Wright State expects to have tough tests (and maybe some fun) in Vegas

FAIRBORN — The Wright State basketball team plays in a Thanksgiving holiday tournament every year, the last four taking them to vacation destinations.

But while the players, assistants and their families view those events as a highlight on the schedule, coach Scott Nagy doesn’t exactly give off a fun-in-the-sun type of vibe. He’d probably be just as content playing three games at a local YMCA.

The Raiders left Saturday for Las Vegas to play in the inaugural Vegas 4 tourney Monday through Wednesday, facing solid mid-major competition in Abilene Christian, UC Riverside and Weber State.

They went to the Naples Invitational last year, the Gulf Coast Showcase in Estero, Fla., in 2019 and the Cancun Challenge the year before that.

Nagy, though, generally stays in work mode. If the Raiders aren’t practicing or playing, he’s usually hunkered down in his hotel room, studying tape and strategizing.

“I know we’re staying on the Strip. For my own preferences, I wish we weren’t,” Nagy said before leaving. “The problem is, I’ve been to Vegas way too many times because of recruiting. I’d probably choose to go ANYWHERE but there.

“But I’m sure a lot of our guys haven’t been there. I think going out Saturday, we’ll be able to relieve some of that need to get out on the Strip and do some of those things.”

Though they probably won’t be frequenting the casinos, the players certainly are ready for the bright lights of Vegas.

“I think our coaches do a really good job (about allowing free time),” said redshirt sophomore guard Alex Huibregtse (pronounced HUE-brex). “I have teammates from high school who are at other schools, and they practice forever.

“Coach Nagy does a good job of getting us in and out.”

MTE’s, or multi-team events, have become a staple of college basketball. The Maui Invitational is still the most prestigious tourney, but even obscure ones are rising in popularity.

Not counting the roughly 30 held on campuses, there are about 60 with fields ranging from four to eight teams.

For a school looking to bolster its NCAA resumé, MTE’s help in getting a shot at top-notch foes that are very selective about taking true road games.

The team-bonding aspect is important, of course. They also are good preparation for conference tournaments when teams will be forced to play on consecutive days.

Another draw is squeezing in extra games. Schools can play 31 games if three come in an MTE, but only 29 with no tourney.

Nagy’s first two holiday events at Wright State were ideal for him, hosting three games at the Nutter Center in 2016 and ‘17.

The Raiders went 3-0 both years, beating CSU Bakersfield, North Dakota and North Florida in the first and Gardner-Webb, Jacksonville and Fairfield in the second.

They haven’t fared quite as well at neutral sites.

They lost to Penn State and SMU in Cancun. In 2019, they beat Weber State and Miami (Ohio) but lost to La Salle. And in 2021, they went 0-3, getting swept by George Washington, James Madison and Long Beach State.

They had to drop out of the 2020 Illinois tourney because of COVID-19.

“We’re probably in a better spot now than where we were with last year’s team,” said Nagy, referring to the rocky early stretch while adjusting to the departure of Loudon Love. “Really, I’m in a better spot, too.

“I wasn’t in a very good spot last year (after the death of his father). But I’m more focused. And I think our team has more confidence. We have a better idea of who we are with this team than we did last year. I think these kids feel like there’s a lot to prove.”

The Vegas 4 tourney will be played at the 5,567-seat Dollar Loan Center in Henderson, a Las Vegas suburb. The arena is home to an NBA G League team and minor-league hockey.

Each of the four teams in the event was picked to finish in the top half of its league: Wright State third in the Horizon League, Abilene Christian fourth in the WAC, Weber State fourth in the Big Sky and UC Riverside fifth in the Big West.

After playing Abilene Christian at 7:30 p.m. Monday, the Raiders face UC Riverside at 10 p.m. Tuesday and Weber State at 4 p.m. Wednesday.

“I don’t pay attention to this stuff, but my assistants tell me right now we’d be a ‘dog in two of them,” said Nagy, meaning underdog.

“It doesn’t matter how well-known these programs are. We know we’ll be facing good teams.”

ABILENE CHRISTIAN (1-2): The Wildcats fell, 77-58, at Texas A&M one year after losing in a double-overtime thriller to the Aggies. They have wins over Jackson State and Division-III McMurry. … They reached the championship game of the WAC tourney last season, losing in the finals to No. 1 seed New Mexico State. They played in the College Basketball Invitational and beat Troy and Ohio U. before falling to Middle Tennessee State on their way to a 25-11 record. … They returned just eight players from that team, but 6-5 senior guard Airion Simmons is back after being named second-team All-WAC.

UC RIVERSIDE (1-2): The Highlanders, who hosted Division-III Occidental on Saturday night, have one-sided losses to Colorado and Creighton on the road, but they came back from an 18-point deficit to win at Loyola Marymount, 81-79. They’re led by 6-4 senior guard Zyon Pullin, who was named to the six-player preseason all-league team. He averaged 15.3 points and 4.3 assists last season. UC Santa Barbara was named the Big West favorite, followed by Hawaii and Long Beach State. … UC Riverside went 16-12 overall and 9-6 in the league last season. One of its wins came at Arizona State on a 75-foot buzzer-beater by J.P. Moorman II.

WEBER STATE (1-2): The Wildcats lost by 17 at Washington, beat Western Colorado and fell by 25 at Colorado State. … Sophomore forward Dillon Jones was named second-team all-conference last season. He averaged 12.6 points and finished seventh in the country with 10.6 rebounds per game. He’s the only returning starter from a team that finished 21-12 overall and 13-7 in the conference. … Eric Duft is in his first year as coach. He joined the staff in 2006 and replaces Randy Rahe, who retired after last season.

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