Tramel's ScissorTales: Kansas State's basketball success means OU, OSU have no excuses
When Kansas State athletic director Gene Taylor went looking for a basketball coach last spring, he got a text from Wildcat point guard Markquis Nowell.
Nowell suggested Baylor assistant coach Jerome Tang for the job.
I assume Tang already was on Taylor’s radar – Tang was on everybody’s radar, though it sure took forever for someone to give him a chance. But Taylor finally did, and a program that seemed in despair instead is one win away from the Final Four.
Nowell had a game for the ages – 20 points, an NCAA Tournament-record 19 assists – as K-State beat Michigan State 98-93 in overtime Thursday night in New York to reach the East Regional finals.
Nowell also had an endorsement for the ages. Tang has the Wildcats on the verge of a Final Four, and Tang’s instant turnaround of KSU basketball has made things quite uncomfortable for coaches taking a more traditional approach to program rebuilding.
If Tang can do this in one year at Kansas State, no excuses allowed from Porter Moser at OU and Mike Boynton at OSU.
Not that Boynton or Moser are offering excuses. But OSU making one NCAA Tournament in four chances (six years, but four chances) with Boynton and OU making no NCAA Tournaments in two years with Moser just isn’t cutting it.
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Big-time college basketball is set up for power-conference teams to succeed. If you don’t succeed, it’s on you. And as Tang is showing, that means succeeding immediately.
Rebuilding no longer is a thing in college basketball. Building a program is fine, knock yourself out. But it’s not a get-out-of-jail-free card. Win while you’re building; that’s the ticket in modern college basketball, like it or not.
Tang took over a mess last spring, courtesy of the transfer portal.
KSU fired Bruce Weber last March. Weber was a good coach; his first seven seasons, the ‘Cats went 150-89, including 69-57 in the Big 12. K-State went to a regional final in 2018 (Moser’s Loyola-Chicago Ramblers knocked out KSU) and tied for Big 12 championships in 2013 and 2019.
But Weber’s final three seasons produced a record of 34-58 overall, 13-41 in the Big 12, and out he went. Soon enough, star guard Nigel Pack transferred to Miami with the promise of a big name, image and likeness deal. Other Wildcats bolted, too.
Tang arrived and found a depleted roster, led by a 5-foot-8 point guard. But Tang rebuilt around Nowell. In August, Tang enticed Keyontae Johnson, who had missed two full seasons with a heart condition after being a star at Florida.
Tang supplemented the roster with other additions, but still, K-State was picked 10th in the Big 12 preseason poll, only because there were just 10 teams in the league.
By Friday night, there will be eight teams left in the NCAA Tournament, and K-State will be one of them.
Tang brought in Nae'Qwan Tomlin, a junior-college center who didn’t even play high school ball; Desi Sills, a guard from Arkansas State; Camryn Carter, a role player from Mississippi State; David N’Guessan, who had been mostly on the bench at Virginia Tech.
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Ismael Massoud joined Nowell in sticking around from the Weber roster.
Johnson turned into a star. So did Nowell. Both were first-team all-Big 12. KSU finished third in the Big 12 at 11-7, garnering a No. 3 seed in the NCAAs.
OU, OSU and K-State have similar basketball pedigrees.
NCAA titles: OSU two, OU zero, KSU zero.
Final Fours: OSU six, OU five, KSU four.
Sweet 16’s: KSU 17, OSU 10, OU 10.
NCAA Tournament wins: OU 43, KSU 39, OSU 39.
Big Eight/Big 12 titles: KSU seven (not counting Big Six or Big Seven), OU six, OSU three.
Post-season conference tournament titles: OU seven, OSU four, KSU two.
Fan interest comes and goes at all three places, depending on success, though you would rank them KSU, OSU and OU, in that order.
The point is, they are not Kansas or Texas, each of whom has unique basketball advantages, whether it be tradition, geography or resources.
Boynton and Moser and any other Bedlam coach gets a pass for not beating Kansas. You do not get a pass for not beating Kansas State. I’m not calling for coaching changes in Stillwater or Norman. I’m calling on Moser and Boynton to get the job done, because it can get done. Jerome Tang just proved it.
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Lane Kiffin talks Spencer Sanders
Lane Kiffin didn’t wait for questions. The Ole Miss football coach immediately addressed the status of his crowded quarterback room.
