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To have the Twitter handle @MrNewYorkCityy as a Harlem, New York native takes a certain level of confidence.
Dropping a March Madness record 19 assists, 20 points, and 5 steals in an Overtime win in Madison Square Garden arguably takes that same level of self-belief. And the college basketball world was lucky enough to witness it.
Kansas State senior guard Markquis Nowell did just that tonight, producing one of the best individual performances we’ve seen in tournament history to advance to the Elite Eight, topping Tom Izzo’s Michigan State unit 98-93 in OT.
But even though your Twitter timeline will consist of the miscellaneous stats and stories regarding Powell and the unlikely first team to breach the Elite Eight, the story of how this team was constructed is impressive on its own.
Flashing back to the 2021-22 season, Kansas State was a 14-17 overall team, with a 6-12 record in the Big 12. This was good enough for second-worst in the conference, losing in the first round of the Big 12 tournament to West Virginia, the only team to finish below them.
Nowell and Ismael Massoud, who scored 15 points on 4 for 6 shooting from beyond the arc, were the only two players to return to the Wildcats after the less than ideal year.
So, by losing 12 of your 14 members on the roster, what is the one way you replenish your squad? The transfer portal.
The changes to the team were not just the members inside the white lines either, as Jerome Tang replaced Bruce Weber as Head Coach, alongside changes to the Assistant Head Coach, both Assistant Coaches, and several other positions.
Kansas State is no stranger to the transfer portal, however, as both Nowell and Massoud joined the Wildcats in the same fashion. Powell came to Manhattan, Kansas after 3 seasons at Little Rock, and Massoud joined after 2 years with Wake Forest.
Despite all the odds being against them, and thus appropriately being picked to finish last in the Big 12 preseason poll, they defied all the odds to get to the point they found themselves in ahead of the game today.
Nowell paired nicely with transfer Keyontae Johnson, as they both averaged over 17 points a game, while other key additions like Naq’Quan Tomlin, Desi Sills, David N’Guessan and Cam Carter made up the majority of the minutes.
But, how was this struggling program able to add enough talent to post a 26-9 record, make the Big 12 Semifinals, and eventually reach the Elite 8 tonight?
Simply put, a combination of accurate scouting, superior coaching, and improved NIL opportunities.
While Kansas State’s stars did not receive many newsworthy NIL deals on a national landscape (Nowell and Johnson have partnerships with Charlie Hustle, Nowell also has a deal with Robbins Motor Company to name a few).
The only one of note was Keyontae Johnson deal with Heartfelt, which was a powerful representation of his triumphant return to competitive NCAA basketball after collapsing during a game while with Florida, which wound up being his final game suiting up for the Gators.
Kansas State’s belief in Johnson proved to be a smart bet, as he went on to be the third-leading scorer in the Big 12, but this was not the only bet they made in the transfer portal.
And with the combination of players coming from smaller programs, or players that did not stick with their Power Five program and looked for a change of scenery, allowed the Wildcats to rebuild their roster, thus creating the team that captivated America tonight.
So, even though Kansas State is a three seed in this tournament, they combination of Johnson’s story, the first year coach Jerome Tang winning Big 12 coach of the year, and of courts the 5’8 star passer Markquis Nowell, who put the team on his back, in a storyline that may not be deemed believable in a Hollywood script.