A constant issue for Wright State basketball coach Scott Nagy early last season was getting his players to believe they were as good as he thought they could be. They may have professed confidence, but the results conveyed something else.
Nagy’s persistence finally paid off in a mid-December win at Toledo , which was also the debut of impactful point guard Cole Gentry. After a 4-4 start, the Raiders soared to a 25-10 record and their first NCAA tourney berth since 2007 .
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“To me, that was the flipping point,” Nagy said. “When we won at Toledo, guys started thinking, ‘Oh, OK. Toledo is a good team, and we beat them on the road in a tough spot.’
“We should be able to benefit from what happened last year — the experience we gained and also how we see ourselves. Nobody has to be convinced any more that whenever we walk on the floor, we have a chance to win and we’re the best team. The challenge now is to not let success get to their heads, to stay humble and hungry. Those are two words we try to use all the time.”
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The Raiders will hold their first practice Wednesday, and if it sounds as if the preseason is starting earlier than ever, it’s because it is.
The NCAA made a rule change in January to allow games to begin Tuesday, Nov. 6, instead of the traditional Friday launch, in part to get away from the busy sports calendar on the weekend. Teams are permitted 30 practices starting 42 days from their openers.
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Nagy is a proponent of the change because the preseason won’t feel as rushed.
“You get so much time with the players as it is,” he said, referring to formal summer workouts. “You don’t have to cram everything into three-hour practices. We’re able to shorten that up and keep our players healthy.”
The Raiders have an exhibition against Notre Dame (Ohio) on Oct. 31 before hosting Western Carolina on Nov. 7.
Here are things to watch this season:
1. Better 3-point shooting, or so Nagy hopes. The Raiders were eighth in the Horizon League with a 33.7-percent clip. They graduated their top 3-point threat in Grant Benzinger, so others will need to shine.
“We just weren’t a great shooting team last year. Our goal is to shoot 40 percent from 3, and we didn’t have a PLAYER shoot 40 percent. That’s got to change,” Nagy said before rattling off players he sees making a jump this year such as Mark Hughes and Gentry. “We should be able to shoot the ball a lot better from 3.”
2. Leadership void. Benzinger led the Raiders in points (14.3) and minutes (36.9), but he also set the tone with his non-stop effort.
“We can replace the basketball side of it. You always do. But it’s the other stuff,” Nagy said. “When he was out six weeks (with a preseason injury), it was clear how much we missed him.”
3. Dogged defense. The Raiders gave up just 65.9 points per game, which was first in the league and 29th nationally. Even better, they were 12th in the country in defensive efficiency, allowing 0.929 points per possession.
“We hope to be better,” Nagy said. “Last year, we had to count on inexperience. This year, we don’t have to if we stay healthy. Our inexperienced guys can fill roles versus being guys who have to play 35 minutes.”
4. Endless Love. Look for the Raiders to rely heavily on Louden Love. The 6-foot-9, 275-pound sophomore center blossomed last season, leading the league in rebounds (9.7) and field-goal shooting (53.3) while averaging 12.9 points. And Nagy expects increased production.
“He’s going to be a better free-throw shooter (54.1 percent last year). He’s finishing better. And we’ve been working on him to play with more energy on the offensive end,” he said.
5. Relatively smooth season. The Raiders are a popular pick in preseason magazines to finish first in the league, and a winning culture has been established.
“We’re not in a transition anymore,” Nagy said. “There are three players we didn’t recruit, but they’re our guys. They believe in us, and we believe in them.
“It’s not like we’re trying to convince anybody anymore about what we’re trying to get done. They just do what we ask them to do. And as a coaching staff, we trust all the kids.”