Incumbent starter Jaxson Dart. Transfer Spencer Sanders, a four-year starter at OSU. Transfer Walker Howard, a five-star prospect who spent a year at Louisiana State.
It’s a fascinating mix of talent and experience, the result of the immediate-eligibility rule that creates college football free agency.
So Kiffin walked in Tuesday after the first Rebel spring practice and got right to the point.
"I'm sure you have quarterback questions,” Kiffin said. “All the guys practiced today and rotated in there. So, they all looked good."
But he’s Lane Kiffin. He’s not going to leave Mississippi in the dark about his quarterbacks.
So Kiffin kept talking. And OSU fans can keep listening, wondering how Sanders will fare in Oxford, after five years in Stillwater, including a 31-12 record as the starting quarterback.
Lots of stories swirled around Sanders’ departure. Some of them probably true. Some of them probably partly true.
“Spencer, been here five years, played a bunch of games,” Mike Gundy said the other day. “Said, ‘I want to go play somewhere new.’”
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OK. Doesn’t much matter now. What’s done is done. The Cowboys have their own quarterback battle going this spring, and Sanders is having to beat out a returning starter if he wants to pad those 43 starts.
"We're much different from where we were a year ago, in my opinion, as far as depth and quality in the room,” Kiffin said. “I just see it being very competitive.”
Sanders is the more accomplished quarterback. He’s recovering from a shoulder injury that dogged him much of the 2022 season, but as a Cowboy he threw for 9,553 yards and ran for 1,956. Sanders was first-team all-Big 12 in 2021.
Dart quarterbacked six games at Southern Cal in 2021 but left in the Lincoln Riley/Caleb Williams invasion. Dart quarterbacked 13 games last season at Ole Miss and did OK, but nothing special.
In 19 college games, Dart has completed 62.3% of his passes, with 29 touchdown passes and 16 interceptions. He ran little at USC but rushed for 614 yards last season with the Rebels.
So it’s all fascinating. The most interesting quarterback battle in college football.
"I just see it being very competitive,” Kiffin said. “We actually have been allowed to throw with (Dart in the off-season), which is a newer rule in the last year or two. I think Jaxson has thrown it really well. He's gotten stronger and looked really good and much improved. That's exciting.
“Spencer was a little limited in throwing initially with the previous injury, but he was out there today taking reps. I'm excited for all three guys.”
Kiffin said his quarterback evaluation comes down to three things: timing, accuracy and decision-making.
“But we have a long time, spring and fall, to figure it out and let guys play."
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The List: Ranking Western Conference schedules
Not to be overly dramatic, but the Thunder-Laker game Thursday night shapes up as huge.
Who knew an NBA regular-season game could be big? But big this one is, courtesy of the relatively new play-in tournament and an historically jumbled Western Conference standings.
The top six teams advance to the playoffs, and the next four teams slip into the play-in tournament, which produces the final two playoff teams.
The Warriors are in sixth place at 38-36. The Jazz are in 12th place at 35-37. Two games separate sixth and 12th. Among the teams between them are the Mavericks, Lakers, Pelicans and Thunder, all tied for eighth at 36-37. Because of tiebreakers, OKC currently is the 11th seed.
With roughly two weeks left in the season, now you see why Thunder-Lakers on Friday night in downtown Los Angeles is so huge. Any game matching teams bundled in the middle will have a major impact on the final standings.
The Clippers routed the Thunder 127-105 Thursday night, a verdict not unexpected, considering OKC won a 101-100 nail-biter from the Clippers two nights before. The Clips, even without the injured Paul George, are the more talented and veteran team. They weren’t likely to allow a two-game Thunder sweep.
The 38-34 Suns and 39-35 Clippers are in a virtual tie for fourth in the West, a game ahead of the Warriors.
Here is the remaining schedule for each of the nine jumbled West teams, ranked in order from easiest to toughest:
