Wright State coach Scott Nagy knows you can’t enjoy the madness of March until you get through the drudgery of February.
“This is a tough time of year to practice,” Nagy said. “My wife reminds every year that this is when I start complaining about our team and how poorly we’re practicing. You still can’t see the light at the end of the tunnel. It’s close, but this is a tough time of year for everybody. It’s just a long season.”
Fortunately for the Raiders (15-8 overall, 6-4 Horizon League), one of their longest breaks accompanies the flip of the calendar.
PREVIEW: Northern Kentucky at Wright State
The only game this week is Saturday’s home contest against Northern Kentucky (14-9 5-5), which will come five days after the 88-86 win at Illinois-Chicago on Sunday .
It’s the longest gap between games since the team since the team wrapped nonleague play Dec. 22 before opening the HL slate Dec. 29.
“It allows us some time to give the guys some days off, which they need,” Nagy said. “They need it physically, they need it mentally, they need it academically. I don’t have any problem giving them some time off because I think they need it. I think the coaching staff needs it. Mostly, though, physically it’s good for the players.”
The downtime will be especially beneficial against a Norse team that features a physical post presence in 6-foot-7 sophomore center Drew McDonald and 6-5 junior forwards Carson Williams and Jordan Garnett.
“Their post players are extremely skilled and handle it really well,” Nagy said. “Obviously McDonald shoots it an an incredible rate.”
McDonald, who is a 50.6-percent shooter who ranks sixth in the league at 16.6 points per game, could be a handful for a WSU team that doesn’t have much size. But Nagy said there are ways to overcome size deficiencies.
“If it’s in the post, there are ways you can deal with that,” he said. “You can make it more difficult to catch. You can trap in the post. The guys that are much more difficult to guard are the guys that can play out on the perimeter. Now McDonald can do both. He shoots it, so you have to crowd him out there. He puts it on the floor pretty good, too.”
NKU’s size likely will result in a bigger role for WSU freshman Ryan Custer, a 6-7 forward who is averaging just 8.1 minutes per game since league play began.
“He’s going to have to play,” Nagy said. “We just don’t have that much depth. Even though Parker (Ernsthausen) doesn’t start, he plays starter minutes. So Ryan’s basically the one big we have coming off the bench.”
Custer played well in six minutes of action Sunday at UIC, five of which came in the first half with the Raiders in foul trouble.
In addition to NKU’s presence in the post, guards Lavone Holland II and Cole Murray — another 6-7 player — and Lavone Holland are scoring in double figures. Holland II averages 14.3 ppg, while Murray is at 10.1.
“Their guards are good, too,” Nagy said. “Even the kid coming off the bench (Mason Faulkner, 7.9 ppg) is playing really well for them as a freshmen. They have a couple of kids that can really drive it, and Murray is a kid you have to guard everywhere on the floor.