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Without Love, Wright State should still be dreaming big

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A program icon is gone but Scott Nagy should have a trio of players ready to keep the Raiders atop the Horizon.

Syndication: Cincinnati Sam Greene, Cincinnati Enquirer via Imagn Content Services, LLC

There’s hasn’t been much love lost between Wright State and the Horizon League during Scott Nagy’s tenure. That’s not say league teams haven’t respected the Raiders the past five seasons because how could they not. WSU enters the 2021-22 season seeking at least a share of a fourth straight regular season title, a run has seen the Raiders win 78 percent of their Horizon games and surely become a sore spot on opposing schedules.

Year six under Nagy, however, will be centered around whether he can keep that winning going with a lot less love.

For the first time in four seasons the Raiders will not be able to rely on big man Loudon Love, who exhausted his eligibility as arguably the greatest player in WSU history. Love wrapped up his career as the program’s career leader in rebounds and two-time Horizon League Player of the Year. That led Nagy to understandably state the obvious in a release.

“Loudon has been an integral part of the program ever since we have arrived at Wright State,” head coach Scott Nagy said. “We are very proud of the man he is and all he has helped us accomplish during his career. We wish him nothing but the best as he begins his next journey as professional basketball player.”

The big man was integral to the tune of playing in 120 of the 126 possible games over his four-year career, all of which saw him play a vital role in Nagy’s rotation, even from the jump as a freshman. His 14.9 points per game career scoring average also doesn’t emphasize the importance he played for the Raiders in their resurgent period. Per Synergy, only Purdue ran a higher percentage of its offense through the post in 2020-21, a strategy that rested heavily on Love’s shoulders.

NCAA Basketball: NCAA Tournament-First Round-Wright State vs Tennessee
Loudon Love was a force at Wright State.
Matthew Emmons-USA TODAY Sports

Only All-American performers Luka Garza and Trevion Williams got more post touches per game than Love (8.6), and the senior used those dump downs to underpin the Horizon’s most efficient offense. That was on display in massive performances against Milwaukee (29 points, 11-16 FG) and Robert Morris (34 points, 15-22 FG). Paired with the loss of his elite rebounding production — 10.1 RPG in 2020-21, 9.4 RPG career average — leaves WSU with a bright yellow question mark heading into next season.

The safe bet, however, is Nagy finding ways to keep the Raiders in contention.

Junior wing Tanner Holden returns and, like Love, has been a key cog in the WSU rotation since his freshman campaign. He’s coming off a season that saw him emerge as one of the Horizon’s most dynamic scorers (15.8 PPG, 7.3 RPG) despite not offering much of an outside shot. Nagy talked about Holden in February with the Dayton Daily News in the midst of what would ultimately be an all-league first team year.

“That’s the one nice thing I really like about Tanner — he’s got a good feel,” coach Scott Nagy said. “He takes good care of the ball. He doesn’t turn it over a lot, even though he has it a lot. And he’s a really good rebounder for a guy 6-5.

“But it’s not like (his season) is a shock. It’s a little bit of an improvement on what he did last year. At any age, what he did last year would have been a great year. As a freshman, it really was.”

The Raiders also return sweet-shooting senior big man Grant Basile (15.0 PPG, 7.0 RPG), who played off Love’s paint-oriented game and likely takes on even more of a starring role. The all-league second teamer is coming off a bittersweet end to the year, as he was dominant (35 points, 14 rebounds) in WSU’s season-ending overtime loss to Milwaukee in the Horizon League tournament. Rounding out the top three returning options would seem to be Tim Finke, a former well-regarded prep prospect who chipped in as a great defender and shooter (10.0 PPG, 41.3 3P%) in his first season at WSU after transferring from Grand Canyon.

Combined with this returning firepower on the optimism train is Nagy’s ability to weave together a competitive defense. Seven of his last eight teams — which includes his final three at South Dakota State — have finished the season within the top 157 in KenPom defensive efficiency. Last year’s team finished at 71st, and returns arguably its top two defenders in Finke and Basile.

Keeping WSU as a top dog in the Horizon despite the loss of a program icon would be another feather in the cap of Nagy over his quietly successful five-year run. The program had only won one regular season title in its first 15 years in the Horizon: Brad Brownell’s 2006-07 team that grabbed a No. 14 seed in the NCAA Tournament. They’ve tripled that in the past five years, and never won less than 11 league games in a given season.

The program was on solid footing under previous coach Billy Donlon, and Nagy has, like Donlon, had quality teams bitten in the league tournament with just a lone NCAA Tournament appearance in 2017-18. Plenty of Horizon attention will deservedly be directed toward a Cleveland State team that returns the core that spearheaded its run to the NCAA Tournament, as well as Patrick Baldwin Jr.’s looming impact on the league at Milwaukee. But the pieces seem there for another mid-major to love in Dayton, even if the headlining Love is gone.