Defending League Champions look poised to repeat
Last year wasn’t quite the season that anyone imagined it would be for Wright State. The Raiders earned a share of the Horizon League Regular Season Championship and an automatic berth to the NIT, but after bringing back much of the team that won 25 games and earned a 14-seed in the 2018 NCAA Tournament the expectations were a bit higher.
There will be similarly high expectations for the team this year. Wright State was the only team with two All-League selections last year, and both Loudon Love and Billy Wampler will be back in action for the Raiders this season. Throw in two-time defending Horizon League Coach of the Year Scott Nagy and the Raiders have several components that that the rest of the league can’t contend with.
The biggest change for Wright State is the departure of a pair of Horizon League All-Defensive Team members. Losing guard Mark Hughes and big man Parker Ernsthausen will require some adjustments from the defensive-minded Nagy, particularly since the teams’ projected front court starters aren’t known for their defensive prowess.
Wright State did suffer an unexpected setback when Malachi Smith announced his intent to transfer shortly after being named to the league’s All-Freshman team. Smith, now a member of the Chattanooga Mocs, averaged 5.4 points and 2.9 rebounds per game and looked poised for a bigger role with the departing seniors. Still, it feels like the Raiders are reloading while the rest of the league rebuilds.
The key newcomer for Wright State this year looks to be Marist graduate transfer Aleksandar Dozic. Dozic – who averaged 7.0 points and 3.5 rebounds per game – fits perfectly into a Wright State that was in need of a role player in the front court to complement the standouts already on the team.
Jordan Ash looked like a potential replacement at point guard for Bryant McIntosh with Northwestern before injuries forced him to take a medical redshirt in 2019. He opted to graduate transfer to Wright State for his final year of eligibility. Ash averaged 2.1 points per game in his final full season with the Wildcats.
Redshirt freshman Grant Basile, who missed most of his initial freshman year with an injury, looked to be prepared to battle sophomore James Manns Jr. for the second starting spot in the post before Dozic committed. With just two backup bigs on the roster, he’ll now be competing with Manns to be the one Scott Nagy calls when Dozic or Louden Love needs rest.
Wright State’s three true freshmen recruits are in a tough spot this year as they all play on the perimeter. There won’t be much playing time left for Tanner Holden, Andre Harris or Trey Calvin with five of the team’s seven proven commodities being guards and wings. Nagy complimented Holden the most during the team’s trip to Italy in August, pointing out the freshman’s versatility as a reason he may play early. Nagy also mentioned that the team would likely only have an 8 or 9-man rotation, suggesting that there may not be room for more than one of the true freshmen to get into the action.
Cole Gentry – Like Wampler and Love, Gentry is a returning starter and double-digit scorer from last year’s team. He actually led the team in minutes played and he’s clearly the best option as a floor general. Gentry was also the team’s best player at creating turnovers last year. Northwestern graduate transfer Jordan Ash deserves mention here, but this is Gentry’s spot to lose.
Jaylon Hall – This was a legitimately difficult decision in a way that should have Wright State fans excited. Hall averaged 9.1 points per game as a freshman in 2018, but had his 2019 season cut short after just a game due to a shoulder injury. Skyelar Potter’s numbers last year didn’t stand out as much as Hall’s from the previous season, but the bouncy 6-foot-3 guard is exactly the type of player that sees his production rise dramatically with more experience. For the time being, the guy who figured to play 25 minutes a night last year gets the nod. With that said, don’t be surprised if Scott Nagy is finding ways to get Potter pseudo-starter minutes by the end of the season.
Bill Wampler – Wampler earned Second Team All-Horizon League honors last season . While there was never any doubt that he’d start, Nagy’s quotes following the Italy trip indicate they’re currently not sure what position he’ll be playing. While the glut of guards and lack of power forwards would seem to indicate they’re uncertain which forward spot will be his, he hasn’t demonstrated the rebounding skills to spend most of his defensive possessions in the paint. While small-ball lineups may be something Nagy experiments with – especially with a number of Horizon League teams lacking frontcourt depth – Wampler will likely spend most of his time on the wing.
Aleksandar Dozic – When the 2019 season ended, the biggest question mark for Wright State going forward was about who would step up and take the second spot in the post next to Loudon Love. That question appears to have been answered via the graduate transfer market. With no experienced players competing with him for the spot, Marist transfer Dozic figures to be in the starting lineup in November.
Loudon Love – Love earned First Team All-Horizon League honors as a sophomore last year after being named Second Team All-Horizon League and the league’s Freshman of the Year in 2018. He’s one of the top contenders for Horizon League Player of the Year. He’s obviously starting. The bigger question is about whether being the unquestioned best player on what looks like the definitive best team will be enough to get him Horizon League Player of the Year honors over Detroit Mercy sophomore Antoine Davis.
Love likely won’t be able to amass the counting stats that Davis musters, so if both players stay healthy and Wright State lives up to expectations it’ll be a matter of voter preference DASH and possibly about where the Titans finish in the standings. If Detroit Mercy folds in the wake of an APR-related postseason ban, a healthy Love would have an opportunity to win the award in a landslide. If the Titans band together and finish in the top half of the league with Davis posting similar numbers to last year, a debate will begin about whether willing your team to victory is more important than being the unquestioned best player on the best team.
Fresh off of winning a share of the Horizon League Regular Season title Wright State returns its three top scorers, brings back a key youngster from injury and fills its most glaring need with a solid graduate transfer. Meanwhile, the other regular season Co-Champion lost its star player and its head coach. Wright State was the favorite last year and appears to be an even more clear-cut favorite this year.
Despite losing several key players, the Raiders seemed to have a dream off-season. The team perfectly replaced departing players while bringing in talent that Scott Nagy will have to get creative to incorporate into the rotation in a way that maintains everyone’s ego.
Prediction: League Champions
Miss anything from Preview Week? Check it all out below: