As much as the seniors on the Wright State men’s basketball team loved playing in front of their home crowd at the Nutter Center, they are hoping they don’t get another chance to experience the feeling a few days from now.
A win Saturday in the regular-season finale at Illinois-Chicago will ensure they don’t, as it would lock the Raiders into third place in the Horizon League and award them a first-round bye in next week’s conference tournament.
“We control our own destiny,” Raiders coach Billy Donlon said. “But Saturday’s game will be a challenge.”
If WSU falls at UIC and Valparaiso wins at home Saturday against Cleveland State, the Raiders will drop to fourth place and be forced to turn around and face the Flames again Tuesday night in a first-round game at the Nutter Center.
“I’m assuming this is the last home game I’ll ever play here,” WSU senior AJ Pacher said Tuesday night after scoring a game-high 20 points to lead the Raiders to a 67-58 victory against Valparaiso.
“We just have to take care of business Saturday,” he added.
For the top two teams in the league, business is complete. Wisconsin-Green Bay has locked up the regular-season championship and No. 1 seed, which means the Phoenix will play host to quarterfinals (March 7), semifinals (March 8) and, if the they are still alive, the championship game (March 11).
Cleveland State clinched the No. 2 seed with an overtime victory Tuesday night against Youngstown State.
Both Green Bay and CSU have double byes and will not begin tournament play until the semifinals.
And while the No. 3 seed and accompanying single bye would be a nice enough prize for the Raiders in and of itself, it also comes with the bonus of being placed on the opposite side of the bracket from the top-seeded Phoenix, which means they wouldn’t meet unless both teams reached the championship.
If Wright State makes the championship game and Green Bay does not, the Raiders would get one more chance to play at the Nutter Center with a berth in the NCAA tournament on the line.
As far as seeding options, the Raiders can finish no better than third and no worse than fourth. The same goes for Valparaiso. UIC is locked into last place. Spots 5-8 are a jumbled mess with Oakland and Detroit owning 6-8 league records while Wisconsin-Milwaukee and Youngstown State are 6-9.
How that four-team logjam shakes out is of interest to the Raiders because if they secure the No. 3 seed, they open tournament play in the quarterfinals against the 6-7 winner.
WSU swept Oakland in the regular season and split with Detroit, Youngstown State and Milwaukee.
Milwaukee will wrap regular-season play tonight at Detroit while Oakland plays host to Green Bay.
The rest of the conference slate will conclude Saturday. In addition to WSU at UIC and CSU at Valpo, Oakland will travel to Youngstown State and Green Bay will visit Detroit.
Horizon League Standings
x-Clinched No. 1 seed
y-Clinched No. 2 seed
Conference Tournament Schedule
Tuesday, March 4
Game 1: Illinois-Chicago at No. 4 seed
Game 2: No. 8 seed at No. 5 seed
Game 3: No. 7 seed at No. 6 seed
Friday, March 7
Game 4: Game 3 winner vs. No. 3 seed
Game 5: Game 1 winner vs. Game 2 winner
Saturday, March 8
Game 6: Game 4 winner vs. No. 2 seed
Game 7: Game 5 winner vs. No. 1 seed
Tuesday, March 11
Game 6 winner vs. Game 7 winner