Wright State coach Scott Nagy is finding the task of scheduling quality nonleague opponents tougher than ever after leading the Raiders to their first NCAA tournament bid in 11 years , so he said accepting a bid to the Cancun Challenge made sense for the program on several levels.
“If you do get one of them scheduled, usually you have to play those people at their place,” Nagy said. “These obviously are not easy games. These are top-level opponents. But if you can play them on a neutral floor, you certainly have a better chance.”
Wright State will play 2018 NIT champion Penn State and either Bradley or NCAA tournament participant SMU during the week of Thanksgiving at the Hard Rock Hotel Riviera Maya in Cancun, Mexico.
“The players that are going to be seniors on our basketball team have not been able to take a trip like this, so it’s nice that we can reward them,” Nagy said.
The eight-team tournament replaces the Wright State Tournament the tournaments the team had held at the Nutter Center the last two seasons against lower-level competition.
The Cancun Challenge begins with WSU playing a pair of home games before flying to Mexico for the final two games. WSU will play Western Carolina on Tuesday, Nov. 7 in the season opener and North Florida on Friday, Nov. 17.
The game against Penn State, a 26-win team last season, will be at 8:30 p.m. Tuesday, Nov. 21. If Wright State wins, it will play the SMU-Bradley winner on Wednesday, Nov. 22. If the Raiders lose to the Nittany Lions, they will face the loser of the SMU-Bradley game.
Both games in Cancun will be televised on the CBS Sports Network.
The team will fly home on Thanksgiving.
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Nagy said he and his assistants have participated in the Cancun Invitational twice during their time at South Dakota State, and they also took the Jackrabbits to a tournament in the Virgin Islands.
In addition to the challenge of playing quality opponents, the trips have a chance to be good bonding experiences.
“They can be, but if you go and lose games it doesn’t necessarily help things,” Nagy said. “This will be the toughest one we’ve ever played in for sure in terms of the competition level we have to play.”
In addition to winning games, the goal is to let the players have some fun and enjoy the experience.
“We try to let them do some stuff,” Nagy said. “It’s hard to mix the business/pleasure thing. Like my wife, she doesn’t even go on the trips because knows it’s not really a vacation. And I’m definitely not in that mode.
“But I’m not crazy either,” he added. “I don’t make the guys just stay in the room and do nothing. We certainly want them to be able to enjoy this as much as possible outside of basketball.
According to a press release from the university, seating is limited for the games in Cancun and travel packages are the only way to guarantee admission to the games.