The Wright State Raiders will not be returning to the NCAA tournament this year, but the season isn’t over for coach Scott Nagy’s team, either.
The Raiders, who lost 77-66 to Northern Kentucky in the Horizon League tournament championship game Tuesday night, are guaranteed a bid to the NIT because they were the No. 1 seed in their conference tournament.
Here are five things to know about the Raider men and their future:
1. The Raiders’ appearance in the NIT will be their first.
Wright State missed an opportunity to make back-to-back NCAA tournament appearances for the first time in school history, but the Raiders can still make some program history.
Despite posting 11 winning seasons in the last 13 years, they have never been to the NIT, which was once a more prestigious tournament than the NCAA’s version.
Wright State has played in the NCAA tournament three times, losing in the first round to Indiana in 1993, Pittsburgh in 2008 and Tennessee last year.
In 2013, the Raiders played in the College Basketball Invitational tournament, and a year later they were part of the CollegeInsider.com Tournament.
2. Where to next?
Dratings.com projects the Raiders to receive a No. 7 seed in the NIT, though the NIT bracketology is more volatile than the NCAA tournament version because of automatic bids for regular season champions who are upset in their conference tournament.
Although the NIT culminates at Madison Square Garden in New York City, early round games are played on campus sites.
3. The NIT field could be fairly fascinating from a local standpoint.
Wright State is highly unlikely to be the only team from Southwest Ohio in the 2019 NIT.
Dayton and Xavier could still make the Big Dance by winning the Atlantic 10 and Big East tournaments, respectively, but the Flyers and Musketeers won’t be going otherwise.
Could there be a renewal of the Battle of I-75 in the NIT? Or perhaps even postseason edition of the Gem City Jam?
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Dayton is projected as a No. 4 seed in the NIT while XU is a five according to Dratings.com.
Ohio State could end up in the NIT, too, especially if the Buckeyes lose to Indiana in the first round of the Big Ten tournament on Thursday. That is widely viewed as an NCAA at-large elimination game, especially for former Dayton coach Archie Miller’s Hoosiers, who might still need to do more work to get in even if they beat the Buckeyes.
4. “If it doesn’t hurt, something’s wrong.”
Nagy was disappointed his team couldn’t do much to slow down the Norse in the Horizon League tournament final, but he put the season in perspective afterward.
“Everybody has sat up here and said oh we faced the adversity but what our guys did, I’m really proud of ‘em,” Nagy said. “It just goes without saying. At one point we were 8-10 and 2-3 in the league and we won the league, so I love the effort our guys gave us.
“I told them today honestly just how much I admire ‘em for how hard they played this year. It’s been an incredible thing for me to watch to the point where as a coach it almost brings me to tears because they’ve just given us everything we’ve asked of them. Sometimes it’s not enough, but it’s OK for it to hurt. That’s OK, it should hurt. If it doesn’t, there’s something wrong.”
5. See you next year?
The budding WSU-NKU rivalry probably won’t cool down soon.
The Raiders and Norse, who shared the Horizon League regular season championship, both featured seniors who were major contributors this season, but they have talented players scheduled to return.
For Wright State, that is All-Horizon League big man Loudon Love along with point guard Cole Gentry, sharp-shooter Bill Wampler and promising freshmen Malachi Smith and Skyelar Potter.
The return of wing Jaylon Hall from injury should boost the Raiders next season, too, while Nagy signed four players to his 2019 recruiting class last fall.
All-Ohio forward Tanner Holden of Wheelersburg headlines that group, which also includes Andre Harris of Lyndhurst Brush in northeast Ohio, Noah Friedel of Tea Area High School in South Dakota and Trey Calvin of St. Viator High School in Illinois.
NKU loses Horizon League Player of the Year Drew McDonald and guard Zaynah Robinson to graduation, but all-league defender Jalen Tate and fellow double-digit scorers Tyler Sharpe and Dantez Walton are among those with eligibility remaining.
“They’re a true champion in terms of how they run their program and certainly the game tonight, they’re a team you have to beat,” NKU coach John Brannen said of the Raiders on Tuesday night. “They’re not going to beat themselves.”