Wright State basketball: Raiders set to open unique Horizon League schedule

Wright State's Tanner Holden during a game against Bowling Green on Dec. 13, 2020. Joseph Craven/Wright State Athletics
Wright State's Tanner Holden during a game against Bowling Green on Dec. 13, 2020. Joseph Craven/Wright State Athletics

FAIRBORN -- Wright State is getting ready to open Horizon League play on the road this weekend. But traveling these days with COVID-19 means the trip will lack some of the usual amenities.

“The biggest thing is the league doesn’t really want you going out and eating. You just order your food,” coach Scott Nagy said. “So, you get a lot of cold food, and you just sit in your hotel room and stare at each other.

“It’s not super exciting to be on the road right now.”

>>RELATED: Nagy reflects on ‘great team win’

Meal time isn’t the only thing that’ll be different. The league has scheduled 10 consecutive weekends of back-to-back games, five on the road and five at home. And Nagy believes that format will be a challenge — even though the lack of fans could make it less daunting on visitors.

“Look at the NBA playoffs, how difficult it is for a team to win two games in a row. As soon as you win, the other team has the motivational advantage, and human nature takes over. They just are going to have more desire, more fire, a bigger reason to win the next game,” he said.

“All the (league) teams are good. None of the teams are afraid of each other. And when you’re in that situation, it doesn’t matter how much you think you WANT to win. If you won the game prior, the other team just has a focus to them that’s hard to get unless you’ve been beaten.”

The Raiders (2-1), who play Detroit Mercy (1-3) at 2 p.m. Saturday and Sunday, won the league last year with a 15-3 record — the most conference wins in their history.

They also were co-champs with Northern Kentucky the year before at 13-5.

Butler holds the record for league wins by going 18-0 in 2009-10, and three teams have reached 16 victories: Green Bay in 1995-96, Butler in 2007-08 and Valparaiso in 2015-16.

Could we see another 16-win champ with schools playing two more games? Perhaps. But Nagy, whose team is the overwhelming preseason favorite, believes Butler’s all-time mark of 18 is safe.

“It’s too hard to say what the records will be, but I don’t think you’ll see anybody go 18-2. I just think that’s going to be way too difficult to do with this format,” he said.

“It’s a very, very difficult thing to beat a college team two times in a row. But the focus will be on the first game. And when you get through the first game, the focus will be on the second.”

Wright State players are actually looking forward to getting away. Preseason practices have been so disrupted that they haven’t been able to build their usual connections with teammates.

“With Covid this year, we really weren’t all together in the locker room. We’ve had to break down in groups,” sophomore Tanner Holden said. “We didn’t have that chemistry we had last year on and off the court.

“This year, our road trips are going to be more team oriented. You’re not going to be going out to eat anywhere. You’re not going to be seeing things. You’re going to be in your room, and you’ll hang out with friends and build bonds that way.”

Asked if video-game competition will be part of the agenda, Holden said: “Oh yeah … 2K, Madden, Call of Duty, all of that.”

All conference teams are scheduled to be in action this weekend except Robert Morris and Cleveland State, who had to cancel their opening weekend because of Covid issues.

Below is a list of capsules of the rest of the Horizon League teams. Teams listed by preseason poll rank behind Wright State (records in parenthesis):

Youngstown State (3-0): The Penguins have had a soft schedule, but they have the league’s top two scorers in 6-6 forward Naz Bohannon (22.5 average) and 6-1 guard Darius Quisenberry, a Wayne grad (19.0). Bohannon is a preseason second-team all-league pick, while Quisenberry made the first team.

Northern Kentucky (2-3): The Norse have developed a rivalry with Wright State as perennial league contenders. They were hard hit by graduation and have lost their last two games, including a 66-60 defeat at Dayton. Junior guard Trevon Faulkner, who has made 65 career starts, is averaging 17.4 points.

Robert Morris (1-0): The Colonials are expected to be instant contenders as newcomers to the league. They went 20-14 last season and won the Northeast Conference tourney, earning an NCAA berth before the tourney was shut down. They’ve reached the postseason nine of the last 13 years. Senior forward A.J. Bramah made the All-NEC second team.

UIC (3-2): The Flames, who finished 18-17 last season, knocked off Wright State in the conference semifinals before falling to Northern Kentucky in the title game. They have a win over Valparaiso this year but have dropped their last two to Ball State and Loyola (Ill.). They’ve won four of the last five meetings with the Raiders. Teyvion Kirk leads the league in assists at 8.0 per game.

Oakland (0-7): The Grizzlies, who went 14-19 last season, took Michigan to overtime but have lopsided losses to Michigan State, Xavier, Oklahoma State and Purdue. Rashad Williams, a preseason second-team all-league pick, is averaging 14.2 points.

Cleveland State (0-3): The Vikings, who went 11-21 last season, haven’t had a home game but gave Ohio State a scare in a 67-61 loss this week. They’ve had trouble scoring, averaging a league-low 56 points. Torrey Patton, a 6-5 senior from Trotwood-Madison, averaged 11.7 last season and torched Wright State twice with a pair of 21-point games.

Green Bay (0-4): The Phoenix, which went 17-16 last season, has a preseason first-team all-league pick in Trotwood-Madison product Amari Davis, who is averaging 13.3 points. Despite being winless, three of its losses have been to Wisconsin, Marquette and Minnesota on the road. GB has been tough on the Raiders, having gone 2-3 the last two years.

Detroit Mercy (1-3): The Titans, who finished 8-23 last season, pushed Michigan State and Notre Dame into the final minutes before losing on the road. They beat Western Michigan in their last outing. They have one of the nation’s most prolific scorers in junior guard Antoine Davis. He averaged 26.1 points and 24.3 his first two seasons. He’s at 18.3 so far this year.

Milwaukee (1-1): The Panthers, who went 12-19 last season, haven’t had a home game. They lost to Kansas State by one and beat Western Michigan by eight. DeAndre Gholston, who started his career at Kent State, is averaging a team-best 14.0 points.

Purdue Fort Wayne (1-0): The Mastodons went 14-19 last season and finished seventh in the Summit League. They were 0-2 against the Horizon League, losing to UIC and IUPUI. But they were 18-15, 18-15, 20-13 and 24-10 the previous four years. Jarred Godfrey averaged 15.6 points and 3.5 assists last season while leading the conference with 41 steals.

IUPUI (1-0): Like Robert Morris and Purdue Fort Wayne, the Jaguars, who went 7-25 last season, have been hard hit by the virus. Their only game was a 69-66 home win over Tennessee State. Marcus Burk, a preseason first-team all-league pick, was second in the HL in scoring last season with a 21.3 average, while Elyjah Goss was the top rebounder last year with an 11.5 average.

SATURDAY’S GAME

Wright State at Detroit Mercy, 2 p.m., ESPN3, 106.5

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