OPINION: Two Big 12 Championships, why not?

Wildcats take down rival Kansas Jayhawks 83-82 in overtime finish on Jan. 17. (Benjamin Voller | Collegian Media Group)

Editor’s note: Fixed article formatting. Additionally, fixed the misspelling of Ismael Massoud’s name. The Collegian apologizes for this error.

On March 9, 2013, Kansas State men’s basketball earned the Big 12 title. Just three months earlier, quarterback Collin Klein hoisted the football title with thousands of Wildcat fans looking on. 

This season, K-State football took down the undefeated TCU, and became champions again, though any chance of repeating the history of both a football and men’s basketball conference title looked bleak. The Wildcats were expected to finish dead last in the men’s basketball preseason conference rankings. 

Now, a third of the way into conference play, K-State sits at the top of the conference standings. The Wildcats own four wins over AP Top 25 opponents, including No. 2 Kansas and No. 6 Texas. Such a trend is nearly a direct parallel to the football team who defeated two top 10 opponents during conference play. 

This begs the question: can the Wildcats take conference titles in both football and basketball back to back?

The turnaround for K-State basketball is quickly becoming one of the best stories of the college hoops season. First-year head coach Jerome Tang only returned two players from last year’s roster in guard Markquis Nowell and forward Ismael Massoud.

Last season, Nowell was mainly a backup to guard Nijel Pack who transferred with the change in coaching. However, in his role as the primary guard under Tang, Nowell has exploded into one of the nation’s best guards. According to FanDuel Sportsbook, Nowell has the seventh-best odds to win the Player of the Year Wooden Award. 

Tang and Nowell both have each other to thank. Nowell, during the search for a new head coach, told Athletic Director Gene Taylor that Tang was the man for the job. After the upset win over Kansas, Nowell told the story of how he texted Taylor vouching for Tang. Taylor responded with a thumbs up, and a few days later, Tang was hired.

In addition to Nowell, the transfers that filled the roster have made huge impacts. Forward Keyontae Johnson in particular has been the perfect match for Nowell.

Before the game against Kansas, the duo of Johnson and Nowell averaged 45.4 points in Big 12 play. The pair also became the first Wildcats to sweep the Big 12 weekly honors, with Nowell as the Player of the Week for the second time and Johnson earning his third Newcomer of the Week. 

Possibly more impressive is that K-State has proved they can still win games without high scoring from their best players. In the upset of Kansas, Nowell only recorded four points. 

Transfers outside of Johnson like guard Desi Sills, forward Nae’Qwan Tomlin and guard Cam Carter have been able to step up when needed. Sills, for example, recorded 24 points off the bench against Kansas.

In addition, the Wildcats have been without starting center David N’Guessan for the entirety of conference play. Center Abayomi Iyiola and Massoud have been able to fill his spot during the 5-1 start. 

Massoud notably hit the game-winning three in a road victory over No. 19 Baylor, and grabbed the steal that sealed the game against Kansas. 

Ultimately, it’s hard to believe K-State won’t continue to succeed under Tang and with this roster. If winning continues, a conference title is well within reach for the Wildcats, and fans would be able to party like it’s 2013.