One year ago to this day, K-State’s basketball team was 13-11 and a week away from a crippling five-game losing streak that would erase any thoughts of postseason play. Throw in a less-than-competitive loss in Kansas City to West Virginia and Bruce Weber’s final team finished 13-17.
Three straight losing seasons, plus mass transfers and a new coaching staff led to the Wildcats being picked to finish dead last in the toughest league in America. That seemed like a possibility, although many in K-State circles believed this team would be able to be better than that.
I thought a good year one for Jerome Tang would be a bubble team that likely ended up in the NIT, similar to Bob Huggins’ lone season in Manhattan. What happened instead was one of the best starts to a season in K-State history. In the thick of the Big 12 title race, even looking like the frontrunner, in terms of games in hand, early on.
Last night’s loss in Lubbock to the last-place team in the league changed the calculus on the chances of a Big 12 championship in year one for Tang and the Wildcats. The loss dropped K-State into a tie for fourth with Oklahoma State and Iowa State, and Bart Torvik’s conference title odds give the Wildcats just a 6.6% chance of still earning a share of the league title.
That easily sums up why the aftermath of last night’s loss stings so much for K-State. Tang came to Manhattan and built an instant winner that not just reinvigorated a fan base, but made everyone believe that a team that was assembled like the “Island of Misfit Toys” could win the Big 12.
That is Jerome Tang’s greatest achievement in year one at K-State. Not (mostly) eliminating a vulgar chant directed toward Kansas, not selling out Bramlage Coliseum multiple times one season after interest in K-State basketball hit near an all-time low, but making each loss sting and creating the belief that this team could win the Big 12.
While the Wildcats might not win the Big 12 in year one, they still have a lot on the table. An NCAA Tournament berth with two of the most dynamic players in college basketball, Keyontae Johnson and Markquis Nowell, could lead to a deep run in March. So once you flush the loss to Texas Tech, undoubtedly like the players and staff are trying to do right now, look at how impressive year one has been and what is left to be achieved.
I’m not a moral victories guy, but I am a realist. Be upset and be disappointed in the loss to Texas Tech and narrow losses to Texas and Iowa State, but at least have the ability to step back and realize that the pain from those games comes from Jerome Tang’s greatest achievement in year one. Making a fan base believe and enjoy college basketball again.