I’m ranking and previewing the nine teams of the Horizon League leading up to the start of the 2012-2013 season. Rankings are based on a host of tempo-free and other factors. I invite your take in the comments section below.
Last season: An 18-point loss to Butler in the Horizon League tournament brought an end to the Raiders’ 13-19 season in February. WSU won seven conference outings to finish 7-11 and eighth in the league.
The Raiders boasted an above-average defensive efficiency (0.972 points allowed per possession) that ranked fourth in the Horizon, but their offense couldn’t take advantage. WSU ranked dead last in offensive efficiency (0.917 ppp).
Coach: Billy Donlon (32-33) embarks on his third season as head coach. His larger-than-life personality should be an energizing force for another very young Wright State team.
Returning minutes: 42.85% (10th) Returning possessions: 49.31% (7th) Returning scoring: 44.43% (8th) Returning starters: 2
1. Julius Mays - The Raiders will have to fight to escape from the narrative surrounding Mays’ offseason exit.
The 2012 Horizon League newcomer of the year, WSU’s dominant scoring threat in the backfield and their would-be top returning scorer chose to abandon his team for greener pastures in the offseason. Donlon, never at a loss of words, questioned Mays’ loyalty after the grad student decided to spend his final year of eligibility playing for John Calipari at Kentucky.
The absence of Mays’ rangy shooting stroke (42.4 percent from three), knack for sending assists inside and high possession rate (23.7 percent) will be a tough two-guard slot to fill.
2. Armond Battle - Battle graduated and apparently decided against returning for his final season of eligibility. He played in just over half of WSU’s available minutes last season, but provided defensive presence off the bench.
3. Vance Hall - Hall started in 17 games as a sophomore, and did a lot with his very low 11.7 percent possession rate. Players like him really show the value of tempo-free stats. While Hall may only have scored 4.5 points per game as a sophomore, his offensive rating (111.2) ranked 10th in the Horizon League, and he scored 1.21 points per player possession last season — a number that would have pegged him ninth among the league’s top returning efficient scorers.
Hall will be playing alongside former Raiders red-shirt Alex Pritchett at D-II Bellarmine University this season.
1. Reggie Arceneaux - One of the Horizon’s shortest players, 5-9 Arceneaux is one of two returning starting sophomore point guards (along with Green Bay’s Keifer Sykes). He’s poised to build on a solid rookie campaign.
Although his 0.8 assist to turnover ratio has much to be desired, he has Gary Talton-like skill for driving to the post. With Mays gone, Arceneaux’s three-point percentage (34.7 percent) could be troublesome.
2. Cole Darling - WSU’s lone frontcourt returning starter will certainly take on a larger role for his junior season. The 6-8 forward was among the Raiders’ top possessors last season (21.6 percent) while maintaining a low 16.4 percent turnover rate. He’ll be depended on for more of a scoring presence this season.
3. Matt Vest - Various injuries kept the 6-5 guard sidelined off-and-on last season allowing him just six starts. The junior should be a candidate to fill Mays’ shoes.
4. A.J. Pacher - Pacher could be Donlon’s diamond in the rough. The 6-10 big man may finally be ready for prime time after struggling to stay on the court with foul issues the last two seasons and with injuries last season.
Pacher posted solid offensive (11.8 percent) and defensive (19.7 percent) rebounding rates as a sophomore, and earned more possessions when he was on the floor (27.3 percent) than any other Raiders player. What’s more, the Raiders’ bigs coach, Clayton Bates, has moved on. Maybe Donlon is pushing for an increased role for his bigs this season.
Regardless, with more minutes, better feeds and less possessions wasted on three-pointers, Pacher could be WSU’s impact player this season.
1. Jerran Young - A Texas native, Young ranked 93rd in Brad Winton’s 2012 JUCO recruiting rankings and was previously committed to Doc Sadler and Nebraska. The 6-6 forward was once a high jumper and could be doing a lot of dunking this season. I think he’ll battle with sophomore Tavares Sledge for the open frontcourt starting job.
2. Bobo Drummond - Drummond was formerly committed to Southern Illinois before their coaching change, but was pleased to get the chance to play alongside fellow Wright State recruit and friend Jacoby Roddy (who will miss some time after having knee surgery). Both grew up in Peoria, Illinois.
The 5-10 pure point guard could play behind Arceneaux this season. He was rated as a three-star recruit by Scout and was reportedly watched by Illinois, Cincinnati and Xavier.
3. Miles Dixon - A former starter at Houston Baptist University, Dixon had been playing at Blinn Community College after a broken foot ended his time at HBU. The 6-1 guard apparently is back to full health and ready to help out in the backcourt.
Projected starting five:
Areceneaux, Darling, Vest, Pacher, Young
Marquee matchups (full schedule here):
1. At Cincinnati, Dec. 22 - Televised and everything (in Ohio anyway).
2. At Idaho, Nov. 9 - This game was an overtime winner for the Raiders last season.
3. Miami (Ohio), Dec. 19 - A decent rivalry game. The Raiders won by two, 51-49, last season.
1. Scheduling. The Raiders’ non-conference schedule may be road-heavy (5 of their opening 6 games aren’t even in the state of Ohio), but it’s packed with some very winnable matchups. For a team still in its youth, confidence and cohesiveness will be key, and the schedule will help.
Eastern Illinois, North Carolina AT&T, Morehead State and the Virginia Military Institute should ensure the Raiders at least a couple wins. Wright State didn’t get greedy, and that’s great.
2. Frontcourt. Pacher, Darling and Young bring a wealth of talent, size and experience to the Raiders’ frontcourt. They should seriously cause teams problems.
3. Donlon. The guy has an unwavering passion for everything Wright State and Horizon League basketball. He showed it to the reporters at the Horizon League media day, and I have to imagine it has a huge impression on his young players. Who wouldn’t want to win games for a hardluck guy like Donlon?
1. They’re really young — again. After losing four starters before last season and three this time, Wright State repeats as the nation’s sixth-youngest team. There are no seniors on the roster anywhere and six juniors. Depth has to seriously be a concern.
2. Mays is gone. And his numbers will be hard to replicate, especially for a team that has struggled offensively.
3. Steals leaders also are gone. Wright State was the fourth-best team in the nation at forcing turnovers last season. Opponents coughed the ball up in over a quarter of their possessions. The problem is, all three of the Raiders’ steals leaders (Mays, Battle and John Balwigaire) are gone.
Donlon’s been through a lot in his short career. Back-to-back super young teams make it seem like the program isn’t maturing, and injuries, transfers and early exits have again put the young coach in the same situation.
The Raiders may not compete for the top half of the league, but if Donlon can instill in his players a sense of tradition, loyalty and respect for what he’s trying to build, he could end up with a battle-tested and seriously competitive for the start of the 2013-2014 season.