Wright State will be idle 10 days between its last regular-season game and the Horizon League semifinals Monday. And coach Scott Nagy is trying to find a balance between giving his players much-needed rest and keeping them sharp.
He gave them a break over the weekend after clinching the outright league title at Northern Kentucky on Friday — the first time they’ve had consecutive days off since just before Christmas.
He also set aside Thursday for R&R to help them recover.
But when it’s time to practice, he expects them to go full tilt.
“We’re trying to keep our edge, practicing hard. We’re not make decisions out of fear that someone will get hurt,” he said.
Of the layoff, he added: “People say it’s a disadvantage. Whatever. Anybody else would rather be in our position.”
The Raiders shook off their malaise of the previous week in a 64-62 win at Northern Kentucky. After getting outrebounded by a combined 30 against Youngstown State and Cleveland State, they had a 46-37 edge against the Norse.
And while they sputtered offensively, Nagy had a relatively stress-free night because of how dialed in his players seemed.
“I told our team, ‘The way you were in that Northern Kentucky game was why I was able to be so relaxed as a coach,’” he said. “You could tell there wasn’t anybody that made it about them. It was all about whatever the team needed. Everybody just gave toward that. If we just stay there, we’ll be in a pretty good spot.”
The Raiders, who will find out their opponent after the quarterfinals Thursday, are going into the tourney as the clear favorite. Not only have they earned national respect — they’re ranked 11th in the Collegeinsider.com Mid-Major Top 25 — but the rest of the conference is operating at something less than peak form.
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The league has a collective 149-167 record — the third straight year it’s had a sub-.500 mark.
That’s not been the norm historically. The conference posted winning records in 12 straight seasons from 2005-17.
Wright State has a NET ranking of 119 (out of 353 Division-I teams), and NKU is 153.
But Oakland has the next-best rating at 219, and three teams are in the 300’s.
“I think in order for us to get our NET up, we have to play more home games,” Nagy said. “To do that, some of the schools are going to have to commit to playing less ‘buy’ games, the guarantee games, and commit to having buy games.”
Major-conference schools — and even some just below the top tier — offer payouts in the $100,000 range to lesser teams to fill out their non-league schedules. For financially strapped programs, they’re hard to turn down.
Detroit played at North Carolina State, Clemson, Wyoming, Notre Dame and Gonzaga, making a bundle but getting tagged with five losses.
“It takes a big commitment,” Nagy said of being the payers instead of the payees. “But when you play those buy games, it’s hard to be over .500 because you’re so beat up before the conference even starts. The conference is hard enough.”
The Horizon League is normally considered on par with the Mid-American Conference, but the MAC is the 12th-rated conference (out of 32) in the computer standings, while the Horizon is 23rd.
The Raiders played just one guarantee game in 2018-19 at Mississippi State and didn’t have any this season for the first time in years.
“I’m sure we’ll play some in the future, one or two a year. This year, it was a little bit odd we didn’t,” Nagy said.
“But we’re not going to do it because we need the money. We’ll do it because it’s the right fit, and it’s a game we think we can win.”
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