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Kansas State Basketball: No Help On The Way

Things have been rough so far this season, and the outlook for the reminder isn’t very bright.

Dec 21, 2023; Kansas City, Missouri, USA; Kansas State Wildcats head coach Jerome Tang looks on from the sideline during the second half against the Wichita State Shockers at T-Mobile Center. Jay Biggerstaff-USA TODAY Sports

I’ve written a few basketball previews this season, but I haven’t weighed in on the actual team yet. Some of that is the stupid busy fall my family managed to schedule, but I also wasn’t sure what this Kansas State team was going to look like with Nae’Qwan Tomlin and Ques Glover on the court. The first part of the season felt like K-State was trying to hold on until the cavalry arrived.

As I’m sure you’re all aware by now, the cavalry isn’t coming.

I won’t even go into the Tomlin saga; more keystrokes have been wasted on that mess than justified. Now Ques appears to be out for the duration of the season after injuring his knee at practice just before making his season debut. Sometimes sports are cruel, and they are putting the screws to Glover and K-State basketball fans this season.

At the same time, that’s life building a team through the portal. Sometimes you hit the lottery, and a guy like Keyontae Johnson unexpectedly falls into your lap. Sometimes the injured mid-major guard you land late stays injured. It’s a roll of the dice and doesn’t set up for much season-to-season consistency, but when you hit, you can skip multiple steps in the team-building process. Once Johnson was on board, Kansas State went from a probable low-to-mid run Big 12 team to one of the most exciting teams in college basketball.

Who Leads?

This season, the portal rewards haven’t been as robust. Arthur Kaluma is fine, but for some reason, he feels like a great complementary player, and not a star. I can’t get his 1-11, 4 turnover, 6-point performance against USC or his 2-10, 3 turnover, 8-point no-show against Nebraska out of my mind. That’s two terrible games against decent opponents. He also went off on Nova for 26 and 9 and put 18 and 12 on Miami. He’s ultra-talented, but is he trustworthy? Is he capable of being the consistent leading scorer on a Big 12 contending team?

Not without more help.

Tylor Perry was the other gem out of the portal. Touted by Coach Tang as the best shooter in the nation coming into the season; he’s been anything but. He is one of the best in the nation at attempting 3’s, but hitting them has been a different bargain. Consider this: Perry has played in 13 games this season and has attempted 10 or more 3’s five times. Last season fellow diminutive guard with an itchy trigger finger from deep, Markquis Nowell, attempted 10 or more 3’s eight times in 36 games. Meanwhile, the paint has been lava for the ‘Cats nominal lead guard. In his last four games, he’s attempted eight shots inside the arc and connected on two of them. I get that this is how basketball is played in...looks at the calendar...2024, but come on, man, get yourself going some other way. I feel like more than half his 3’s this year are sort of “let me toss this up and see what happens” shots lacking conviction. I’d love to see him pump a few shots, get the defender to run by, and then step in for a mid-range, or a floater in the lane. Honestly, anything other than a contested 3 from two steps behind the line would be appreciated at the moment.

I think Perry was supposed to be “the man” on this squad but he’s 16th in the nation in 3-pointers attempted and 104th in the nation in 3-point percentage at 31%. There is volume shooting and then there is volume missing. He’s been a volume misser this season. It’s hard to win like that when you need him to score.

My choice for K-State leading man is Cam Carter. I think it’s safe to say that from year one to year two, he’s the only guy that’s shown much improvement from the first recruiting/transfer class. He’s put up a few clunkers from behind the arc, but unlike Perry, he is able to match a 1-8 performance from deep against Miami with an 11-14 showing from inside the arc. Even in an absolute dud for everyone against Nebraska, Cam at least showed a willingness to take the ball to the basket on occasion in between bricks from deep.

I’m not sure this team was built to go as far as Cam Carter can take them, but I kinda feel like that’s where K-State is right now.

Everyone Else

Portal Player

Will McNair plays his role well. He’s one of my favorite players on this team when he’s rolling. He’s a solid energy piece off the bench. He’s not going to give you more than that.

Returning Players

I know this is sacrilege, but outside of Carter, I haven’t seen any player development this season. I’m not sure if I’m disappointed in player development or player talent evaluations at this point, but I was expecting at least one of the reserves or redshirts to take a big step forward this season.

