johnson (NBA), Desi Sills (Graduated)
Notable non-conference games: vs. Southern Cal (Nov. 6, Las Vegas), vs. Providence (Nov. 17, Nassau), vs. Villanova (Dec. 5), at LSU (Dec. 9)
PG: Tylor Perry (5-11, 180, Sr.)
2022-23 stats: 17.3 PPG, 3.4 RPG, 2.1 APG (North Texas)
SG: Cam Carter (6-3, 195, Jr.)
2022-23 stats: 6.5 PPG, 3.0 RPG, 1.4 APG
SF: Arthur Kaluma (6-7, 225, Jr.)
2022-23 stats: 11.8 PPG, 6.0 RPG, 1.6 APG (Creighton)
PF: Nae’Qwan Tomlin (6-10, 210, Sr.)
2022-23 stats: 10.4 PPG, 5.9 RPG, 1.2 APG, 50.0 FG%
C: David N’Guessan (6-9, 220, Sr.)
2022-23 stats: 6.4 PPG, 3.5 RPG, 0.8 APG, 70.6 FG%
6: Ques Glover (6-0, 185, Sr.)
2022-23 stats: 14.7 PPG, 2.5 RPG, 2.1 APG, 37.8 3PT% (Samford)
7: Dai Dai Ames (6-1, 185, Fr.)
247 Sports Composite No. 83 recruit
8: Will McNair (6-11, 265, Sr.)
2022-23 stats: 3.3 PPG, 3.3 RPG, 0.4 APG, 0.5 BPG (Mississippi State)
9: Macaleab Rich (6-7, 240, Fr.)
247 Sports Composite No. 106 recruit
10: R.J. Jones (6-3, 190, Fr.)
247 Sports Composite No. 98 rated recruit
11: Dorian Finister (6-4, 195, So.)
2022-23 stats: 2.0 PPG, 2.3 RPG, 1.2 APG, 8.8 MPG
12: Jerrell Colbert (6-10, 235, R-So.)
2022-23 stats: 0.5 PPG, 1.3 RPG, 0.5 APG, 0.8 BPG, 6.8 MPG
Kansas State Wildcats MVP: Nae’Qwan Tomlin
Tomlin spent three years at junior colleges before making the jump to D-1 basketball last season in Tang’s first year at Kansas State. It turned out to be a perfect match, as the 6’10 forward averaged double-figures and was a force on both sides of the ball. 3rd in the Big 12 in offensive rebounds and 4th in blocks, Tomlin’s basketball instincts are some of the best in the country. One thing that can’t be taught is mental perception and judging where a basketball will go from a given direction or shot. It’s one of the true underrated aspects of a great basketball player, and Tomlin has it. He’s got that “see ball, get ball” ability, which is great for the Wildcats.
Former JUCO products typically don’t end up getting first-round draft considerations. Tomlin could be the exception. There’s a movement and fluidity present in his game that most players don’t have in his role. Despite growing pains, (he had two back-to-back games against LSU and Butler where he didn’t score a single point) Tomlin recorded two double-doubles in conference play, including a 15-10 mark against Kansas in the overtime win. In one of the last non-conference games, against Radford, he recorded 26 points and 6 offensive rebounds.
He was a force against Kentucky in the NCAA Tournament, scoring 12 points and amassing 6 rebounds and 4 blocks. He’s actually the returning leader in steals with 1.1 SPG last year. (At 6’10, nonetheless.) That’s just one example of the fluidity and ability that makes Tomlin such an intriguing prospect. He’s the returning leader in both offensive and defensive win shares, as well as usage percentage. For a big man, he was capable of not making mistakes with the ball in his hands. Despite 26.6 MPG, he only averaged 1.5 TOPG, and ended up with 1.5 APG as well. (He was also 12th in the Big 12 with just a 12.1 turnover percentage.)
While he’s not a productive outside shooter with just a 25.0 3PT%, there’s hope he can develop that skill, considering his other attributes. His free-throw shooting wasn’t horrible at a 74.4% clip, and he shot 57.6% inside the arc, so it’s not completely out of consideration that he develops a better outside shot. His best qualities, however, might be his inside presence. 4th in the Big 12 in blocks, 3rd in offensive rebounds, and top 10 in rebounds per game, Tomlin will always be a force to reckon with in the paint, no matter who the Wildcats are playing.
Analytically, yes, Tomlin’s excellent too. He placed top 10 in the conference in both offensive and defensive rating, and, while a few players were able to place high in 2 or 3 of these categories, he was the only player in the Big 12 to finish in the top 13 in steal percentage, block percentage, offensive rebounding percentage, and defensive rebounding percentage. Floor spacing has always been an important part of basketball scheme, but even more so in recent years as positionless basketball integrated into the professional and amateur game. Having a 6’10 player that can distribute, rebound, block, force turnovers, and score is a significant benefit for any team with championship aspirations, and it’s a big reason why Nae’Qwan Tomlin will eventually find himself on an NBA roster.
