It’s been a few weeks since we’ve gotten you caught up on all things Kansas State. One of my resolutions for the new year is to make sure that doesn’t happen again. Yeah, that’s right, I’m putting it out in public so you all can keep me honest.
Here’s to the end of a sometimes awesome and sometimes crazy 2023, and the start of 2024 which hopefully features even more awesome. Go Cats!
The #11 team in the country (which is still too low) gets top billing today. The MittieCats have not lost since the end of November — that lone loss to #4 Iowa in Florida to split their pair of games in 2023 — and some of the things they’ve done to teams in December have been NSFW. The offense has been good, even when Ayoka Lee hasn’t been all-world, but the defense is on a different level. Sure, the schedule hasn’t been super tough, but they given up more than 60 points just twice this season (61 in a win over Western Kentucky and 77 in the loss to Iowa — both in Florida), and in December the most they gave up was 59, while holding three teams to 41 or fewer.
And that 41 came just this past weekend, as the Wildcats opened Big 12 play in Cincinnati on Saturday and smacked around the Bearcats 66-41 to cap off 2023. Gabby Gregory led all scorers with 17 points, and the 6th-year senior appears to have re-found her shooting touch, going 3-4 from deep, 4-6 overall, and 6-8 from the line. Ayoka Lee had her worst game in a very long time, going just 3-7 in 20 minutes for 6 points and 8 rebounds. The win puts K-State at 13-1, continuing to set the best ever mark under Jeff Mittie, and at 1-0 to open Big 12 play. The Cats get back to action, and Bramlage, on Wednesday as they host Big 12 newcomer Houston at 6:30pm.
Back to Ayoka Lee, the superstar continues to etch her name across the top of the K-State record books, and during the 102-59 bashing of Oral Roberts on Dec. 18th, Lee took home her 53rd double-double, which pushed her past Kendra Wecker for most all-time at K-State. It came in style too, as the senior scored 24 points and grabbed 21 rebounds for her second, and K-State’s second, 20-20 game. Yeah, Yokie is the only person to go for (at least) 20 points & 20 rebounds in a game for K-State. It’s another huge milestone for Lee, who already owns the school and NCAA records for points in a game with 61 (doing so without a single 3pt attempt), and is the only player in school history with at least 1,900 points, 950 rebounds and 250 blocks.
Things haven’t been nearly as rosy on the men’s side of things. Of course there was the Tomlin stuff in early December, but the Cats blocked out the noise well enough to post an emphatic road win over LSU in Baton Rouge. But a return to Bramlage was apparently not what the TangCats needed, as what should have been a solid victory turned into an embarrassing defeat, as the Cats fell to Nebraska 46-62, giving Tang his first home non-conference loss as the head coach at K-State. The loss also ended a non-con home winning streak that extended back to the Bruce Weber era, with the last non-con loss in Bramlage coming to Marquette on Dec. 8th, 2021.
But the Cats bounced back in front of a record crowd of 18,660 in Kansas City, in an ugly 69-61 win over Wichita State to cap 2023. To be fair, it’s not a record crowd for the arena, but it is a record crowd for the 12-game history of the Wildcat Classic. Tylor Perry led all scorers with 17 points, and despite being inefficient, did put those up over the course of the game instead of just the last four minutes. He was joined in double figures by Cam Carter (15), David N’Guessan (13), and Arthur Kaluma (11). It was easily the best game of the season for DNG, as the Dutchman nearly snagged a double-double with 9 rebounds to go with his scoring effort.
The Wildcats (9-3) return to action tonight to close out the non-conference portion of the schedule (and it really is closed, there’s no more Big 12/SEC Challenge) as they face Chicago State at 7pm in Bramlage. The Cougars are just 7-12 on the season with some really ugly losses, but they do hold a very surprising 75-73 win over #25 Northwestern, in Evanston, from mid-December. Of course since then they’ve also lost to Wisconsin by 27, and have lost each of their three, including consecutive 12-point losses to Cal Baptist and DePaul to end 2023. The game will be on Big 12 Now on ESPN+, and we’ll have your game thread here and on Discord later today.
It was a great December for Chris Klieman and the Wildcats, despite losing offensive coordinator Collin Klein to Texas A&M to open the month. But Klein’s departure didn’t result in losing Avery Johnson, as the true freshman took over the reigns of the offense following Will Howard’s decision to enter to transfer portal (or the NFL, he’s still got a couple weeks to decide), and led the #25 Wildcats to a 28-19 win over #18 NC State in the Pop Tarts Bowl last Thursday, Dec. 28th to cap a 9-4 season.
Johnson also earned MVP honors after going 14-31 for 178 yards and 2 touchdowns through the air, including the game-sealing touchdown pass to Jayce Brown in the 4th quarter, as well as adding 71 yards and a score on 7 attempts on the ground despite clearly being held back from running in the first half. DJ Giddens, now the feature back after Treshaun Ward’s decision to transfer, added 158 yards and a touchdown on 28 carries. But the run of the night came from Jack Blumer, as the punter raced for 30 yards on a punt fake to grab a key first down in the 2nd quarter on K-State’s 2nd touchdown drive.
The Wildcats return to action on August 31st against UT Martin at Bill Sndyer Family Stadium, though the official 2024 schedule has yet to be released. K-State will technically have 10 Big 12 games on the schedule next year as Big 12 newcomer Arizona was already slated as a non-conference opponent and that game, at BSFS on Sept 14th, will be kept as-is as a non-conference game (won’t count towards the Big 12 standings).
The Early Signing Period also came in mid December, and Klieman and staff added 15 recruits via the standard recruiting process including 13 high school prospects and two JUCO transfers. Of the 15, four are Kansans including the two top-rated offensive linemen in the state (and one considered the top recruit overall in the state by at least one service), as well as QB Blake Barnett from Colorado who broke Christian McCaffrey’s state touchdown record, and owns state championships in the 100m and 4x200m. Also added were three D1 transfers: seniors Easton Kitty (OL, NoDak) and Jordan Riley (Safety, Ball State), and sophomore Travis Bates (DE, Austin Peay). Kitty will be expected to compete right away for one of the now-open tackle spots after holding the LT spot for the
[REDACTED] Fighting Hawks this past season where he earned Honorable Mention All-Missouri Valley Football Conference honors.