The Wright State women’s basketball team had an impressive non-league season, finishing 9-3 while facing a rugged schedule. The Raiders’ three losses were to Missouri, Providence and Georgia — all away from home against teams with a combined 28-7 record.
But while they notched their best win of the season last week in beating two-time defending Ohio Valley Conference champ Belmont on the road, second-year coach Katrina Merriweather had trouble shaking the 87-71 defeat to Georgia on Thursday.
She isn’t accustomed to seeing her veteran team get blitzed like that.
“Georgia was the first time we’ve seen that type of athleticism, size and skill together, and it was a true test for us that exposed some of the things we need to work on,” she said.
“Our defensive transition needs to get better. We don’t spend a lot of time on that once we get into the season. You try not to go up and down as much and save some legs. I’ll take that one. We need to spend more time on it.”
But those first dozen games were designed to get the Raiders battle-tested going into Horizon League play this week, and that objective was met.
“We tried to toughen our schedule up. We thought it would be a good thing for us, especially this year, anticipating our conference being tougher than it was a year ago. And that’s proved to be the case,” Merriweather said.
Wright State plays its first league game at home at 4:30 p.m. Thursday against No. 19 Green Bay (the men’s team hosts UIC at 7 p.m.). The Raiders and Phoenix shared the regular-season title last year, but those two can expect more challengers this season because the conference is deeper than it’s been in years.
The Horizon is the 10th-strongest conference among 32 nationally, according to the Sagarin ratings, and the 11th-best in the RPI standings.
There are four top-100 teams with Green Bay at 12, Wright State at 58, IUPUI at 75 and Milwaukee at 88, according to Sagarin.
Seven of the 10 teams in the league have winning records.
“It’s a very strong league, and all of us are doing our jobs of going out and playing good competition,” Merriweather said. “We’re having some teams beat schools that people think they shouldn’t. That should be recognized, for sure. The league is really, really tough. And it’s wide open.”
Green Bay and Milwaukee both have wins over Wisconsin and Northwestern on the road, while the Phoenix also has knocked off Marquette, Arizona State and Dayton.
While the Raiders haven’t beaten any teams from the power-five conferences, guard Chelsea Welch is playing at a level befitting the league’s preseason player of the year, averaging 21.3 points and 5.2 assists. And she has solid starters around her.
Merriweather also has accomplished what she set out to do since preseason practice, having developed her bench.
“We’re much deeper than we were a year ago, no question about that,” she said.
The Green Bay game will be a clash of styles. The Raiders easily lead the league in scoring at 82 points per game, while the Phoenix has by far the stingiest defense, allowing 47.1 points.
“We’re going to be us,” Merriweather said. “We’re going to play hard. We’re going to push the ball in transition. We’re going to rebound and defend and, hopefully, score enough points because Green Bay has done a tremendous job defensively on everybody they play.
“They’re a different defensive beast than what we’ve faced.”