Wright State was finally able to get over the hump this season and capture the Horizon League championship. The Raiders had advanced to the conference’s championship game three times since 2013, but came up short each time. Their fortunes finally changed this season as they beat Cleveland State to take the Horizon League’s automatic NCAA Tournament bid.
Wright State’s success this season has mostly been due to a pair of players: Grant Benzinger and Loudon Love.
Benzinger, a senior, is the team’s biggest offensive threat. He leads the Raiders in scoring at 14.5 ppg, and does most of his damage from beyond the three-point line. Benzinger leads the team in three-point makes and percentage, hitting just shy of 38% of his long range shots. His offensive performances this season earned him a spot on the conference’s All-League First Team.
Yet the Raiders also have the Horizon League’s Freshman of the Year in Loudon Love. Love established himself as a force in the post during his redshirt freshman season; he narrowly missed out on averaging a double-double by averaging 12.9 points and 9.8 rebounds per game. Listed at 6’9 and 275 pounds, Love presents a challenge for opponents with his size.
While Benzinger and Love get most of the attention, Wright State is full of unsung heroes. Chief among them is junior Mark Hughes. Hughes ended the season just shy of being a double digit scorer, averaging 9.9 points per contest. But his ability to find open shooters and play lock-down defense makes him so valuable. Hughes leads the team in assists by a wide margin, totaling 101 on the year. He is also leads the team in steals and was named to the conference’s All-Defensive team.
Redshirt sophomore Cole Gentry compliments Hughes well in the Wright State backcourt. Gentry sat out the first semester of the season after a mid-season transfer from South Dakota State the year before. He had the trust of head coach Scott Nagy, who brought Gentry to South Dakota State before moving on to the Wright State job. Gentry started in 19 games for the Raiders and keeps the offense flowing.
Freshmen Jaylon Hall and Everett Winchester also provide sparks off the bench. Neither player started a single game for Wright State, but both average over 20 minutes a game. Hall, who averages over nine points per game, can be a scorer when Benzinger needs a break. And despite not starting, Winchester pulled down the third-most rebounds for the Raiders this season. He gives Wright State valuable minutes in the frontcourt off the bench.
How they can win
If Wright State is going to pull off an upset in the NCAA Tournament, it is going to come down to the matchup and their defense.
The Raiders were able to utilize Love’s size to their advantage, especially during conference play. He gave Horizon League opponents fits with his size, carving out space in the paint to score and grab rebounds. Depending on the matchup the Raiders get in the NCAA Tournament, Love could be a huge factor in Wright State’s success.
But Wright State’s identity this season, as it has been many times before, is as a defensive-minded squad. The Raiders are ranked 53rd in defensive efficiency have the 27th best defense against two-point shots in the nation, according to KenPom. If they can keep the game low-scoring — especially in a match-up with a poor three point shooting team — Wright State could control the game with its defense.
As stated in the “How they can win” section, a lot has to go right for the Raiders to have a shot at pulling off a tournament upset. It certainly isn’t impossible, but Wright State doesn’t have the firepower on offense to keep up, given they will likely be a No. 14 or 15-seed. The Raiders’ defense is very good, but not at the elite level needed to stop most first round opponents.
But if the Raiders get an undersized opponent, their chances to win increase because they could establish Love in the post. Love’s performance will be crucial to a Wright State win in the tournament, which is a lot to ask of a freshman.