By RICK PETERSON
The nationally-ranked Washburn University men's basketball team, coming off an MIAA Tournament championship and NCAA Tournament appearance last season, will open its 2021-22 season at 12:45 p.m. Friday against Northern State in the first day of the Central Regional Challenge at historic Municipal Auditorium in Kansas City, Mo.
Brett Ballard's Ichabods, who went 20-7 a year ago and advanced to the second round of the NCAA Tournament, open the season ranked No. 11 in the NABC and No. 17 in D2/SIDA.
Friday's opener will be the first of back-to-back games for Washburn, which will play Augustana at 6 p.m. Saturday.
For the most part Ballard, who is 82-38 in four seasons at WU, said he has been pleased with his team's work in preseason, but said the bar is set very high after last season's success.
"Overall I've been pleased,'' said Ballard, whose Ichabods were picked second in both the MIAA Coaches and Media preseason polls. "I think our veteran guys have done a good job of picking up where we left off last year and as far as the intensity and energy level our practices overall have been pretty good.
"I would say though that we've still got to be much more consistent with our discipline and our attention to detail and our focus. On a daily basis I think we can still take some big steps from that point. I would say I've been pleased, but these guys will tell you, I've been on them. We still aren't anywhere near where we need to be.''
The Ichabods return 85 percent of their scoring, 67 percent of their rebounding, 84 percent of their field goals, 93 percent of their 3-pointers, 83 percent of their free throws and 89 percent of their minutes played from a season ago.
Washburn is led by by senior guard Tyler Geiman, who was a third-team D2CCA All-American and first-team All-MIAA after averaging 20.3 points, 6.3 rebounds and 6.0 assists while starting all 27 contests.
The Ichabods also return honorable mention All-MIAA selection and MIAA Tournament Most Valuable Player Jalen Lewis, who averaged 13.4 points.
Jonny Clausing was an honorable mention All-MIAA pick after scoring 9.6 points and 4.6 rebounds while shooting 61 percent last season, but Clausing is expected to be sidelined early in the season while recovering from a foot injury.
Tyler Nelson averaged 11.0 points and 1.6 steals per game a year ago while former Hayden standout Levi Braun averaged 6.6 points and hit 54 3-pointers. Connor Deffebaugh averaged 5.6 points, 2.3 rebounds and 1.3 assists per game last season while Rathen Carter averaged 4.4 points and 2.4 rebounds.
"We'll have a pretty big target on our back because of the success we've had and we're going to get a lot of people's best shot so we're going to have to be ready to play every night and just because you had success in the past doesn't mean it's just guaranteed. You have to earn it.
"We've got to stay hungry and we've got to stay humble.''
Northern State enters Friday's game with a 1-1 record after falling to No. 1-ranked Northwest Missouri 68-55 in St. Joseph, Mo. before topping Rockhurst 77-59 on Nov. 7.
The Wolves are ranked No. 15 in the NABC Preseason Coaches poll and received votes in the D2SIDA poll. Jordan Belka leads the Wolves in scoring at 19.5 points per game while Sam Masten is averaging 13.5 points and Jacksen Moni 11.5.
Augustana will open its season on Friday against Southern Arkansas at 6 p.m. in Kansas City.