Newman men’s basketball coach Mark Potter didn’t stand on ceremony when it came to his thoughts about No. 2 Washburn, the last remaining obstacle in the way of the Jets sweeping all four of Kansas’ other NCAA Division II schools and going into the break 9-0.
“They really have no weaknesses,” Potter said. “And they have one of, if not the very best player in the country, in Will McNeill.”
The Ichabods (7-0) have shown few weaknesses in their early-season run, winning by an average of 22.1 points. The Ichabods’ closest game was a 67-63 win over St. Mary’s on Nov. 23 in San Antonio.
McNeill, a 6-foot-1 senior guard, was an All-American and unanimous All-MIAA pick as a junior. He’s also the Ichabods’ career steals leader and is averaging 22.1 points, 3.5 steals, 6.9 rebounds and 2.1 assists.
“(McNeill) is so quick and so fast ... he is as good of a slasher as we’ve played against,” Potter said. “He just flies up the floor when he gets the ball in his hands. He’s also similar to (Newman guard) Shamar Acuay in that he can post up and get buckets that way when he needs to.”
Washburn guard Martin Mitchell (13 points) and 6-8 forward Bobby Chipman (11.5 points, 7.9 rebounds) are the other two Ichabods averaging double-figure scoring.
Newman’s undefeated start has been decidedly more touch-and-go than Washburn’s — five of the Jets’ victories have come by 10 points or less, including a two-point win over Fort Hays State and an overtime win over Emporia State.
The Ichabods defeated Newman 88-63 last season in Topeka, the 700th win for Washburn coach Bob Chipman, who is in his 34th season.
“I saw (Chipman) and (Washburn assistant) Dave Brown last Tuesday night at North while we were there recruiting and we were talking about being old and being around a long time,” said Potter, who played at Newman in the early 1980s and has been the Jets’ coach since 1998. “And even as long as I’ve been around, (Chipman) was coaching Washburn when I played at Newman.
“I have a lot of respect for anybody that’s been around as long as he’s had and had as much success as he’s had.”
Washburn is 18-5 against Newman, but hasn’t played in Wichita since 1985.
The Jets, who are receiving votes in the NCAA Division II rankings for the first time, host East Central (Okla.) on Monday, then don’t play again until Jan. 3 at Oklahoma Christian.
“If we don’t come out, bring it and play at high level, it’ll be a long evening,” Potter said. “Our guys have been upbeat all week and practicing hard ... they understand these opportunities don’t come around very often to get to face one of the best teams in the nation.”
Saturday’s game will also be a “Toys for Tots Night” at Newman, with free admission to those who bring a toy for charity.