How Jerome Tang is going to build K-State’s future schedules
When Jerome Tang was hired at K-State prior to the 2022-23 season, the Wildcats' nonconference schedule was already made for him, an oddity in today’s college basketball. Tang’s regime was only able to schedule one game, a road contest at Cal – the Wildcats' second game of the season.
Unlike college football where nonconference games are scheduled sometimes a decade in advance, most college basketball schedules are formulated in the few months before the season tips in early November. Tang didn’t have the luxury of creating his own schedule because the previous K-State coaching staff, led by Bruce Weber, organized the Wildcats' schedule.
This season, Kansas State’s nonconference schedule isn’t a strong one. The Wildcats play four high major opponents in the nonconference this season – at Cal, at Butler, vs. Nebraska in Kansas City and vs. Florida – but the rest of the nonconference schedule is filled with low major opponents. The Wildcats Feast Week tournament – the Cayman Islands Classic – featured only one other high major school, LSU, who the Wildcats defeated in overtime of the championship game.
K-State’s nonconference schedule ranks 194th nationally and Kenpom ranks the Wildcats' strength of schedule as the 184th most difficult schedule in the country. Previously, it was common for high-major schools to schedule soft, winnable games because it increased their opportunity to qualify for the NCAA Tournament because of a large volume of wins.
However, when the NCAA adopted the NET rankings in the 2020-21 season, schools with more difficult nonconference schedules were rewarded even if they lost games to other quality high major opponents. In other words, it’s better to lose to a good high-major opponent than it is to beat a bad low-major team like K-State should do this season in their nonconference.
In the future, Tang wants to change the way K-State schedules games. Instead of playing loads of nonconference buy games against less talented competition, Tang wants to schedule home-and-home series with some of the country’s best programs.
“I want to play some really good Power 5 teams at home,” Tang said. “Not just at neutral sites. I’d like to schedule some home-and-homes, so our fans here get to see a really good team in the nonconference.”
Home-and-home series haven’t been very common in college basketball for a long time. Instead, programs are often scheduling games at neutral sites simply so they don’t have to play a true road game, even if it means a home game is played in return.
“A lot of people don’t want to play on somebody else’s home court,” Tang said. “That’s the nature of it. We have enough home-and-home in conference. If you can play somebody in a neutral site, it gives you a better chance to win the game. … Hopefully, it’s trending back the other way.”
And it could be. In the weeks leading up to the 2022-23 season, Kentucky announced contracts with Gonzaga and Indiana. The series with Gonzaga started this season at Spokane Arena, which isn’t the home gym of Gonzaga. However, the arena sits just minutes away from campus. While the series does include neutral site contests, there are also games set to be played on each school’s campus.
The Kentucky-Indiana rivalry has been agreed upon in principle to renew in future seasons as well.
“We’ve agreed in principle that we’ll be playing them (Indiana),” Calipari said via Herald-Leader reporter Ben Roberts. “It’ll start in 2025-26. It’s at the administrative level now, so all of the details will be worked out.”
Another reason Tang wants to schedule more high major opponents is that he thinks it will help prove that the Big 12 is the country’s best basketball conference.
“We want to play teams from the other conferences to show that the Big 12 is the best basketball conference in the country,” Tang said. “That way on Selection Sunday we get the benefit of the doubt.”
Tang didn’t have the freedom to make a schedule this season, but he wants to create a fun environment for fans inside Bramlage Coliseum in the future, and he thinks the home-and-home series is the best way to do that.