OPINION: Tang poised to end tournament woes

Head coach Jerome Tang stands on the court on Feb. 21 in a 75-65 victory over the Baylor Bears. The victory gave Tang the season sweep over his former team in his first year as a head coach. (Reece Bachta | Collegian Media Group)

Kansas State men’s basketball has never won the Big 12 tournament. The Wildcats have only participated in two championship games and are tied for the most losses in the tournament’s history.

Next week there is a possibility for this trend to shift with the guidance of head coach Jerome Tang. There are many factors to look at, but it starts with fans creating a home-court advantage at the T-Mobile Center in Kansas City. 

“The success of this program will depend on you and the players that we bring in,” Tang said in his introductory press conference. “The way you get players … is that you have great fans … that’s what attracted me to this place. I was always blown away by the fans and the community and the energy.”

After a 9-1 start — the best record by a first-year coach in school history — the Wildcats took its talents to the T-Mobile Center against the Nebraska Cornhuskers. 

“I was blown away by our fans’ support,” Tang said after the game. “I’ve played in T-Mobile [Center] before, but we’ve never had a home court advantage, and this is pretty awesome to play in there and have a home court advantage.”

Tang even said his assistant coach Jareem Dowling told him, “‘The energy out there is different. It’s like an NCAA Tournament game. It’s buzzing.’”

The impact of a large fan base cannot be overlooked in this conference. Both Kansas and Iowa State have historically large followings in Kansas City and have won all but two Big 12 tournaments since 2010.

The trio of Kansas, Iowa State and K-State combine for a 42-5 record in home games this season. Furthermore, these three teams split their season series with each other as the home teams went 6-0. 

Despite each team bringing a home-court atmosphere, K-State could have the edge over Kansas and Iowa State with their conference positioning and motivation. 

The Wildcats are currently third in the Big 12 and could move up to second over the Texas Longhorns who will finish conference play against two ranked teams including No. 3 Kansas. 

As a two-seed, K-State’s path to the conference championship game would be much easier than Iowa State who is likely to finish fifth or sixth in the conference. Regardless, Kansas could be a roadblock for the Wildcats in Kansas City.

The Jayhawks control its destiny for a regular-season conference title, but come next week, K-State should have more motivation. Kansas’ focus in March will be on repeating as national champions. They are likely locked into a one-seed regardless of the result in Kansas City, according to ESPN’s Bracketology.

K-State, currently projected as a two-seed by the same metric, will be motivated to remain there and avoid a bad loss that could push them down toward a four-seed. In their last two appearances as a four-seed in the NCAA tournament, the Wildcats have been upset in the round of 64. 

The Wildcats have not enjoyed much success in the Big 12 tournament, but the effect of a passionate fan base and a new standard brought by Tang will look to write a new chapter for the program. The time for K-State to win their first ever Big 12 men’s basketball tournament is now.