Updated: 6 days ago
Tonight, it’s history for the Bryant Bulldogs. They’ll take on the Wright State Raiders in their first ever appearance in the NCAA Tournament.
Here’s your guidebook to tonight’s contest.
#16 BRYANT BULLDOGS (22-9) vs. #16 WRIGHT STATE RAIDERS (21-13)
UD Arena - Dayton, Ohio
Broadcast Team: Tom McCarthy, Steve Lavin, Avery Johnson, Jon Rothstein
Odds, courtesy of theScore (entertainment only):
Bryant ML +130
Wright State ML -155
Favorite: Wright State -3
Over/Under: 155.5 (-110)
Accolades: NEC Champions, #7 KenPom Adj.Tempo, Peter Kiss #7 in % usage (poss.) The Bulldogs had high expectations this year, and they loaded up their schedule accordingly. Unfortunately for Bryant, they started the year 0-3 against D1 opponents; they struggled against URI, Clemson, and below-average Bethune Cookman in the first 3 D1 contests. But after a few more competitive games (but losses) to Dartmouth & Stony Brook and a 111-44 rout at the hands of Houston, it was smooth sailing for Bryant, who proceeded to go 18-2 in their next 20 contests. They average 81.2 points per game against NEC foes, and with the exception of a scare against Mount St. Mary’s in the semifinals, Bryant convincingly won every game they played after February 12th.
Wright State’s season
Accolades: Horizon League Champions, #27 in FT%, #30 in Block %
After the Raiders played to an impressive 18-5 record last year, there were few that didn’t think they’d be going dancing in 2021. Unfortunately, Milwaukee had other plans, punching WSU in the mouth with a 94-92 overtime victory in the first round of the Horizon League tournament. Needless to say, it was revenge time for Scott Nagy, and the Raiders played themselves into a very desirable position come the end of the year. They cruised over Oakland in round 1, Horizon League favorite Cleveland State in round 2, and eeked out a one-point over NKU. The Raiders are going dancing for the fourth time in program history, and the second under Scott Nagy; between his years at South Dakota State and WSU, he’ll have made 5 D1 tournament appearances and 13 overall (8 when SDSU was at the D2 level).
Bryant key to the game: Dominate the fastbreak
The growing sentiment in the Bryant locker room is to push the tempo against the Raiders, per sources. Assistant coaches who conducted the scout of Wright State this week have noticed that the Raiders aren’t as quick to establish transition defense as some of Bryant’s other in-conference foes. There aren’t too many better scenarios than that for the Bulldogs, who are the 7th-quickest team in KenPom’s adjusted tempo rating, averaging just over 72 possessions per 40 minutes. Bryant’s guards are quick enough to push the pace, and with it, to hopefully exploit a Wright State team that isn’t aggressive in the break. Sure, standouts Peter Kiss and Charles Pride are major contributors in this effort, but look for the other role players to keep the Bulldogs “on pace,” if you will. Senior Adham Eleeda (former JUCO and NKU sharpshooter), UAB transfer Luis Hurtado (playing more of the PG position this year), and George Washington transfer Tyler Brelsford (off the bench) need to be key accelerators on the break. A caveat to this strategy is ensuring the Bulldogs can hold onto the ball, as the Wright State defense has proven to be particularly tough in forcing turnovers.
Charles Pride has been a key piece of Bryant's defensive puzzle in 2021-22. PIC: AP/Justin Rex
Wright State key to the game: Lock down the perimeter
Opponents shoot around 33.8% from downtown against the Raiders’ defense, which keeps them about dead-average in the national rankings, per KenPom. But against Bryant, who stacks up 19th in the nation in 3-point attempts per game (TeamRankings.com), they can’t budge this time around. Although the Bulldogs typically play a four-guard starting set, they’ve got a decent size advantage on the Raiders, as not a single Bryant starter is under 6’3”. Guards Trey Calvin and Keaton Norris - both standing at 6-foot-nothing - will be asked to play a massive game defensively against run-and-gun guards in Eleeda, Pride, and Kiss.
Bryant Player to watch: Peter Kiss
He’s polarizing, he’s competitive, and he’s at his fourth school in six years. But if you ask Peter Kiss, nothing else matters than winning…and he’s played a major role in the Bulldogs’ winning ways these past two years. Now the nation’s leading scorer at 25.1 points per game, a few points above Liberty’s superstar Darius McGhee. Sure, Kiss shot 29.4% from downtown and 45.6% from the floor, but if you think that deters him from hucking it up, you might have to head to NECFrontRow.com’s game archives and determine that for yourself (spoiler, it doesn’t). Kiss thrives in the break and in isolation, so if Wright gives him an inch of space, he’ll exploit it. This will be a solid test for Kiss, but historically speaking, he should have no problem rising to the occasion.
Wright State player to watch: Tanner Holden
The Raiders have their guy this year, too. Holden - a 6’6” junior who functions in a similar role as Kiss - took another big leap forward in the 2021-22 season. He averaged just shy of 20 points per game (19.8), all while collecting 7.3 boards and dishing out 2.6 assists per game. His usage of nearly 90% of WSU’s available minutes rivals (and eclipses) that of some of the best players in the nation. Holden doesn't’ take nearly as many shots as Kiss does, but what he means to his team is certainly similar. The Raiders will go as Tanner Holden does, so look to see how Bryant guards him in the first chunk of the game.
Tanner Holden is key to #16 Wright State's success against Bryant tonight. PIC: WSU Athletics
Prediction: #16 Bryant 82, #16 Wright State 80
Bryant’s speed punches Wright State early, getting them out to a sizable lead. The Raiders make some adjustments, go on a few runs, and close the gap, but the Bulldogs gave themselves a nice lift too early in the game, and they won’t be denied. On to Arizona.