Building the highs while addressing the lows
In 2022, the Wright State Raiders were looking to take the non-conference competition by surprise early in the season with a thrilling double overtime loss to A10 champion Davidson and a buzzer beater stunner against Louisville. After losing Tanner Holden and Grant Basile to the transfer portal, it seemed like the Raiders were very much alive and ready to contend early in the season.
Unfortunately, none of those three teams were as good as advertised. Davidson finished the A10 conference season a measly 8-10, a far cry from their performance the season prior where they not only won the conference but also clinched an at-large bid to the tournament. Louisville was laughably weak, something that had been documented prior to Wright State showing them up on their home court. Wright State’s turn to be shown the spotlight would be in the initial round of conference play where they took three straight early losses and would later on seesaw their record in the .500 range. The Raiders, unlike Louisville and Davidson however, were a good team with an Achilles heel: team defense.
“I think one of the biggest things is defense, I think our defense lacked a lot last year,” Brandon Noel replied when asked about what he identified as needing to be worked on. “I don’t think we… last year were where our standard is and where we’ve been in the past.” The Raiders did not have a positive rebounding rate last year, but did maintain a high scoring margin due to the explosiveness of the offense.
In the Horizon, despite losing two of the three top scorers in the league to the portal, Wright State finished with an 80 points per game margin, just two points shy of the Horizon League regular season champion Youngstown State. This year, no such destruction. Wright State had three players transfer out – Amari Davis and two walk ons – one player retire in Blake Sisley, and brought in one player through the transfer portal in Bo Myers, a D2 standout.
Well… two technically. Tanner Holden, who had previously went to Ohio State to fulfill a dream only to be relegated as a healthy scratch, has returned to the fold and Raiders fans are more than happy to see him again. The problem lies in the NCAA deciding to crack down on two-time transfers almost immediately following Holden’s commitment back to the green and gold. According to Coach Nagy, we may not see the HL First Team selection again until later in the season, which has made it awkward to develop cohesiveness in practice.
Beyond that, no starters or other key members of the bench transferred, and it’s a testament to the resilience of Nagy’s squads and his system to be able to keep his talents on his bench instead of trying the transfer portal lotto.
“That’s the way we know we can be good at Wright State, is to go recruit good players and then keep them in our system,” Nagy remarked at the Horizon League media conference.
Keeping around an offense that produces 80 points while the other contenders in the conference all lose a major piece or two means that the Raiders are poised to jump back into contention this season. The lineup should be familiar to Raiders fans…
Projected Starting Lineup
G Trey Calvin – For the final time, Trey Calvin will take up the green and gold and attempt to bring another championship to the Raider faithful. Calvin stepped up to the plate in a big way, leading the Raiders as the primary point guard and performing outstanding feats in the clutch. As a first team selection last year averaging 20 points per game, and seemingly as many buzzer beaters, Trey Calvin is the torchbearer for the hopes of the Raiders this season.
F Brandon Noel – Brandon Noel returns technically as the oldest sophomore in the lineup, having been redshirted two seasons before his opening tour where he earned Freshman of the Year honors. Those two years clearly did him wonders as he sat and learned, using what he took to own the paint in rebounds and points, earning top five categories in both. Now, the onus is on him to repeat that performance as best he can as everyone is now aware of what he can do – the league has seemingly gotten bigger recruits as a direct result.
C AJ Braun – Joining the big man duo with Noel, AJ Braun is a more lightweight center with the ability to impact play and shift movement to where he needs to be to score. As Braun earns more minutes and points as an efficient tandem, and with no dreams of shooting off the arc like Noel, Noel and Braun will have some work to do this season on the turnover issues they were having last year.
G Alex Huibregtse – Huibregtse returns after having the season of his life, scoring 24 points in a career game against Purdue Fort Wayne late into the season. After becoming the reliable three point shooter last season during conference time, usurping Tim Finke for the title, Huibregtse helped push a changed offense that led to a resurgence of the Raiders down the stretch. Tag teaming outside shooting with Welage, the junior will be looking to stand out this season as an outside option when the interior play gets dicey.