David N’Guessan is still the same replacement-level guy he was last season. He’s a better rebounder, but that’s almost by default. Against the two teams considered “A” tier by KenPom (Villanova and Providence), he managed a combined 10 points and 16 rebounds, but also had 7 turnovers. Against K-State’s last two “B” tier opponents (Nebraska and LSU), he contributed 10 points and 14 boards and 4 turnovers.

He’s OK. He gets the job done, but I was hoping for something more.

Oh, and his free-throw shooting is ridiculously bad to the point that the other team’s coach should be fired if N’Guessan is on the court at the end of the game and he’s not getting fouled every time he touches the ball. He’s almost unplayable on offense in the last 2 or 3 minutes of a close game or any time the other team is in the 1-and-1. Hell, I’d consider intentionally fouling him if I were in the double bonus. Seriously, how do you play basketball every day and only shoot 35% from the foul line? It blows my mind.

Jerrell Colbert spent a year on the bench at LSU and a year on the bench at Kansas State and still isn’t mature enough in his 3rd season (per Coach Tang) to play against Chicago State. I thought the ‘Cats might get something out of him this season, but he’s still the same raw athlete with limited skill LSU recruited out of high school in 2021. I was hoping for a rim-finishing pick-and-roll center. Maybe he’ll turn into that in his fourth year of college basketball?

I thought Dorian Finister had a shot to give Coach Tang something off the bench, but in 24 combined minutes against Wichita State and Chicago State, he managed to go 0-2. This team is in desperate need of a spark from outside, but the 6’5” guard has only attempted three this season. I honestly don’t know much about his game at this point. Even when he’s on the court, I haven’t seen much to indicate that he’s a guy ready to take off in the second half of the season.

Finally, I was sold a bill of goods on Taj Manning. I was expecting a whirling dervish of energy off the bench, and instead just got a guy that’s been tied to the bench. He’s appeared in four games this season but maybe Coach Tang found something against Chicago State? Manning brought good energy in limited minutes to a sleepwalking team. I’m not sure why he wasn’t allowed to bring good energy to more than four games this season, but maybe this is the start of something.

The Young Guns?

Woof.

At least one of these guys needed to be ready straight out of the box. The Wildcats signed three 4* players, and all three need serious work. I watched Purdue start two true freshmen guards last season and win the Big 10 (granted having a giant Canadian helps). These guys don’t look like they’re ready.

Dai Dai Ames is the closest to an instant impact player, but the diminutive guard is shooting 28% from the field (32% from 2 and 25% from 3) and has been straight up bad in several games. He played 20 minutes against Wichita State, went 0-4 from the field, 0-2 from the line, and had 1 rebound, 1 assist, 2 turnovers and 3 fouls. Not exactly instant impact off the bench from the highly touted freshman, but at least he’s seeing the court.

Fellow freshman guard R.J. Jones sat against Chicago State because like Colbert (according to Tang again) he needs to “mature”. At least he’s only played college basketball for a few months and not a few years. He’s been an afterthought in most games. I assume he’ll stay that way despite the desperate need for something (anything really) off the bench.

Surprisingly, I like Macaleab Rich the best out of the three freshmen at the moment. He was the most raw coming in, and maybe that’s a good thing. He knows his role and doesn’t do anything to hurt the team. But he only played five minutes against Chicago State. That’s a team he should be honing his skills against but the ‘Cats couldn’t knock out a +300 KenPom team soon enough for him to get any run. Again, I don’t get it, but the staff clearly doesn’t think he’s ready for prime time, and I don’t get to watch him practice.

In Summary

I’m concerned. This could be a long winter.

Things fell into place last season. Things have fallen everywhere but in place this season. This team hasn’t played a tough schedule and is 164th in scoring and 137th in defense. My hope is that guys settle in and find their roles now that the roster is finally set.

On the positive side, they’ve got two nice wins over Providence and Villanova. Those should stand up as the season moves along. The bad news is they’ve played five teams in the KenPom top 100 and are 2-3. Not including Kansas State, the Big 12 has 10 teams currently in the KenPom top 100.

More than anything, Coach Tang has to get something out of his young dudes. I’d be surprised if this team makes the tournament, but that doesn’t mean this is a lost season if the young guys play enough to make a jump next season. At some point, the staff will have to weigh the prospects of the current season vs the development for the future. It won’t happen anytime soon, and if the shooting improves, maybe it doesn’t have to happen, but I want to see an uptick in the player development department moving forward either way.