Kansas State plays its first game under the leadership of coach Jerome Tang on Monday as the Wildcats welcome Texas-Rio Grande Valley to Manhattan, Kan.

Tang, a longtime assistant at Baylor where he was part of the 2021 national championship run, brings a load of enthusiasm to the program.

“It’s the best league in America,” Tang said. “The predictor of future success is past success. … We have great history and arguably the best fan base in the country. I mean, they are so passionate about K-State and K-State athletics and K-State basketball. It’s just a blast to be around.”

Tang will need more than enthusiasm, however, as he molds a team with 11 new faces into a cohesive unit with the assistance of an entirely new staff. Figuring out roles for everyone will be key.

One of two returning players, point guard Markquis Nowell, should run the show. One of the newcomers, Keyontae Johnson, likely will be another focus of the offense. Johnson was the 2020-21 preseason SEC Player of the Year at Florida before health issues took him off the court for nearly two years.

The Wildcats were picked to finish last in the Big 12 this season, something that provides motivation.

“It’s a motivating factor for all of us just knowing how we’ve all been doubted all our lives,” Johnson said. “Just seeing (the poll) motivates us to practice even harder knowing that teams expect us to be the bottom of the conference.”

Head coach Matt Figger, who was on Frank Martin’s staff at Kansas State from 2007-12, returns for his second season at Texas-Rio Grande Valley.

“(We are) miles ahead (of last season),” Figger responded when asked on the WAC Hoops Digest podcast about where his team stands. “I really like the group of guys we’ve got. Now, where does that put us? I won’t know until we play a game.”

The team finished 8-23 last season, including 3-15 in the WAC.

The Vaqueros return Justin Johnson, who averaged 17.7 points and 6.7 rebounds per game last season, but he’s the only significant contributor who is back.

–Field Level Media