There is a giant No. 5 driving Wright State’s players this week, but it doesn’t represent the team’s current losing streak.
Instead, it’s the Horizon League tournament seed to which the seventh-place Raiders (11-15, 3-9) hope to ascend with a strong finish to the regular season, beginning tonight against Oakland (13-14, 8-4) at the Nutter Center.
“It’s crazy, but if we can win two (of the final four) games, we can go in as the 5 seed,” coach Billy Donlon said.
The No. 5 seed has significance for a couple of reasons. First, it comes with a first-round home game. And second, it’s the slot Wisconsin-Milwaukee came out of last year to win it all and earn a berth in the NCAA tournament.
But before the Raiders can talk about stringing together four wins in March, they need to find a way to end a losing streak that has seen them drop back-to-back home games against Illinois-Chicago and Youngstown State, teams that were below them in the standings.
And if WSU is going to end the skid this week, it’s going to have to beat a quality opponent with first-place Valparaiso lined up after tonight’s contest against fourth-place Oakland.
“Certainly with Oakland and Valpo, we’ve got our work cut out for us,” Donlon said. “It will definitely give us a real good idea where things stack up for us now moving forward.”
Senior guard Chrishawn Hopkins is supposed to return tonight after missing two games with a head injury following a Feb. 10 car crash, and more help could be on the way by the time the tournament tips off March 3 with the four other injured regulars showing progress.
In addition to the promise the future holds, Donlon said the pride of the past is something that has kept the players’ spirits and effort levels high through the rash of injuries and losses.
“It’s been hard on everybody, but there’s competitive guys in there,” Donlon said. “As I’ve told them, we have been the most consistent program in the Horizon League in my eight years (as an assistant and head coach), especially since Butler left.
“We finished third or better six times in the eight years,” he continued. “We’ve been to four championship games in eight years. We’ve won 10 games or more in seven of the eight years. So it’s a proud program, and you have to play for those kinds of things.”
Another piece of history worth noting is Oakland has never won at the Nutter Center, going 0-5 with Wright State winning by an average margin of 16.6 points.