*Courtesy of K-State Sports Information*
MANHATTAN, Kan. – Kansas State will travel to Tennessee as part of the fourth annual SEC/Big 12 Challenge Presented by Sonic on Saturday, January 28, 2017 at Thompson-Boling Arena, the two conferences announced Tuesday.
The matchup will mark the second time in the past three seasons that the Wildcats have played the Volunteers in the event, as Tennessee won the first and only meeting between the schools, 65-64, at home on Dec. 6, 2014.
The game will be one of 10 contested between the two leagues for the fourth consecutive season with ESPN providing coverage of all games on ESPN, ESPN2 or ESPNU. All the contests will occur on Jan. 28 with start times and complete television information to be released at a later date.
The Big 12, which boasted the nation’s best non-conference winning percentage (.792/114-30) in 2015-16, has won the first three Challenge series, posting a cumulative 20-10 (.667) record. Overall, the league is 48-30 (.615) in its last four challenge series (vs. Pac-10 and SEC) dating back to 2007.
The Big 12 has been the No. 1 RPI conference in four of the last seven years, including three in a row.
“The Challenge series is a marquee event for our league and 2017 should be another exciting year,” said head coach Bruce Weber. “Tennessee has always had tremendous tradition with great fan support and Coach (Rick) Barnes has won big everywhere he’s been. Add in the fact that Thompson-Boling Arena is a terrific venue and this game provides yet another challenging addition to our non-conference schedule.”
Overall, K-State is 162-148 all-time against teams from the SEC, which includes a 2-1 mark in the SEC/Big 12 Challenge series with wins over Ole Miss at home in 2013 (61-58) and 2016 (69-64) and the loss at Tennessee in 2014. The Wildcats have met at least one SEC opponent in each of the last eight seasons.
Although this will be just the second meeting between the programs, K-State has a long history with Volunteer head coach Rick Barnes, who earned 402 wins and 16 NCAA Tournament during his long tenure at Big 12 rival Texas. He posted a 12-11 record against the Wildcats during his 17-year stint in Austin, including a 7-4 mark at home.
The Wildcats will return a veteran roster in 2016-17 with nine returning lettermen and six players returning with starting experience, highlighted by All-Big 12 Third Team selection Wesley Iwundu and All-Newcomer honorees Barry Brown and Dean Wade. Overall, the squad returns five of their top six scorers from last season, along with nearly 70 percent of their rebounding, assist, steal and minute totals. Iwundu (11.9 ppg., 4.5 rpg.) is the team’s top returner in scoring, assists and steals, while rising senior D.J. Johnson (9.3 ppg., 5.2 rpg.) is the leader among three returning players (along with Iwundu and Wade) who averaged better than 4 rebounds per contest a season ago.
The squad will also be boosted by the return of a healthy Kamau Stokes, who started 20 of the first 21 games before a knee injury sidelined him for the rest of the year, as well as the continued development of redshirt freshmen Isaiah Maurice and Dante Williams, who measure at 6-foot-10 and 7-foot, respectively.
Tennessee is set to return seven lettermen and two starters in 2016-17 from a team that posted a 15-19 overall record and 6-12 mark in SEC play. Despite the losing record, the Volunteers earned five wins over postseason teams, including home victories over Florida, Kentucky and South Carolina. Among the team’s notable returnees are senior guard Robert Hubbs III (10.6 ppg., 3.9 rpg.), junior guard Detrick Mostella (8.4 ppg., 2.2 rpg.) and sophomore forward Admiral Schofield (7.6 ppg., 4.0 rpg.). The squad will also welcome seven newcomers, including graduate transfer Lew Evans, who averaged 8.4 points and 5.6 rebounds at Utah State in 2015-16.
Only three players remain from the first meeting in 2014, including K-State’s Iwundu and Tennessee’s Hubbs and Mostella. The Volunteers held off a late Wildcat rally for the one-point win, as K-State scored 47 points in the second on 51.7 percent shooting, including 57.1 percent from 3-point range. Iwundu posted 4 points, 7 rebounds and 2 assists in 25 minutes as a starter, while Hubbs and Mostella combined for 11 points off the bench.
A full non-conference slate, as well as 2016-17 season ticket plan details, will be released in the coming weeks.