The non-conference season has officially wrapped up for the Horizon League. All the teams in the regional Midwest now get the opportunity to sit down, enjoy their Christmas dinner, and take in the season so far and where the future of conference play will take them. For Wright State, it will be a much needed break from being bullied in the non-conference to a winless D1 record.
At the beginning of the season, it was very clear what the Raiders had signed up for: buy games. Having the second-strongest strength of schedule in the NCAA, the team spent the majority of November and December in other team’s stadiums, only taking breaks at home to take on NAIA’s Ohio Christian and Southern Indiana, as well as the early start to conference play with Youngstown and Robert Morris.
So Wright State’s uphill battle was obvious from the get-go. This being Hoffman’s sophomore year and with all of the old members from Katrina Merriweather’s time absconded, this would be the first test for Hoffman and her squad, which she was able to create her own squad using the transfer portal. Grabbing the top two scorers from her old gig at Cedarville, a promising freshman class, and some good veteran role-fillers in the transfer portal seemed to give promise to the season. How Wright State does in these early games will color perception from here on out.
To be blunt, it wasn’t pretty.
In D1 contests, the first time the Raiders didn’t lose by 20+ was to Youngstown, 7 games in. The squad has only crossed the 70 point threshold once, against a Bowling Green team who put up a century. At the end of non-conference, Wright State has one of the worst team defenses in the NCAA, ranking 343rd in scoring defense (79.3 PPG), third-to-last in rebounding margin (-15 RPG), second-to-last in FG% allowed (47.9%), and absolute last in offensive rebounds by a large margin (4.9 RPG).
Stats aren’t everything however, so instead I will just give my observations. The Raiders are without size and without players that can defend the post effectively. To make up for this, whenever the post is attacked through the dribble the Raiders condense around the player completely, leaving the arc undefended more times than not. At worst, the Raiders scramble and lose structure, which is especially egregious when five guards are on the field.
This isn’t to say that the Raiders don’t have bright spots. Their 3 point game is the second-best in the league by FG%, buoyed by Bryce Nixon shooting at a 47% clip, also a league best. The team feels lopsidedly built to score around the arc almost, with Bolender, Chappell, and Baumhower preferring to spend their time behind the line.
The offense isn’t bad, but it feels one-dimensional at times. I was watching the team try to drive to the rim only to get stuffed or lose control consistently in early play, forcing them to use their outside shooters to take potshots. This hasn’t failed per se, but relying on outside shooting 100% of the time, or even 50% as the data suggests, is not a recipe for success. In recent games, this has tightened up and strides have been made, but it hasn’t translated into a noticeable change on the scoreboard, at least not yet.
So how do the individual players stack up? As usual, I’ll give my impressions of the starters and other members seeing decent minutes.
Bryce Nixon – 11.9 PPG, 47% 3P%, Top Scorer in 5 games
The senior pickup from Santa Clara has been dominant from outside the arc, making shot after shot both while contested and open. After going nearly perfect in the game against Eastern Illinois, Nixon saw her minutes start to push into the thirties and more of her skill was allowed to be put on display. She has now become an all-around threat from the floor with defensive skill to boot, and is comfortably leading the Raiders in scoring and steals.
Isabelle Bolender – 7.9 PPG, 34% FG%, Top Scorer in 2 games
The other sniper on the team, Bolender has a steady, efficient shot that can’t be ignored and is able to drive the rim and take shots underneath. But here’s the interesting part about Bolender: she shoots as often from 3 as anywhere else and somehow is more accurate from 3. She has been in a bit of slump offensively since the early start of conference play, and will need to get some
Emily Chapman – 7.6 PPG, 44% FG%, Top Scorer in 2 games
The Cedarville transferred that was probably the most hyped coming into the season, Chapman has been a steady presence on the floor for the Raiders. This has been a difficult transition for the point guard and it’s been due to size. At 5’5″, she’s been covered and stuffed multiple times by the much bigger non-conference opponents, and has turned over the ball the most on her team as a result. Time will tell if this will get easier in the relatively smaller teams of the Horizon, but it’s worth noting that her FG% shows what she’s been able to accomplish regardless, and the stellar game against Tennessee shows there’s still plenty to show of Chapman.
Makiya Miller – 7.7 PPG, 39% FG%, Freshman OTW Award from Horizon
The mobile guard out of Reynoldsburg OH has been seeing increasing time as the season has gone on because she brings something the team is lacking: paint penetration. In a style that reminds me of Kim Demmings, Miller can take the ball from key to paint to rim with such speed that makes it difficult for defenders to keep up with. The issue is how long Miller can stay on the floor; her defense is a sore spot for the Raiders as she tends to foul early and often with reach-ins and contact on shots.
Cara VanKempen – 4.8 PPG, 42% FG%, 2.4 RPG
The only forward on the team, if you’re looking at playtime. VanKempen leads the team in blocks and provides the height underneath. As fellow forwards Rachel Loobie and Catalina Ion have not seen nearly as much time as anybody else inhabiting the bench, it would be remiss of me to harp on the issue at the forward position. Cara VanKempen has been doing as well of a job as they can underneath, but I do wish they would be able to create separation for themselves to get more post play going.
Kacee Baumhower – 6.8 PPG, 31% FG%, 3.4 RPG
Another transfer portal grab for Hoffman, Baumhower has been the sixth woman of the squad, providing a flexible attack and decent rebound power. At 3.4 RPG, she leads the team in rebounding efforts. She’s also one of the more common three-point shooters on the team, but at 20% the shots just haven’t been falling as often as they should for them to be classified as a threat on the outside. Baumhower has recently been tidying up those shots more often, so maybe it was just a matter of playing more level competition.
Channing Chappell – 4.3 PPG, 33% FG%, 13 MPG
As the only holdover, Channing Chappell gets the unfortunate pleasure of being the only person I can gauge from last year. Chappell was a decently mobile point guard that could score from three on a dime last year, getting starting minutes the whole year and being the only member to do so. This year, none of the mobility is there, Chappell is making poor shooting decisions all around, and she is being relegated to bench minutes.
Taylor Johnson-Matthews – 4.0 PPG, 51% FG%, 12 MPG
The other freshman seeing decent minutes, Johnson-Matthews was dominant at the start, laying in layup after layup against Bowling Green, and has been relatively muted since. As the freshman that I was personally most excited to see, I’m hoping conference play allows Taylor and their near perfect post play to make some waves against the Horizon.
Conference play begins in earnest for the Raiders against NKU (which has already happened and resulted in a 73-50 beating by the Norse) and then again on Sunday against Horizon Champion IUPUI.