College basketball rankings: Kansas State enters top 10 as legit Big 12 contenders after OT win at Baylor

As I noted in last Wednesday’s edition of the CBS Sports Top 25 And 1, Kansas State was picked to finish at the bottom of the Big 12 standings in a preseason poll by the league’s 10 head coaches. It was the byproduct of a few different things. The Wildcats only won 14 games last season and were under the direction of a first-time head coach. Also, no one quite knew what to expect from Florida transfer Keyontae Johnson, who hadn’t played since December 2020 after collapsing during a game against Florida State.

But now here we are, more than two months into this season, and it’s become abundantly clear that even if it was sensible in October to project KSU to finish last in the Big 12, the Wildcats actually landing that deep in the standings is no longer a likely scenario.

This team is legit good.

That’s the main takeaway following Saturday’s 97-95 overtime win at Baylor that pushed Kansas State to 14-1 overall and 3-0 in the Big 12. And the reason this feels for real as opposed to fluky is because when you take a look at the roster with fresh eyes, these Wildcats are undeniably more talented than most recognized in the preseason.

It all starts with Johnson. The fact that he entered this season having not played in nearly two years following his collapse made it reasonable to wonder what kind of player he’d be. Fifteen games into this season, however, we now know he’s more or less the same player — and arguably a better player — than he was when he was voted the SEC Player of the Year in advance of the 2020-21 season. That explains a lot of this. Kansas State’s leading scorer is a former preseason SEC Player of the Year who has emerged as a candidate for Big 12 Player of the Year.

Beyond that, Markquis Nowell has developed into one of the nation’s best point guards. In Saturday’s win at Baylor, he finished with 32 points and 14 assists after getting 36 points and nine assists in Tuesday’s win at Texas, making him just the third Division I player in the past 10 seasons to get 65-plus points and 20-plus assists in any two-game span. The only others who have done it are NBA All-Stars Ja Morant (Grizzlies) and Trae Young (Hawks), according to research conducted by Jared Berson.

Beyond that, Kansas State’s third-leading scorer (Nae’Qwan Tomlin) is a JUCO All-American, and the Wildcats’ fourth-leading scorer (Desi Sills) started for an Arkansas team that made the Elite Eight two years ago. In other words, the top of this roster is experienced and talented — and the first-year coach who put this all together, Jerome Tang, has shown himself to be so effective in this role after spending 19 seasons as an assistant at Baylor that he’s been listed in multiple places as a potential candidate for the Texas job.

It’s a great story. It’s been fun to watch.

It has compelled me to move Kansas State to No. 7 in Sunday morning’s updated CBS Sports Top 25 And 1 daily college basketball rankings based on a résumé featuring a 4-1 record in Quadrant 1 with zero additional losses. The road wins at Texas and at Baylor that have extended Kansas State’s winning streak to eight games are massive. No program in the country has two road victories as good as those. And Kansas State’s 3-0 start in the Big 12 has the Wildcats tied atop the league standings with Kansas and Iowa State heading into a week in which they’ll play Oklahoma State (Tuesday) and at TCU (Saturday).

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