Wright State coach Scott Nagy has always been passionate about defense, and he has the stats to back up why it’s been such an emphasis.
Northern Kentucky had the No. 1-ranked defense in the Horizon League last year and won the regular-season title. The Raiders were No. 2 and finished second in the league, won the conference tourney and earned an NCAA berth.
But Nagy knows the Raiders won’t reach those heights again if his players don’t become as enthusiastic as he is about that phase of the game.
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“I want them to focus. And right now, I don’t think their focus is very good,” he said. “They have to decide what they want. I can tell them what I want, but it’s what they want because that’s what’s going to happen.
“Hopefully, it’ll sink into their hearts to change. We have a team that can be a good defensive team.”
The Raiders were 12th nationally among 351 Division-I schools in defensive efficiency last season, giving up .929 points per possession. They also were first in the league and 29th in the country in points allowed at 66.4.
Nagy relies more on defensive efficiency to measure his team because the points-per-game stat can be skewed by pace of play.
This year, they’re 224th in points per possession (1.033) and 204th in scoring defense at 74.3. That’s how they can make 25-of-45 three-pointers in two games at the Cancun Challenge, hitting 50 percent overall in the first outing and 54.1 in the second, and go 0-2.
“We had some individually good defenders last year and, quite honestly, we had some bad defenders,” Nagy said. “But as a team, we were pretty good defensively. We had some kids that decided that’s what our identity would be. And we have a lot of the same kids this year.”
The Raiders, who are 3-3 against a difficult schedule so far, actually have had to do without two athletic perimeter defenders from last season.
Everett Winchester transferred to Florida Atlantic, and sophomore Jaylon Hall played only one game before needing season-ending shoulder surgery.
“Both are 6-foot-6, and that makes a big difference when you have big guards,” Nagy said. “Losing Jaylon in particular is where it hurts us the most defensively because he can guard a lot of people. He can cover point guards and 4 men (power forwards). It just makes our matchups tougher.
“But are you going to make excuses or do something to get better at it?”
Another troubling aspect of the defense is how many open looks opponents are getting. They’re shooting 42.4 percent on 3-pointers, negating how well the Raiders are doing from deep, shooting 40.6. Nagy’s goal on 3-pointers this season was 40 percent after hitting 33.7 last season.
Wright State allowed the opposition 23.1 points per game from beyond the arc in 2017-18, but that average has skied to 29.5 this year, which is 320th nationally.
“When teams are shooting 42 percent on you — you could go over to the bench, and they (might not) shoot 42 percent,” Nagy said. “At some point, you have to realize there’s something wrong with what you’re doing.
“It’s bad. I’m not happy about it. But it doesn’t matter what I think. It matters what the kids think. When they become bothered by it, that’s when we’ll start to see a change.”
WOMEN’S BASKETBALL: Mackenzie Taylor was named the Horizon League player of the week Monday after scoring in double figures in all three games in the Challenge in Music City, including a career-high 24 against Hofstra. She earned tourney MVP honors as the Raiders won the Broadway Bracket by going 3-0.
Wright State (4-3) hosts Kent State at 2 pm Sunday.