Playing perennial powerhouses Ohio State and Florida isn’t the easiest way for the Wright State men’s basketball team to kick off the 2011–12 season.
Plus, the Raiders’ overall schedule is the most daunting in years, with battles against Cincinnati, Charlotte, Ohio University, Air Force, and Butler, which last season went to the national championship game for the second straight year.
And with the loss of veterans Vaughn Duggins, N’Gai Evans, Troy Tabler, and Cooper Land, there won’t be a Wright State player with more than one year experience as a Raider.
But there are reasons for optimism, starting with the coaching excellence of Billy Donlon. And a pre-season trip to Italy gave Wright State some badly needed experience and a chance to bond.
Wright State opens in the four-game Global Sports Shootout, facing Ohio State, Florida, and North Florida on the road, and Jackson State at home in the Nutter Center.
They open the season at Ohio State Nov. 11. The Buckeyes finished the 2010–11 season 34-2 and with the nation’s second-best Rating Percentage Index (RPI), which is used to rank teams based upon wins, losses, and strength of schedule. Wright State will then host Jackson State Nov. 16 before traveling to play Florida on a neutral court in Tampa Nov. 21 and at North Florida Nov. 23.
“I’m excited to participate in this event, as we will have a chance to compete against two of the best teams in college basketball in The Ohio State University and the University of Florida,” Donlon said.
Donlon believes that North Florida and Jackson State will compete for their league championships, so the games will be good preparation for Horizon League play.
“Our team will need to grow up quickly, and we’ll get the opportunity to do that by playing some of the best,” Donlon said.
Florida finished 29-8 last year, with the nation’s eighth-best RPI. North Florida advanced to the championship game of the Atlantic Sun Tournament, while Jackson State of the SWAC ended the season at 17-15.
Returning Wright State players: Johann Mpondo, a 6-8 forward from Cameroon; 6-9 forward A.J. Pacher; 6-7 forward Armond Battle; 6-7 forward Cole Darling; 6-5 guard Matt Vest; and 6-3 guard Vance Hall.
New recruits include 6-4 guard Kendall Griffin, 6-8 forward Alex Pritchett, 6-9 forward Tavares Sledge, 6-3 guard Julius Mays, 6-3 guard Jason Cuffee, and John Balwigaire, a 6-2 guard from Mesa (AZ) Community College.