Wright State basketball: Shorter season still taking a toll on Raiders

FAIRBORN — Wright State coach Scott Nagy has learned one thing about the retooled Horizon League schedule of back-to-back games every weekend: He wouldn’t want to do it again.

The Raiders have played seven consecutive times on a Friday and Saturday or a Saturday and Sunday. And while they’re faring well, trailing first-place Cleveland State by one game with six to go, it’s not been easy.

“The weekends are very draining, emotionally and physically. I’m sure it’s that way for everybody,” said Nagy, who eases back into practice after games with only one light workout over the next two days.

“I just know on Sundays, I’m shot, and our players have to be, too.”

The Raiders played both weekends before the league started. And while there have been far fewer games, teams are still reaching the dog days of the season.

“Practice this time of year — I’ve been through it so many times — it’s hard,” Nagy said. “Even when you’re on a team with something to play for, it’s hard. I can’t imagine being the other where you don’t have a lot to play for, how difficult that would be.

“But in terms of practice, I’m most thankful for guys like (subs) Andre Harris, James Manns, Andy Neff and T.J. Nagy, who don’t get to play — particularly the scholarship guys, Andre and James. They’re good enough to play for us (but are still waiting their turns). They have to come every day and work hard and keep good attitudes. If I’ve been impressed with anybody, it’s been those two.”

The Raiders (13-4, 11-3) play at UIC (8-7, 5-5) on Friday and Saturday. And while Northern Kentucky is their clear rival, the Flames have given the Raiders the most trouble of late.

They’ve won four of the last five meetings, including a stunning 73-56 win in the league tourney semifinals last season.

Despite that success, the school fired fifth-year coach Steve McClain in the offseason.

“The thing about UIC this year, particularly during the league, they’ve not been healthy,” Nagy said. “You look at their stats and players, only four have played all 10 conference games. They’ve had injuries, family tragedies, Covid — all that stuff go through their team. But they’re healthy now, and all their guys played last week.”

Nagy, who isn’t one to engage in hyperbole, added: “Without question — WITHOUT QUESTION — they’re the most talented team in the league. In my opinion, it’s not even close.”

Moving up: Nagy is 104-47 in his fifth season at Wright State and will likely move into second place on the all-time win list before the season is over.

His predecessor, Billy Donlon, went 108-94 from 2010-16.

Nagy and Oakland’s Greg Kampe are the only Horizon League coaches with 100 wins at their schools. They’re also the only ones with 500 in their careers.

But the 54-year-old Nagy will have a hard time catching the Raiders’ all-time leader, the late Ralph Underhill. He went 356-162 from 1978-96.

An extra step: The league tourney will have a new format with Robert Morris and Purdue Fort Wayne coming aboard, and it’s made the path to the title more treacherous for the Raiders.

Instead of a double-bye into the semifinals for the top two seeds, there will be single byes for the first four teams into the quarterfinals. They’ll play a home game March 2.

The semifinals and finals are March 8-9 at Indiana Farmers Coliseum.

The regular season ends Feb. 20, and seeds five through 12 will play in the first round Feb. 25.

“I like the double-bye, and I think we may get back to that. That’s best for the league,” Nagy said.

He believes the conference should do what it can to showcase its top teams when the finals are broadcast on ESPN, not put them more at risk of an upset.

But he’d want the tourney to be condensed, too. The top-seeded Raiders had a double-bye last year had nine days off before playing — and losing — in the league semifinals.

“If you get a lot of rest, you don’t gain an advantage with the double-bye,” he said.


Wright State at UIC, 8 p.m., ESPN+, 106.5

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