In one way, the Wright State men’s basketball team got exactly what it wanted when the Horizon League preseason poll was released Wednesday in Chicago.
The Raiders didn’t want to be picked last as they were last year — not that there was any chance of that. Being picked first would have put the target square on their backs. Coach Billy Donlon would have had to look long and hard, maybe deep in the bowels of Twitter, where surely some fan was disrespecting the Raiders, for an extra bit of incentive.
By being picked second behind a team it beat twice last season and earning the most first-place votes, Wright State got the best of both worlds: respect from 22 coaches, sports information directors and media members who tabbed them the favorites and motivation from 25 others who voted them second or worse.
In the closest preseason vote in Horizon League history, Green Bay received 21 first-place votes and 390 points. Wright State received 389 points.
“It’ll be a lot easier to motivate my team,” Donlon said. “You can say, ‘Hey, fellas, the whole team came back. You beat (Green Bay) a couple of times, and you’re still not picked first.’ ”
Wright State (23-13 last season) beat Green Bay 64-53 at the Nutter Center last January and then won 70-68 in double overtime at Green Bay in February.
The Raiders return their top nine scorers, including senior forward Cole Darling, who was named a preseason Horizon League first-team selection on Wednesday.
Green Bay (18-16 last season) returns four of its top seven scorers. Among them are two preseason first-team selections: senior center Alec Brown and junior guard Keifer Sykes, who combined to average 30 points per game.
“I think you can make the case for a lot of teams to be first,” Donlon said. “There’s a few teams not getting talked about that I think people will be talking about in the middle of the season.”
Cleveland State, picked to finish third with 338 points, received two first-place votes. The newest Horizon League program, Oakland (258), was picked fourth. Youngstown State (219) was fifth. Oakland and Youngstown each received one first-place vote.
Defending regular-season and tournament champion Valparaiso, which lost all five starters, was picked sixth (205). Illinois-Chicago (151) was seventh. Detroit (141), which placed second a year ago and lost four starters, was eighth. Milwaukee (69) was picked last.
Youngstown State’s Kendrick Perry was the preseason pick for player of the year. He was joined on the preseason first team by Brown, Sykes, Darling and Oakland senior guard Travis Bader.
The preseason second team included: Cleveland State sophomore forward Anton Grady and sophomore guard Bryn Forbes; Milwaukee senior guard Jordan Aaron; UIC senior guard Kelsey Barlow, a transfer from Purdue; and Youngstown State senior forward Kamren Belin.
Note: Wright State is hosting a basketball luncheon for the men’s and women’s teams on Oct. 23 in the Berry Room at the Nutter Center. Cost is $15 if paid in advance at the athletic department. Reservations will be taken until Monday. For more information, call 775-2771.