- Doug Harris Contributing Writer
Wright State will be playing short-handed until late December. That’s when leading returning scorer Grant Benzinger should be in peak shape again after offseason hernia surgery, and point guard Cole Gentry will be eligible after transferring.
But second-year coach Scott Nagy believes the Raiders have sufficient firepower to succeed starting Friday night at Loyola (Ill.), and he’s making sure his players still go into the season with high expectations instead of waiting until reinforcements arrive.
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“We have good enough players right now — if they show up and have the right mentality,” Nagy said. “If you think we’re (only) going to be good when those guys get back, that’s how we’re going to play. I’m not interested in it, and I don’t think those guys are either.”
The Raiders went 20-12 last season, and their 20 regular-season wins were the most since 2008. They had respectable RPI of 115.
They’re replacing three starters who averaged a combined 41 points and were picked fifth in the Horizon League preseason poll. But when Nagy looks at his personnel, he sees a conference contender.
“That’s the only way to think. It starts when we go up to Loyola — do you think you’re a championship team? If you do, even when you’re missing people, you’ll figure out how to win games,” he said.
“I’ve had teams that have done that. They had no business winning a game based on talent and depth and people being hurt. But kids get so used to winning, and they think they’re supposed to win.”
The Raiders were only about average statistically offensively and defensively last year. They scored 1.035 points per possession, which ranked 127th nationally. They gave up 1.016 points per possession, which was 180th.
The latter category concerns Nagy most.
“We have to be really good on drives and ball screens and other things because we just don’t have a rim protector,” he said. “We don’t have somebody sitting at the rim where, even if you make a mistake, is going to block shots. We have to be so good on the perimeter and not allow them to drive us and force them to take contested jump shots.”
The Raiders likely will get a bump offensively because they have a bona fide inside presence for the first time in years in Louden Love, a 6-foot-9, 275-pound redshirt-freshman.
“We have a better idea of what we want to do offensively, where we want the ball. It’s different than it was last year because we have a true post player,” Nagy said.
“When he’s in there, we’re trying to get the ball to him. And if he posts hard, and they have to help on him, other people are going to get shots.”
Another promising development is the emergence of junior wing Mark Hughes. He had 21 points in an exhibition win Friday over Wayne State (Neb.) and 24 in a scrimmage at home Nov. 1 against Toledo.
“He’s had a good summer and in particular a good fall,” Nagy said. “He’s been our best shooter. We haven’t had Grant, and when we have Grant back, we should be able to spread the floor pretty well with those two.”