1. Mavericks 36-37: Hornets, at Hornets, at Pacers, at 76ers, at Heat, at Hawks, Kings, Bulls, Spurs.
2. Thunder 36-37: at Lakers, at Blazers, Hornets, Pistons, at Pacers, Suns, at Warriors, at Jazz, Grizzlies.
3. Warriors 38-36: 76ers, Timberwolves, Pelicans, Spurs, at Nuggets, Thunder, at Kings, at Blazers.
4. Lakers 36-37: Thunder, Bulls, at Bulls, at Timberwolves, at Rockets, at Jazz, at Clippers, Suns, Jazz.
5. Timberwolves 37-37: at Warriors, at Kings, at Suns, Lakers, Blazers, at Nets, at Spurs, Pelicans.
6. Clippers 39-35: Pelicans, Bulls, at Grizzlies, at Grizzlies, at Pelicans, Lakers, Blazers, at Suns.
7. Suns 38-34: at Kings, 76ers, at Jazz, Timberwolves, Nuggets, at Thunder, Spurs, Nuggets, at Lakers, Clippers.
8. Pelicans 36-37: at Clippers, at Blazers, at Warriors, at Nuggets, Clippers, Kings, Grizzlies, Knicks, at Timberwolves.
9. Jazz 35-37: Bucks, at Kings, Suns, at Spurs, at Celtics, at Nets, Lakers, Thunder, Nuggets, at Lakers.
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Could Lane Johnson become best Sooner ever in NFL?
The Philadelphia Eagles have given all-pro offensive tackle Lane Johnson a one-year, $33.445-million contract extension that includes $30 million guaranteed and keeps Johnson tied to the Eagles through 2026, should the franchise so desire.
And maybe it’s time we start asking. Could Johnson become the OU’s greatest National Football League player ever?
Only two former Sooners are in the Pro Football Hall of Fame: Tommy McDonald and Lee Roy Selmon. If you want to count Troy Aikman, who transferred to UCLA for his final two seasons, then make it three.
Others will get there. Tailback Adrian Peterson absolutely. Trent Williams possibly. Bobby Boyd, the great Baltimore Colt defensive back from the 1960s, should have made it long ago.
But Johnson could get there, too. He’s been one of the NFL’s best offensive linemen for a long time, dang near since he was picked by the Eagles, fourth overall, in the 2013 draft.
Johnson hasn’t allowed a sack the last two seasons, even though he played hurt.
According to StatMuse, the Eagles are 79-47-1 when Johnson plays and 13-22 when he doesn’t.
In profootball-reference.com’s rankings of player careers, Johnson is No. 6 (not counting Aikman) among former Sooners, trailing only Peterson, Boyd, current offensive tackle Trent Williams, the late offensive tackle Ralph Neely and Selmon, the iconic defensive tackle.
But Johnson is only 32. Quality offensive linemen typically can play deep into their 30s. He will move up that list.
Another key list: first-team All-Pro selections. That’s the hardest list to make. One quarterback, two offensive tackles, three linebackers. Not a lot of wiggle room in any given year.
Johnson already has made first-team All-Pro twice. Among former Sooners, the leaders are Peterson four times; tight end Keith Jackson, Neely and Boyd thrice; Johnson and Williams twice.
Williams is 34 and still a great blocker. He could ascend up the list, too. But outlast Williams, and Johnson could become the greatest Sooner ever in the NFL.
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Mailbag: OU facilities
My column on OU’s hope to raise $175 million for a new headquarters continues to draw interest.
Mark: “Oklahoma coaches want more and better facilities for football and basketball. As one of my coworkers used to say, ‘It ain’t nothing money can’t fix.’ I am also convinced that the appetite for better facilities will never be satisfied. Is the University of Oklahoma still in debt for the dorm project from several years ago? It seems like yesterday the athletic department was sending me pictures of the state-of-the-art facilities that were just completed. Or pictures of the head football coach’s office, with a smiling Brent Venables posing for the picture. Now we need something better so we can compete is the SEC? I make these comments as a football and basketball season ticket holder. I still like the LNC with its circular, multi-use configuration.”
Tramel: I believe the OU dorm debt is being taken care of through a deal with the Chickasaw Nation, not that any of that was related to athletics.
But it’s true that the appetite for more, more, more never will be quenched. At OU or anywhere else in big-time athletics. And while plenty of fans wonder how much more can be tapped from donors, it only takes one major gift to get something started, be it a softball stadium or a new HQ.
I do believe that what I wrote is true. More and more, universities will direct their funds toward name, image and likeness funds, and not brick and mortar.
Berry Tramel: Berry can be reached at 405-760-8080 or at firstname.lastname@example.org. He can be heard Monday through Friday from 4:40-5:20 p.m. on The Sports Animal radio network, including FM-98.1. Support his work and that of other Oklahoman journalists by purchasing a digital subscription today.
This article originally appeared on Oklahoman: March Madness: Kansas State, Jerome Tang show OSU, OU could win, too