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Kansas State Basketball: A Bold Roll of the Dice

Tang took a chance, so let’s take a look at where that chance has him so far.

Syndication: The Topeka Capital-Journal Evert Nelson/The Capital-Journal / USA TODAY NETWORK

I’ve been waiting to write this article for a while. Y’all are still in the Coach Tang honeymoon period, and after what Kansas State basketball fans have endured over the last three seasons, I felt no reason to slightly mist on the parade. Our esteemed leader touched on this topic in the Slate today, so I thought it might be a good time to write about it.

Gutting the roster might raise Kansas State’s ceiling over the next few seasons, but it also significantly lowers the floor. It’s a gamble, and Coach Tang is going to need to hit pretty much all of his talent evaluations and production projections for it to work. That’s certainly a bold way to do business, but there is a reason the vast majority of coaching changes don’t involve gutting a roster to this extent, regardless of the (either real or perceived) lack of talent on the roster. Then again, this is a brave new world for college athletics, and if Coach Tang gets it right, the reward could be immediate and immense.

If Coach Tang is telling the truth (per an interview with the Eagle’s Kellis Robinett) and there were only three guys from last years roster he was interested in keeping, he’s certainly not lacking in confidence. First off, let’s parse that statement a little further. Basically, there were two guys he had to keep because they already transferred into Kansas State. Pushing out either Nowell or Massoud, who have both already used their free transfer, would have been terrible in terms of public relations. If you’re going to lean heavily on the transfer market, forcing two recent transfers to find a new school and subsequently sit a year probably isn’t in your best interest, at least in terms of bringing in new transfers. It’s also a crappy thing to do to a college kid, and Coach Tang seems like a stand up guy. As a bonus, I think both Nowell and Ish are good basketball players. Nijel Pack is obviously the 3rd guy he wanted, but it’s hard to compete against the billionaire bankrolling the Miami basketball team. I certainly don’t fault Nijel for leaving or Coach Tang for not convincing him stay.

The gamble involves essentially cutting the rest of the roster loose, or at least encouraging them to find a better fit. I (and the recruiting rankings agree with me) felt like there were other talented players on the roster that could help ease K-State’s transition into the Tang era. I’m going to say something controversial, so if you’re drinking a beverage, please swallow before reading the next line. For all of Bruce Weber’s issues with recruiting, when everyone was healthy, he was able to put a talented starting 5 on the court last season. Bruce’s problem wasn’t finding starters, it was developing enough guys to compliment the starters and grow with the program at the bottom of the roster. That’s why you ended up with all the peaks and valleys during his tenure.

Last season, when healthy, K-State was able to field the following starters:

Note: I’m using Rivals

  • PG: Markquis Nowell (High 3* who proved it at G5 school)
  • SG: Nijel Pack (4*, top 150)
  • SF: Selton Miguel (4*, top 100)
  • PF: Ish Massoud (4*, top 150)
  • C: Davion Bradford (4*, top 150)

That’s not a starting 5 lacking talent. The problem, as we all witnessed, was there wasn’t much to go along with it. Throw in Bradford’s terrible luck with a series of illnesses, Miguel’s injury, and Mike McGuirl’s inexplicably poor play for most of the year, and things fell apart down the stretch. I was time to move on from Coach Weber, but I’m not sure it was time to move on from the entire roster.

At the moment, I’m not seeing a huge upgrade, at least on paper, in terms of talent. If the season started tomorrow (and thank your deity of choice it doesn’t), the Wildcats would send out a starting 5 that looks something like this;

  • PG: Markquis Nowell (High 3* who proved it at G5 school)
  • SG: Camryn Carter (High 3*, top 150)
  • SF: Nae’Quan Tomlin (Unrated out of high school, #7 Overall JuCo prospect)
  • PF: Ish Massoud (4*, top 150)
  • C: Jerrell Colbert (4*, top 150)

That’s pretty close to a 1-for-1 talent swap, with the exception of Miguel being ranked significantly higher than any player Tang has brought in thus far. In terms of production, however, the 2021 team, as crazy as this sounds, is the far superior team ON PAPER.

If you’re swapping them out, it looks something like this:

PG/SG: Nijel Pack - 52 games played

MP - 33.1
PTS - 17.4
AST - 2.2
REB - 3.8
3P% - 44

FOR

PG/SG: Cam Carter - 27 games played

MP - 8.5
PTS - 2.2
AST - .9
REB - .8
3P% - 30

Obviously this wasn’t a choice. Carter is young player who has yet to play consistent minutes, and he’s replacing an All-Big 12 guard. I like the fact that he got some run last season as a freshman in the SEC. He had a breakout game against Alabama where he put up 15 in a loss, but that’s pretty much all he did in SEC regular season play. He played double digit minutes in five of Mississippi State’s 14 SEC games, and outside of his 28 minute, 15 point outburst against Bama, he averaged one point a game in SEC play for a team that went 8-10 and finished 10th in the SEC.

As things stand, Coach Tang is going to need Carter to log big minutes. The Wildcats have tried to land a scorer at the 2, which would allow Carter to play a key bench role, backing up the 1 and the 2 before taking over at the point as a junior. Those attempts haven’t panned out yet.

SG/SF: Selton Miguel - 55 games played

MP - 27.5
PTS - 7.2
AST - 1.5
REB - 3.1
3P% - 20

FOR

SF: Nae’Quan Tomlin - JuCo Transfer - JuCo Stats

MP - 23.6
PTS - 13.8
AST - 1.4
REB - 5.9
3P% - 25.8

I know Miguel didn’t make the jump many had hoped for in the 2021 season, but he’s one of the guys I was surprised Coach Tang wasn’t interested in keeping. To me, he looked like a guy that was still working on unlocking his vast potential (which is why he was a top 100 player coming out of high school). The last two seasons were not the best to develop a raw talent like Miguel. At the same time, he wasn’t the “bust”. If anything, he was asked to do too much for K-State, but what he did, in a vacuum, and outside of what K-State needed him to do, wasn’t bad for a true sophomore.

As a comparison, Ethan Morton for Purdue was also a 4*, top 100. Last season he averaged 2.4 points a game in 15 minutes of action. He was able to play a limited role as versatile defender while working on his offensive game in practice. Purdue doesn’t consider him a disappointment, and everyone is excited to see what he does in an expanded role in 2023. At the same time, if he was asked to play starters minutes last season, it wouldn’t have gone as well, because he wasn’t ready to be a starter. That’s the way I view Miguel. He was forced to play a role he wasn’t ready to play, and all of his faults were amplified.

I do like the addition of Tomlin. He brings plenty of JuCo experience, and played for former (some might say disgraced) Tennessee coach Donny Tyndall at JuCo powerhouse Chipola (Florida). He has played on a couple good teams and scored a little over 1,000 points in his three year JuCo career. I’m interested to see how his game translates at the P5 level, because he did most of his work from inside the paint. He’s a solid athlete, with a lanky 6’8”, 200 pound frame, but did not have a good shooting season. He’s clearly a D1 athlete, and on many of the highlights I watched, he was simply taller, longer and more athletic than the guys he was competing against. In a way, he’s the inverse of Ish Massoud, who does most of his damage from behind the arc.

Tomlin might be the key to the 2023 for the Wildcats if they don’t land another veteran wing. I could see him playing either the 3 or the 4 but either way, he’s going to need to score. I like the idea of him as a bouncy finisher at the rim for Nowell to feed on the pick and roll, but it’s tough to predict how JuCo players handle the jump to D1. Often times it takes them a year to get it figured out. It doesn’t appear that Tomlin will have that luxury. Coach Tang will need him to hit the ground running.