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Kansas State Basketball: Help Wanted

After Tang’s bold roll of the dice, the Wildcats are still looking to fill the roster back up.

NCAA Basketball: Iowa State at Kansas State Scott Sewell-USA TODAY Sports

Not going to lie to y’all, I’m a bit confused about what’s going on with Kansas State basketball at the moment.

Me being confused isn’t particularly concerning, because the only person who needs to know the plan is Coach Tang and his staff, but it’s a little hard to parse from the outside looking in. His recent interview with Kellis Robinett in the Eagle didn’t clarify much for me, in fact, it made things even murkier. I was a little taken aback by his statement that “when I was coming in I thought there were only three guys I would want to stay.” That’s nothing, if not a bold statement, but one facilitated by the current state of college basketball. At the very least we can take the “kids should want to play for a school and not a coach” narrative, douse it in gasoline and toss a match.

Looking a little deeper into the statement, it’s no coincidence that two of the three guys he wanted to stay were guys he pretty much couldn’t cut loose because they already used their free transfer. Coach Tang has been around long enough to know that cutting either Ish Massoud or Markquis Nowell loose would get him killed in press and make things tougher for him to bring in transfer guys. Don’t get me wrong, I think both guys are good players, but it’s a bit convenient that the two guys he couldn’t cut happened to be the two guys he wanted to stay. The third player is obviously Nijel Pack, and that didn’t work out, though Coach Tang is blameless in that ordeal. You can’t blame Nijel for taking money from a Miami billionaire to play college basketball.

The problem with cutting a college basketball roster back to two players, is that you have 13 scholarships to fill. That leaves 11 players to add over a relatively short period of time. Interestingly enough, his mentor Scott Drew had to pretty much do the same thing at Baylor when he took over for Dave Bliss. Drew lost 5 of his top 6 scorers and returned 5 total players. Of course, that situation was a little bit different. Bliss was one of the most malevolent forces of evil to ever curse a college basketball sideline. Bruce Weber, for the most part, was a nice guy who lost too many basketball games.

Drew had time to rebuild at Baylor because Baylor was lucky to field a basketball team. Baylor fans were happy they avoided the death penalty and knew the rebuild was going to be rough. It’s hard to get mad at a coach for not winning games early when your last coach was lying about an intra-team murder to try and save his own neck. Coach Drew won a total of 12 conference games in 4 years before breaking through in year 5 with a 21-11 NCAA tournament team. If Coach Tang thinks he’ll be given that long of a leash at Kansas State (and I don’t think he does for the record) he’s in for a rude awakening, but a certain level of patience is going to be required for this complete rebuild.

Where K-State is Now

The transfer portal should be Coach Tang’s savior, but thus far, it’s been a somewhat of a nightmare. For all the talk of the portal being an easy way to fill 11 scholarships in an offseason, it hasn’t worked out that way....yet. The portal has provided two sophomores with promising skill sets but little to no experience. Cam Carter was a bit player, averaging 2.2 points, on an NIT bound Mississippi State team, and Jerrell Colbert made a cameo appearance in 4 non-conference games for LSU last season before taking a seat for the rest of the season. Those guys have the potential to be good, but are far from a sure bet, and this team needs a couple sure bets.

It’s not for a lack of effort, K-State has hosted top level transfers like Antoine Davis and Dexter Dennis but lost out to Detroit (Chinese glow balls) and Texas A&M (oil money).

The starting lineup, as currently constituted, is woefully short on experience and scoring. Carter came into college with the reputation as a knockdown shooter, but struggled to find the range last year, shooting 30% for the season. Colbert is known more for his defense and shot blocking prowess. He couldn’t break into the lineup at LSU, despite the Tigers not having much in the way of a center. Their starter was fellow freshman Efton Reid. He was solid for a freshman, averaging 6.3 points and 4.3 rebounds on the year, but those are hardly “road block” numbers.

Despite the potential of the portal, junior college transfer Nae’Quan Tomlin is the most experienced and game ready recruit added thus far. I have a hard time describing his game, because he’s listed as a 6’8” guard, but isn’t much of a shooter, if his numbers from last season are an indicator of his ability. He shot 26% from 3 at Chipola Junior College, under former Tennessee head coach Donnie Tyndal. He was more productive and efficient inside the arc where he used his lanky, athletic frame to dominate teams off the dribble and throw down dunks. He averaged 13.8 points, 1.4 assists, and 5.9 rebounds, while averaging 23.6 minutes in his last JuCo season. His highlights are fun to watch, but man, unless I’m missing something (and I very well could be) he looks more like a bouncy glue guy with the potential to be an elite defender than a scorer to me. I think he’ll throw down some monster dunks off Nowell assists, but this team is going to need him to score, and score consistently if they don’t find more help in the portal.