G Drey Carter – Redshirted last season, Carter now gets the opportunity to show off some of the skill and presence he had in high school. In Italy, he scored 10 points in both matchups and had some impressive highlights as a small forward. He has the makings of a great starter and has taken the time on the bench to develop his skills. This is a little bit of an off-the-wall pick, but Carter seems consistent in his play and could be the starter down the stretch.
G Tanner Holden – I’m going to be very honest here, Tanner Holden is here in the reserves section as a formality. Holden has the talent to be a juggernaut on his own and the knowledge of Calvin’s and by some extension Noel’s playstyles on the court to make his transition back to Wright State relatively seamless. But as news of other waivers roll out and as each one in a slightly similar scenario gets denied, I can’t help but tap my foot. What’ll it be, NCAA? Quit messing around with will-they-won’t-they, is Tanner Holden getting to play this season or do we have to wait until the other half of the dynamic duo is out of eligibility?
G Keaton Norris – With Calvin last year taking primary call duties more often than not, Norris had a much quieter 2023 season, only putting through an average of 3 PPG in the time spent on the floor. If Tanner regains the floor, Norris would make the most sense to look to take back over the role, allowing Calvin and Holden to take the 2 and 3 slots again. Tim Finke is no longer around to provide defensive support in mid court, and Norris provides a solution if that poses an issue early on.
G Andrew Welage – Welage was a key component to the long range attack later in the season, as I’m sure Milwaukee can attest after having 19 points rained upon them in a career game. When Welage has the rim locked on, he is automatic and shoots with ice. He’s also been a pleasant surprise on defense, coming from nowhere at times to defend the rim. Welage has been a consistent scoring presence off the bench, averaging 50% FG% last year to go with a team leading 47% 3FG%.
G Bo Myers – Coming from D2 Malone alongside partner and fellow WBB Raider Alexis Hutchison, Bo Myers is a wild card in the roster of otherwise established D1 talents. The D2 list of accomplishments is no joke, having averaged about 16 points per game and 6 rebounds per game in his career, and so Myers could be a punch from the bench or someone to clean up the boards in crunch time. More importantly, Myers is a senior presence from a system outside of Nagy’s and, as Coach Nagy said himself, can help provide a perspective and experience they haven’t seen before.
Freshmen – The Italy trip for the Raiders gave us a sneak peak of what to expect from the new recruits coming in for this season. If you didn’t catch the tweets from the trip, or the sick video of Drey Carter dunking on a 7’4 center, one of the highlights was G Kaden Brown knocking in 36 points in the two games played. Something to look forward to, but probably not this season.
Let’s split this up into two scenarios shall we?
With Holden – There’s no reason that should the band get back together again, the whole Horizon League wouldn’t feel the vibrations as the Raiders storm their courts and smother them. Having not one but two conference First Teamers on one squad would be an instant recipe for success in any other league, and with Brandon Noel filling Grant Basile’s slot, the future is so bright I would need sunscreen. All it would take on Coach Nagy’s part would be reweaving those fabrics together to create another dynamo squad, and this time Nagy would also have access to a bench that has seen oodles of success. Tanner Holden elevates the squad to a 1st place ballot.
Without Holden – In the scenario where Holden would have to spend a year at Wright State waiting his turn, the hopes of the squad run through its defense. The good news with developing a defense is that when you have established schemes that can be tuned with existing players, the process becomes a tad easier. The bad news is one of the key components of said defensive scheme, Tim Finke, has graduated and someone else will need to fill that slot. The Raiders can manage this to achieve success, especially in the tournament where only one will make it out alive.
HoriZone Roundtable Prediction
Miss anything from Preview Week? Check it all out below:
Preview Week Recap Part 1 | Preview Week Recap Part 2