Raiders likely will be league contenders again with plenty of talent returning

WSU guard, Tanner Holden reacts to his teams first NCAA tournament win at UD Arena Wednesday night. JIM NOELKER/STAFF

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WSU guard, Tanner Holden reacts to his teams first NCAA tournament win at UD Arena Wednesday night. JIM NOELKER/STAFF

FAIRBORN — Grant Basile may have been on his way to becoming one of Wright State’s all-time greats — he was just the 15th player to join the school’s 1,000-point, 500-rebound club when he passed those milestones as a junior this season — but what coach Scott Nagy has learned over the years is that no one is irreplaceable.

“We lost the MVP of the league last year in Loudon Love and still went to the NCAA tournament,” he said of the two-time Horizon League player of the year.

“We can do it again. That’s where our focus will be.”

Nagy is right. Though Basile’s transfer is a major setback, the Raiders are coming off their second NCAA bid in four years and, despite significant roster turnover, have either won the league regular-season or tourney title the last five years.

Even the 87-70 loss to No. 1 seed Arizona wasn’t the bloodbath many expected. The Raiders fell behind by 16 with 3:50 to go in the first half but played the PAC-12 champs to a one-point game after that.

“It should give them confidence that we can play with anybody,” Nagy said. “Early in the year, when we played Purdue, we didn’t have that confidence and didn’t play very well.

“But we faced a team like that and competed. If not for a shot here or there that went in for them or didn’t go in for us, it would’ve looked a lot different. I think the players know (they weren’t overmatched), and you could see it in their faces in the second half.”

The primary job for Nagy going into next season is shoring up the middle with Basile gone. The Raiders currently have 11 scholarship players with two full rides to give, which means they could find a gem in the transfer portal themselves.

According to VerbalCommits.com, the list of players shopping for new schools is already approaching 900 and growing by the day.

“We’re still in a position where we don’t need (help at) a certain position,” Nagy said. “There’s a lot of different ways we can go based on the players we have and their versatility. We’ll just try to find the two best players we can.”

The starting candidates in the post are sophomore-to-be A.J. Braun and freshman Brandon Noel.

The 6-foot-9 Braun emerged just before league play and averaged 5.4 and 3.0 rebounds.

The 6-8 Noel (pronounced knoll) has battled a knee injury and has redshirted twice. But the Chillicothe High School product is the complete package, according to Nagy.

“I think Brandon is going to be a very good player for us,” the coach said. “He’s very versatile, can guard anybody, shoots it, handles it, passes it.

“He’s finally to the point where he’s not worried about his knee anymore. We think he has a good chance to play a lot of minutes for us.”

Braun had 17 points on 8-of-9 shooting against league co-champ Purdue Fort Wayne and had three seven-rebound games. He shot a team-best 52.5% from the field.

“A.J. will make a big jump, for sure, and (Basile’s departure) opens the door for him,” Nagy said.

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Wright State guard Tim Finke (24) shoots against Arizona during the first half of a first-round NCAA college basketball tournament game, Friday, March 18, 2022, in San Diego. (AP Photo/Denis Poroy)

Credit: Denis Poroy

Wright State guard Tim Finke (24) shoots against Arizona during the first half of a first-round NCAA college basketball tournament game, Friday, March 18, 2022, in San Diego. (AP Photo/Denis Poroy)

Credit: Denis Poroy

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Wright State guard Tim Finke (24) shoots against Arizona during the first half of a first-round NCAA college basketball tournament game, Friday, March 18, 2022, in San Diego. (AP Photo/Denis Poroy)

Credit: Denis Poroy

Credit: Denis Poroy

Third-year coach Dennis Gates has left Cleveland State after back-to-back regular-season co-championships to take over at Missouri.

The Vikings would have been rebuilding anyway after losing a bevy of seniors. And Oakland is expected to take a step back with league co-player of the year Jamal Cain graduating.

That means the Raiders might go into next season as the preseason favorites, especially with what they’ve got coming back on the perimeter.

Tanner Holden, a two-time first-team all-league pick, finished second in the HL in scoring (20.1), seventh in rebounding (7.1), fifth in field-goal percentage (49.7%) and eighth in foul shooting (78.9%).

The 6-6 wing set school records for free throws made and attempted by going 221 of 280. In the history of the Horizon League, which officially goes back to 1982, only Oakland’s Kay Felder, who went 239 of 282 in 2015-16, has topped that.

Holden is up to 1,481 career points (11th on the school’s all-time list). And if he has a healthy senior year, he’ll likely become only the second Raider to reach 2,000 points.

Bill Edwards scored 2,303 from 1989-93. Holden’s 723 points this season are the second most behind Edwards’ 757 in 1992-93.

Trey Calvin also has blossomed into a star. He was 12th in the conference in scoring (14.6) and assists (3.4) as a junior this season, and he made 85.1% of his free throws, helping the team set the single-season program record at 76.8%.

The 6-foot point guard finished on a high note, too, averaging 18.2 points and 4.3 assists in the last six games.

Tim Finke averaged only 8.8 points, but the 6-5 senior-to-be seldom came off the floor because of his defensive prowess, averaging a team-best 36.1 minutes.

Nagy wasn’t afraid to go to his bench this season, and a couple of neophytes gained valuable experience.

Keaton Norris was one of only four players to appear in all 36 games, making eight starts. The 6-foot freshman averaged 3.2 points and had the fourth-most 3′s with 29.

Andrew Welage, a 6-6 wing, averaged 4.1 points and was fifth in 3′s with 22.

“You expect your freshmen, as they go along and get playing time, to keep developing and gain more confidence. We’re certainly happy with them,” said Nagy, who puts Welage, who’s actually a sophomore, in his freshmen group because he played so little last season.

“Trey made the biggest jump from what he was last year to what he did this year. You hope the younger guys — Keaton and A.J. and Andrew — can make those kinds of jumps.”

Alex Huibregtse, a 6-3 guard, will get a mulligan on his sophomore year after playing in only the first three games before needing back surgery.

“He can shoot it,” Nagy said. “One of the weaknesses of our team this year was shooting. He should help that.”

The Raiders resurrected their season after a 2-7 start, finishing 22-14. And their NCAA trip — and First Four victory over Bryant before a supportive UD Arena crowd — should whet their appetites for more.

“Being in the First Four was a tremendous experience for us. Having all those fans behind us — the four days were kind of a whirlwind deal,” Nagy said.

“But what means the most to me is how the players stuck together when it wasn’t easy.”

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