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The Other Top 25 preseason rankings: No. 18 Wright State Raiders

The Horizon League is Wright State’s to lose this year.

NCAA Basketball: NCAA Tournament-Dallas Practice Tim Heitman-USA TODAY Sports

2018-19 Record: 21-14 (13-5 Horizon), First Round NIT
Key Returning Players: Loudon Love (F, Jr.), Bill Wampler (F, Sr.), Cole Gentry (G, Sr.), Skyelar Potter (G, So.), Jaylon Hall (G, So.)
Key Losses: Mark Huges, Parker Ernsthausen, Malachi Smith (Chattanooga)
Key Newcomers: Jordan Ash (G, Sr., Northwestern), Aleksandar Dozic (F, Sr., Marist), Tanner Holden (G, Fr.)

For much of last season, the Horizon League battle for supremacy was a back-and-forth tilt between Wright State and Northern Kentucky. However, it was the Norse who were ultimately victorious in the Horizon League championship game, giving them their second NCAA Tournament appearance in three years.

Despite coming up short, even being in that position was another sign of just how well Scott Nagy has done since taking over the program in 2016. Nagy has compiled three straight 20-win seasons, an NCAA Tournament appearance and a 38-16 record in Horizon League play.

This year should be another successful year as the Raiders enter the season as the preseason favorites with a core that knows what it takes to get to the NCAA Tournament.

Key Non-Conference Games

Woof.

Wright State’s non-conference slate isn’t exactly what one would call difficult. There isn’t a single Power 5 team on the docket, and there’s only one preseason top-100 team (Western Kentucky). They’ll compete in the Gulf Coast Showcase, which features a bevy of mid-majors including Murray State, Drake and Northeastern. But overall, it’s a pretty weak non-conference slate (341st by T-Rank). Which is fine! Horizon League play will be all that matters for the Raiders.

Nov. 9 at Miami OH
Nov. 25 vs. Weber State (Gulf Coast Showcase, Estero, Florida)
Dec. 3 vs. Western Kentucky
Dec. 7 vs. Indiana State

Three Things to Watch

It’s Loudon Love’s league now

The last two seasons in the Horizon League featured some great battles with Love and Northern Kentucky’s Drew McDonald for big man supremacy, but Love is the top dog now that McDonald has graduated.

Love is somewhat of a dinosaur in college basketball in the sense that he’s a bruising big man that really knows how to score in the post. With career averages of 14 points and nine rebounds per game, he’s a bonafide force on the block. He’s not one to put up gaudy numbers, but he’s as consistent as they come in the Horizon League. Love reached double figures in 30 of Wright State’s 34 games last year, and there won’t be many guys in the conference that are able to match his sheer power.

He’s going to draw fouls at a high clip, but the free throw line has been one of his weaknesses. Love is a career 58.4 percent shooter at the stripe, which could end up being a liability in important close games. Nonetheless, he’s going to be one of the frontrunners for Horizon League Player of the Year and a headache for opposing defenses every night.

The return of Jaylon Hall

Hall put together a strong freshman campaign as a scorer off the bench, averaging just over nine points in 23.2 minutes of action per game. His sophomore season was cut short, however, as a shoulder injury kept him out of all but one game last year.

Now that Hall is back and healthy, he gives Wright State another scoring option on the wing. Nagy described him as “a really good driver” to Blue Ribbon, which is backed up by Hall’s 61.4 percent shooting at the rim during his freshman year. The big question mark for Hall is his jumper. He only hit 32 percent from deep as a freshman, but Nagy claimed that he’s improved his shooting. Even a small uptick in that percentage would help open up the floor a little bit more for an offense that hasn’t shot the ball particularly well from deep over the last two seasons.

Can the defense return to form?

In 2017-18, Wright State rode one of the nation’s best defenses to an NCAA Tournament bid. The Raiders ranked No. 29 in the nation in opponents PPG (65.9) and just outside the top 50 in KenPom’s adjusted defensive efficiency metric. Last year, they regressed slightly, finishing as the No. 122 overall defense in that same metric. So what changed?

To start, there was a big regression in two-point defense. Opponents converted on 52.1 percent of shots inside the arc, which was a large increase from the 45.8 percent mark that the Raiders allowed in 2017-18. A similar regression was apparent in their three-point defense as well, as opponents hit 36.5 percent from deep, which was up from 34.7 percent the year prior and over two percentage points above the national average. In 10 of the Raiders’ 14 losses, their opponent hit over 40 percent from the arc. That was the case in just five of their 21 wins. It also doesn’t help that Mark Hughes and Parker Ernsthausen — two Horizon League All-Defensive Team members — have graduated. The offensive side of the ball is probably going to be fine, but the Raiders will need an improvement on defense to get back to the NCAA Tournament.

X Factor

Jaylon Hall

As mentioned above, Hall provides another option for Nagy. Love is gonna get his buckets in the post, Cole Gentry is the steady and consistent floor general, and Bill Wampler thrives as the stretch four. Hall has a chance to fill in the gaps in the offense with his ability to get to the hoop. He’ll likely be tasked to take on some defensive responsibilities as well now that Hughes is no longer available on the wing.