High school recruiting has been more fruitful. While Coach Tang didn’t like many of Bruce Weber’s former players, he did like former Weber recruit Taj Manning. I like Manning, he’s an athletic 6’8”, 190 forward who was a key role player for high school basketball powerhouse La Lumiere last season but wasn’t anything close to a primary scoring option. It’s hard to see him stepping in next year and providing much more than energy and hustle. He’s got a high ceiling, but it’s going to take a minute for him to fill out physically and fine tune his offensive game. That’s fine, but Kansas State is in desperate need of scoring next season.

The first Tang era high school recruit is Dorian Finister, a 6’5” 3* guard out of New Orleans who blew up late in the recruiting process. Much like Manning, Finister has the potential to be a great player for the Wildcats down the line, but he’s seen by most as a developmental player that needs at least a season to assimilate himself into college basketball. He’s the type of high ceiling guy you want to bring into a program, but he also has a low floor. That’s not ideal when you need guys that can play right now.

Julian Phillips, the last unsigned 5* player in the 2022 was the type of player that could come in play right away, and full credit to the new staff, they nearly got him on campus, but were always a long shot to land the small forward out of Missouri. In the end, there was much excitement but no tangible results, as Phillips decided to play for Rick Barnes and Tennessee. No harm in swinging big and missing on a talent like Phillips, but he was yet another tantalizing “plug and play” player that was just out of reach for Coach Tang and company.

Help Wanted

There’s no need to panic yet, there is plenty of time before practice starts, and the current state of college basketball lends itself to filling out a roster late. 10 years ago...hell...5 years ago I would direct Coach Tang to the Campus Rec to fill out the rest of the roster, but there are still plenty of great options in 2022.

At the moment, Kansas State has 6 open scholarship. In his interview with Kellis, Coach Tang indicated that he’s sitting on a silent verbal commitment from a high school player. If that comes to fruition, it leaves 5 scholarships. The majority of those spots (at least 3) need to be filled by guys who are ready to come in and not only play, but play well (and score) next season.

Isiaih Mosley is a 6’5” guard from Missouri State who averaged 20 points a game last year, and is one of the best shooters in college basketball. His 43% 3 point shooting would go a long way to fill the hole left by Pack, and honestly, would be a better fit next to Nowell anyway. He’s getting attention from everyone, including bluebloods like Duke and Louisville and Semi-Pro teams like Kansas but K-State appears to be in the running as well. It would be tough for Mosely to step into one of the basketball factory schools and be “the man” but he would be “the man” the moment he stepped on to campus in Manhattan. That’s something to sell for a guy that wants to prove his game on the highest level to help his draft prospects.

Efe Abogidi, a 6’10” transfer out of Washington State is an instant impact center in the portal, and K-State is in desperate need of help in the post. He’s the sort of athletic, rim running big that Coach Tang covets. He averaged 8.1 points, 5.8 rebounds, and 1.8 blocks last season. He’s more developed on the defensive side of the ball, where he could anchor K-State’s defense, but is another player that could be deadly as a pick and roll finisher with Markquise. He’s got Kansas State, and pretty much every other team poking around the transfer portal showing him attention.

Alex Tchikou is a 6’11”, 225 pound former 4*, top 100 center out of Paris, France that originally signed with Alabama in the 2020 class, but is now looking for a new basketball home. He’s another high ceiling, athletic big that will need to improve his offensive game, but the raw talent is intriguing, assuming he’s fully recovered from an achilles rupture that caused him to miss the 2021 season . He only played in 3 games for the Crimson Tide last season, but would have the opportunity to win the starting job in Manhattan. Pairing him with Colbert would give the Wildcats and raw, but wildly athletic center position to build around. If nothing else, teams would think twice before driving the ball. According to 247 sports, he was in Manhattan yesterday, needless to say, K-State is in the mix.

One thing the buoys my hope is the NBA draft or transfer portal. There are some quality players hanging out in the portal waiting to decide on their NBA draft future. I think a good many of those guys will end up back in college. If a guy is looking for a starring role next season, the Wildcats have that to offer. While other teams are close to full, K-State should have enough room to wait out any guy that wants to take their time.

In Conclusion

Kansas State needs immediate help. If they don’t sign a few instant impact players over the next few months, 2023 could (and probably will be) a tough year for a fanbase that has suffered amply over the last several seasons. Coach Tang could have slow played this, kept a couple of Bruce’s higher upside guys with experience, hedged his bets, and raised the floor on the 2023 team but he decided to strip the team to foundation. It was a bold move, but one that could come back to bite him if he can’t find some more scoring and experience in the portal. He’s gone after some of the biggest names, but has yet to secure a true instant impact player (or at least a guy that won’t be a surprise instant impact player).

His mentor Scott Drew was forced to rebuild Baylor, and it took him four seasons to get things turned around. Coach Tang decided to rebuild Kansas State on his own volition, but I don’t think he’ll get four seasons of grace. He needs to win sooner, rather than later to keep the fan base on board and engaged. It’s strange to say, but the next several months may make or break the Tang era. He needs to avoid a disaster in 2023, and to do that, he needs to find some dudes that are read to play. That’s supposed to be his specialty.

I’ll revisit this later once a few more pieces have fallen into place. Until then, no harm in enjoying the honeymoon period.