Wright State coach blasts tournament format after win

Tony Paul
The Detroit News

Detroit — Wright State had just won.

Yet, it was hard to tell from the tone in coach Billy Donlon’s raised voice.

After his team beat Detroit, 82-72, in the quarterfinals of the Horizon League tournament Sunday evening at Joe Louis Arena, Donlon blasted the league for its format — specifically, giving the top two seeds a double-bye, while the third seed has to play four games in four days if it is to win the championship.

Wright State is halfway there, after beating UIC on Saturday and Detroit on Sunday.

“I want to know why nobody’s asking the decision-makers about the tournament,” Donlon said. “I’m standing up for my team.

“I don’t play the political correctness. ... We were like an also-ran when we came here, that’s how we were treated. Like an also-ran.”

Wright State finished tied for second in the regular season, with Oakland, its semifinal opponent Monday night.

But Oakland won the tiebreaker because it swept the season series.

So Oakland got the double-bye, and Wright State, a team that beat regular-season champion Valparaiso twice, got the short end of the stick. Valparaiso beat Oakland twice, meaning the top three teams in the league all went 2-2 against each other.

Donlon said he voiced objection to the format in October, when the league officials met with the coaches from the 10 member schools.

“I said, ‘This is not right,’ ” Donlon said. “(Youngstown State coach) Jerry Slocum turned to me and said, ‘You’re going to finish third this year.’ ”

On Monday night’s game with Oakland, Donlon said: “When we’re playing our 120th minute, they’re playing their 40th. It matters.”

Donlon suggested the conference make the seven through 10 seeds play in the first round, to get the bracket down to eight teams. He said he doesn’t know of any other 10-team conference in the country that uses a double-bye for the first two seeds, and no bye at all for the third.

Donlon also railed at the media for not voting a single Wright State player on the Horizon League first team, second team or all-freshman team. Its only postseason honor when to Joe Thomasson, who made the all-defensive team.

“I’m just fighting for my players,” Donlon said.

He did praise other aspects of the Horizon League tournament’s debut in Detroit, including logistics, hotels and fan support.