If there is one aspect he can improve on, it’s cutting down on fouls. He averaged 2.9 FPG last season, highest on the team. If he can improve on that while improving his defense even more, he’ll have scouts salivating.
Kansas State Wildcats make-or-break player: Tylor Perry
Perry comes over from North Texas after leading the Mean Green to an NIT title. (They should’ve received an NCAA bid, but that’s another discussion.) Not the tallest guard at just 5’11, he’s still more than capable of scoring at a very high volume. Even playing with the slowest tempo in all of college basketball under Grant McCasland, Perry averaged 17.4 PPG, good for 4th in the C-USA and part of the reason why he was named the C-USA player of the year.
An excellent shooter from deep, not only did lead the conference behind the arc, (41.3 3PT%) but he was 7th nationally in 3PM over the course of the season. Is that the only place he’s capable of scoring? Obviously not, that was a rhetorical question. It would be unwise to foul Perry in an attempt to stop him from scoring, as his 87.2 FT% also led the C-USA last season. Perry is one the shortlist of best shooters in the country, and he’s extremely valuable to this Wildcat squad.
A true ironman, he averaged 34.2 MPG (also leading the conference) and was 15th nationally in minutes played last year. His resume would speak for itself even without mentioning the stats; he’s the 2023 NIT MVP, 2022-2023 C-USA player of the year, 2021-2022 and 2022-2023 C-USA first-teamer, 2023 C-USA all-tournament, and 2021-2022 C-USA 6th man of the year after coming off the bench to lead the team in scoring.
And, of course, the analytics love him. Since 2010, he’s the C-USA leader in box plus/minus, offensive box plus/minus, and win shares per 40 minutes. He placed 1st in the conference last year in win shares, offensive win shares, and win shares per 40 minutes, as well as 2nd in offensive rating, 2nd in defensive win shares, and 4th in PER and points produced. Some suggest taking analytics with a grain of salt. Sure, there’s some truth to that, but more often than not, they’re indicative of a player’s value, and when every single meaningful analytical category suggests that Perry is an elite player, it’s best to listen to numbers and watch the beauty of his game on the court.
With Nowell leaving a surprisingly large pair of shoes to fill for a 5’8 person, Perry will have his work cut out for him. It’s a good bet that he’s got this offense under control, though, and he’s deserving of much more hype than he’s getting at this point in the offseason. If he can score 17+ PPG in literally the slowest offense in America, what’s to stop him from scoring 20+ with last year’s 42nd-highest tempo? “Don’t be surprised when Perry is named Big 12 player of the year.” -George Bagwell, Oct. 6, 2023, for those keeping track at home.
Key analytic: Assists per game
Due to Markquis Nowell somehow finding every possible passing lane on the court, the Wildcats had no shortage of assists throughout the season. They ranked 8th in the nation with 17.0 APG, but not a single player on this year’s roster averaged more than 2.1 APG last year. It may not be possible for the Wildcats to come close to that number this year, and the options for distributing the rock are murkier than they were last year with Nowell’s court vision.
The aforementioned Perry could lead the team in assists as the starting point guard, but he is more of a skilled scorer than a passer. He’s not bad at distributing by any means, but his main talent is putting the ball in the basket himself, rather than getting his teammates to do so. Glover is an interesting name to watch in this aspect, as his assist numbers dropped considerably last year but were quite high (4.4 PG) the previous season. He likely won’t start most games, but his offensive flashes of scoring+distributing will be hard to keep him off the court for long.
Cam Carter will of course start for the Wildcats again, but it’s not reasonable to expect him to carry an extended burden of assisting his teammates given his 9.7 assist percentage in a full-time role in the backcourt last season. Dai Dai Ames, similar to Silas Demary Jr. at Georgia, could see a much more extended role as a freshman due to his ability to get the ball to open teammates. He’s another name to watch to replace the void of assists left by the departure of Nowell.
What’s interesting is the ability of members of the frontcourt to spread the ball around. Tomlin, N’Guessan, and Kaluma, (despite Kaluma’s worrying turnover trend) are all capable of assisting from inside the arc in a pinch. Kansas State might have one of the most diverse talent groups of big men in the country.
Overall, this year’s distribution system will be a lot more team-oriented than last year. It won’t be just one player collecting all the assists, and there might not be an individual with +3.5 APG this year. While 17.0 APG may be an unattainable goal again, it’s not unrealistic to assume this year’s Wildcat squad can reach 14+ APG, which would likely keep them in the top 100 nationally. This roster might not be as talented from this aspect as last year, but they are likely more balanced.
Kansas State Wildcats 2023-24 projections
Projected conference finish: 6th in Big 12
Projected postseason ceiling: NCAA Elite Eight