Do you remember Vitaly Potapenko? He is basically my entire impression of Wright State basketball from my formative years. He played well enough as a Raider that he was taken in the first round of the NBA draft in 1996. Since that day - arguably the apogee of Wright State Basketball history to this point - the team has made the NCAA tournament exactly once. They appeared briefly in the 2007 version of the competition, hanging around just long enough to get clubbed by Pitt in the first round. It hasn't been all beer and skittles since that point.
Wright State is led by Coach Billy Donlon, who has compiled an 87-81 record in this his first head-coaching position. Maybe I'm just getting older, but Donlon looks really young to be a head man, which makes sense because he was hired at 33. In his five years at the helm, he has taken the team to a CBI and a CIT but is still seeking his first bid to a tournament that doesn't make you pay to play in it despite making two trips to the Horizon League championship game. Donlon was named Horizon League Coach of the Year in 2013.
Donlon's teams rise and fall on defense. He has put three Wright State squads in the top 100 of defensive efficiency and two in the top 40. When they defend well, they tend to win. When they don't, they tend to get clubbed. It all hinges on forcing turnovers for the Raiders; only once has Donlon had a squad finish outside the top 15 in defensive TO%. They also fly to the glass to kill possessions. This comes at a cost of usually mediocre field goal defense and sending opponents to the line at an appalling rate, but that's the trade-off you make gambling for turnovers.
Offense has kind of been a mixed bag. Well, it's actually been worse than that. They play at a really slow tempo and have averaged placing about 250th in offensive efficiency. They turn the ball over a lot, can't rebound, don't shoot an above-average number of threes, and can't make their free throws. Other than that, they're a joy to watch.
Guard Crishawn Hopkins (yes, the one who used to be at Butler) was a reliable scoring option for the Raiders, but he graduated, taking his 8.5/3.0/2.8 on .414/.345/.727 and 2.1 turnovers per game out the door with him. Also graduating was the diminutive Reggie Arceneaux. I could not find out for certain if he was related to former Weber State star Harold "The Show" Arceneaux, but he shot a modest .357/.328/.731 on his way to 7.3/1.6/2.1 as a reserve point guard.
Every once in a while when I'm doing these, I come across a name I really love. I wish my parents had decided to call me JT Yoho; he's a 6'6" wing who got 15.6/6.4/2.1 last year on .426/.329/.800. He's an incredibly strong defensive rebounder but kind of a volume scorer; also, he sounds like he'd make an awesome pirate. The only other returning double-digit scorer is 6'4" guard Joe Thomasson. He's got kind of an odd stat profile; he averaged 10.0/5.5/3.2 on .492/.305/.779 shooting. He led the team in assist rate and block percentage and was their second-best defensive rebounder. He shoots more threes than he should, in that he should shoot zero of them.
Guard Grant Benzinger is a 6'3" rising sophomore who put together 9.1/2.9/0.7 per game and easily led the team in three-point shooting percentage and made threes on his way to a .463/.431/.676 shooting line. Center Michael Karena is a 6'10" Kiwi (i.e., from New Zealand, not the fruit) who scored 9 points per game and shot 54% from the field. He was far and away the team's best offensive rebounder but was weirdly ineffective on the defensive glass. Also returning are 6'8" forward Steven Davis (7.1/3.3/0.7), who missed the second half of the season through injury and guard Justin Mitchell (4.5/2.9/1.1), who shot zero threes on the year.
Alan Vest is a 6'4" guard out of CJ in Dayton. Brother of former Wright State wing Matt Vest, he went for 17/4/3 as a senior. His calling card is his jump shooting range, but he has a good feel for the game as a whole on the offensive end. Joining vest is 6'3" combo guard Mark Hughes out of Youngstown. He can shoot the ball well from beyond the arc and is a smooth playmaker off the bounce. He looks to me like he should be more ready than Vest to contribute right away, but what do I know?
Coach Donlon also added JuCo transfer Brandon Neel. Neel is a 6'4" guard who played at South Plains Community College in Texas. He was Ohio's D1 player of the year back in 2011. He average 10.1 and 5.7 and shot 49.1% from the floor and 42.6% from behind the arc. He's a versatile defender who guarded everyone but the center in his time at South Plains.
I like Billy Donlon. I like hard-nosed defense. I'm not particularly in love with gambling for turnovers, but I understand why coaches do it. This is a team that could be good for the odd upset if it can rattle opposition ballhandlers and get them out of their offensive flow. Playing a home game with half a non-conference season and a marquee tournament behind them, I don't think Xavier will fall victim to that.