For the first time since Jerome Tang took over in Manhattan, the Kansas State Wildcats and the No. 6 Texas Longhorns go head to head on Tuesday at the Moody Center in Austin.
A long-time assistant to Scott Drew at Baylor, Tang replaced Bruce Weber, who resigned following the 2021-22 season after a third straight losing campaign with the Wildcats. Tang has Kansas State off to a 12-1 start against a largely weak non-conference slate and a win to open Big 12 play against West Virginia. Picked to finish last in the Big 12 by the league’s head coaches, the Wildcats are ranked No. 45 in the KenPom.com adjusted efficiency metric, last in the conference, with the No. 73 offense and the No. 38 defense.
Florida transfer forward Keyontae Johnson, who collapsed on the court a little more than two years ago, played for the first time since his medical incident to open the season with Kansas State and currently leads the Wildcats in scoring at 17.7 points per game and rebounding at 6.8 rebounds per game. Johnson is also hitting 42.5 percent of his three-point attempts. Following the transfer of guard Nijel Pack to Miami, Markquis Nowell has taken over the primary playmaking role, averaging 14.4 points per game and 8.5 assists per game, a number that ranks No. 2 nationally.
One of the primary issues for the Wildcats — and one that will be put on more stark display with the grind of the double round robin schedule in the Big 12 — is the lack of outside shooting, as Tang’s team is hitting only 33.2 percent from three-point range with Nowell the only player who has hit more than 20 threes so far this season.
But to take advantage of that deficiency, the Longhorns will have to play better defense than they have so far under acting head coach Rodney Terry — while Texas has played better offensively in the five games since head coach Chris Beard’s felony arrest, the defense has regressed with opponents averaging 71.2 points per game and shooting 46.2 percentage points from the field.
It’s a bit surprising given Terry’s role leading the defense and the lack of high-level competition over those games as the Longhorns have dropped to No. 13 in defensive efficiency. For a team with a defense-first mentality, it’s an area that needs to improve as the competition gets more difficult in conference play.
On the offensive end, senior guard Marcus Carr won Big 12 Player of the Week honors after his 41-point outburst against Texas A&M-Commerce. Over the last five games, Carr is averaging 23.2 points per game while shooting 53.6 percent from the floor, including a 61.8 percent (21-34) mark from distance, and 84.0-percent from the free-throw line in addition to posting an 18-to-8 assist-to-turnover ratio.
Texas is 20-6 in Big 12 home openers and has won five of the last six games and six of the last eight against Kansas State.
How to watch
Time: 8 p.m. Central
TV: Longhorn Network
Radio: The Longhorns IMG Radio Network
Odds: The Longhorns are favored by 8.5 points, according to DraftKings.