Tanner Holden, a 6-6 wing, is a Horizon League freshman of the year candidate. And classmate Trey Calvin has given the Raiders (23-5) a dependable back-up at point guard for the first time in coach Scott Nagy’s four years.
Schaefer, who is fifth on the Raiders all-time scoring list with 1,634 points and fifth in rebounds with 717, is a fan of Nagy’s style of play, which includes plenty of touches for inside players.
“It really makes a difference with Loudon Love in the middle. This year, (redshirt freshman Grant) Basile is coming in, so they have some substitutes that help,” the 1975 Alter High School grad said.
Marc Katz, who covered the team in the 1970s and later in the D-I years, believes the 6-foot-9, 260-pound Love, a consistent 15-point, 10-rebound player, has put the Raiders on another level.
“He was a real find because you don’t see guys that size who move as smoothly as he moves,” Katz said. “I’m not surprised at all by what they’re doing. The other players around him are really quality guys. But I think it starts with Love.”
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While he agrees Nagy deserves plenty of credit, Katz said, “They’ve had three quality coaches in a row who have elevated this program,” referring to Brad Brownell and Billy Donlon. “I’ve always felt this was kind of a sleeping giant.”
The Raiders’ rise has coincided with a dip in the Horizon League’s caliber of play, which could provide an easier path to the NCAA tourney.
They’ve already locked up a top-two seed in the league tourney, giving them a double bye and a pass into the semifinals.
“The league is down a little bit. It’s not where it used to be,” said Vest, who had two sons play for the Raiders. “But the NKU-Wright State rivalry is still there.”
He added: “If you’re one of the 64 teams in the (NCAA) tournament, you’ve got a shot. It’s like baseball: if you go to the plate with a bat, you’re dangerous. Our depth and talent level give us a good shot.”
Schaefer goes further than that.
“I think they’ve got a great chance this year of winning a couple games,” he said.
Several Raiders played in the 2018 NCAA tourney, losing to third-seeded Tennessee in the first round.
That experience can only help.
“The one factor we all forget about, if you’ve been to the tournament before, it’s not a wide-eyed thing. Sometimes when you go for the first time, it’s a little tough,” Katz said.
“This is a team that can easily win a game and maybe two — and I wouldn’t consider them upsets.”
Wright State (23-5, 13-2) at Youngstown State (15-12, 8-6), 7 p.m., ESPN+/ESPN3, 106.5