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By RICK PETERSON

TopSports.news

The 2022-23 Washburn Ichabods will open their 118th season of men's basketball Tuesday night with a 7 p.m. exhibition game at Kansas State, which will be making its debut under new coach Jerome Tang.

"I love playing in the bigger gyms and playing against tougher competition,'' said Ichabod 6-foot-6 sophomore Michael Keegan, a top returner for the Ichabods. "It really tests who you are as a person but also as a team. It will be really fun.''

MichaelKeegan2Michael Keegan (right) is a top returner for Washburn men's basketball after being named the MIAA Freshman of the Year last season. [File photo/TSN]

BrettBallard2Washburn men's basketball coach Brett Ballard has led the Ichabods to four NCAA Tournament berths in five seasons. [File photo/TSN]

The Ichabods are coming off a 22-11 season while recording the program's fourth 20-win season and fourth NCAA Tournament berth in coach Brett Ballard's five seasons at the school.

Ballard is104-49 record at Washburn while Tang takes over at K-State after 19 seasons as an assistant at Baylor, helping lead the Bears to the 2021 national championship.

The Wildcats, picked 10th in the Big 12 preseason poll, return All-Big 12 honorable mention pick Markquis Nowell (12.4 points, 5.0 assists) and junior Ish Massourd (6.8 points, 2.8 rebounds) and signed seven additional players, including five transfers and two freshmen. Kansas State was 14-17 overall and 6-12 in the Big 12 a year ago.

Keegan said the Ichabods have been doing whatever they can to get ready for the new-look Wildcats.

"With a new coach it's kind of tougher, but we'll definitely get a scout one way or another and have an idea of what they're going to try to do and definitely have a game plan for what we're going to do,'' Keegan said.

Washburn reached the second round of the NCAA Division II Playoffs last season, falling to eventual 2022 national champion Northwest Missouri.

The Ichabods will be without their top three scorers from last season as Tyler Geiman (15.3 points, 5.9 rebounds and 6.8 assists); Jalen Lewis (13.8 points, 2.5 rebounds, 1.6 assists) and Jonny Clausing (10.6 ppg, 5.1 rebounds) have all graduated. Overall, the Ichabods return 40 percent of their scoring, 38 percent of their rebounds, 40 percent of their 3-pointers and 46 percent of their minutes played from a season ago.

But despite the heavy graduation losses, Keegan, the 2021-2022 freshman of the year, leads a solid nucleus of returners for the Ichabods and said the team's expectations won't change.

"Our culture doesn't change, our goals don't change, our mindset doesn't change,'' said Keegan, a Dyersville, Iowa native. "We're still a group of guys that want to win and we have a whole lot of talent across the board, one to 15.

"We have all 15 guys who can play so I think we're going to be really good.''

Keegan is the Ichabods' leading returning scorer this season after scoring 9.4 points a year ago along with 6.1 rebounds, 1.4 assists and 1.0 blocks per game. Keegan pulled down a career-high 15 rebounds in a win over Central Oklahoma in the MIAA Tournament semifinals. Keegan's 32 starts last season was the most by a freshman in program history and his 33 games played is tied for sixth.

Connor Deffebaugh averaged 9.1 points, 2.5 rebounds and 1.6 assists last season while Tyler Nelson averaged 6.5 points, 2.1 rebounds and 1.7 assists in 20 games.

Keegan said the key for the Ichabods is to make sure the returners and newcomers all on the same page.

"It's different when half your team's all new,'' he said. "You've just got to mold together and coach Ballard's been doing a very good job of playing kids with other people, trying to get everybody used to playing with each other to see what works and what doesn't work and figure out lineups from there.''

Keegan said he knows that as a returning starter he needs to step up a a team leader for the Ichabods.

"I love being a leader and I love taking people with me to the next level, even if I'm not getting there at least I can help them get there,'' Keegan said. "At the end of the day being a leader means making whoever's next to you better and making the team better. So if that's what it takes, I'm ready for that.''

The Ichabods, tabbed fourth in both the MIAA Preseason Coaches and Preseason Media polls, will open the 2022-23 regular season at the Central Regional Challenge in Municipal Auditorium on Nov. 11 facing Henderson State and then Augustana (S.D.) the following day.

Washburn will open its home slate on Nov. 16 against William Jewell.

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