Wright State basketball: Raiders close to claiming double bye in league tourney

Wright State University guard Cole Gentry covers Detroit Mercy forward Alonde LeGrand during their Horizon League game at the Nutter Center in Fairborn Thursday, Feb. 6, 2020. Wright State won 98-86. Contributed photo by E.L. Hubbard
Wright State University guard Cole Gentry covers Detroit Mercy forward Alonde LeGrand during their Horizon League game at the Nutter Center in Fairborn Thursday, Feb. 6, 2020. Wright State won 98-86. Contributed photo by E.L. Hubbard

New locale, new format.

The Horizon League tournament has moved from Detroit to Indianapolis this year, and the conference will start awarding doublebyes to its top two teams again, giving them a pass into the semifinals.

Wright State (21-5) is on the verge of locking up one of those coveted spots. The Raiders are 11-2 in the league with five games left, while Northern Kentucky is 10-3, Youngstown State 7-5 and Milwaukee, Green Bay and UIC 7-6.

Coach Scott Nagy is in favor of the doublebyes and believes it’s good for the league.

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“What it does is guarantee your two top teams are going to be in there. And if you finish 1 or 2, you deserve to be in there,” he said.

“Some people complain about that. Well, just finish first or second then. Everybody has the same shot. There are some years where we don’t do it, and we’ll have to work to get there.”

The eight teams seeded 3 through 10 will play in the first round March 3 with the winners playing de facto quarterfinal games two days later. Both rounds are at campus sites.

The semifinals and finals are March 9-10 at the Indiana Farmers Coliseum.

Last year, the top four teams all advanced to the semis, but it hasn’t always worked out that way.

“We’re working for seeding (in the NCAA tourney), and what people sometimes don’t understand is you don’t necessarily want your top teams playing teams whose NET isn’t very high. It actually hurts your NET,” Nagy said.

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The NET rankings have replaced the RPI as the NCAA’s computer-driven evaluation tool. And Nagy is right. The Raiders were a league-high 120th before playing Detroit and Oakland last week and dropped to 122nd after beating those low-rated teams.

“You want your top teams to get as high a seed as they possibly can. That’s important for winning in the NCAA tournament. If you win, that’s more money for the league,” Nagy said.

The NCAA awards “units” for a tourney appearance and for each win. They’re worth roughly $1.8 million, paid out over six years. The total is divided among the league teams.

But the danger of the doublebye is that rust can set in during the 10-day gap between the final regular-season game and the semifinals.

“Obviously, if you’re a top-two seed, the other team is going to already have played a game,” senior point guard Cole Gentry said. “There’s benefits and minuses to that. You can get in a rhythm if you play a game. Or, you can kind of get fatigued.

“But once the ball is tipped, it doesn’t matter if you’ve played before, or if you’ve gotten a bye, you still have to win two games (to capture the title).”

Saying good-bye: The Raiders will hold their Senior Day against IUPUI at 2 p.m. Sunday. Although he knows there are plenty of games left before the season's end, freshman Tanner Holden has grown close to Bill Wampler, Jordan Ash and Gentry and will be sad to see them go.

“They’ve made my transition from high school to college so much easier. They taught me a lot, especially in the summer,” Holden said. “I looked to these guys and still look to them.

“High school and college are not even close, and I can’t thank them enough for how much they’ve helped me.”

500 club: The 53-year-old Nagy is three wins away from entering select company. He's racked up 497 victories in 25 years, including 410 at South Dakota State.

According to the NCAA, there were only 119 current or former Division-I coaches with 500 career wins going into the season. Of that group, 29 are still active.

Since the Raiders have just two more home games, Nagy will have to reach the milestone on the road.

FRIDAY’S GAME

UIC at Wright State, 9 p.m., ESPN2, 106.5