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Nick Ellis / Special to The Californian

CSUB forward Erik Kenney dunks over an Occidental player in the second half Saturday night.

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Nick Ellis / Special to The Californian

CSUB guard Issiah Grayson blocks an Occidental player from driving to the basket Saturday night.

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Nick Ellis / Special to The Californian

CSUB guard Zach Lamb focuses on Occidental guard Joe Compagno Saturday night at the Icardo Center.

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Nick Ellis / Special to The Californian

CSUB guard Brandon Barnes drives to the basket with several Occidental players defending him at the Icardo Center Saturday night.

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Nick Ellis / Special to The Californian

CSUB center Tyler Smith battles with Occidental's Andrew Johnson Saturday night at The Icardo Center.

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Nick Ellis / Special to The Californian

CSUB center Tyler Smith scores during the first half Saturday night at The Icardo Center.

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Nick Ellis / Special to The Californian

CSUB guard Brandon Barnes fights for position with Occidental forward Kris Montoya Saturday night.

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Nick Ellis / Special to The Californian

CSUB player Tyrell Corbin guards Occidentals Kory Hamane at the Icardo Center Saturday night.

Cal State Bakersfield has had one winning season in its six-year Division I men's basketball history.

That was 16-15 in 2011-12. But this season promises to have the most success since CSUB's Division II years.

"This is our most talented team, our deepest team," said Rod Barnes, who is beginning his third season as CSUB's head coach.

An injury-plagued 2012-13 season saw CSUB finish 14-16 -- and that took six wins in the final seven games to approach .500.

The injuries devastated the back court, particularly the point guard position.

Issiah Grayson, the starter in 2011-12, was slow recovering from off-season knee surgery and sat out all of last season. Zach Lamb, who took over the point spot, suffered a season-ending ankle injury in the fifth game of the season.

Both had injury redshirt years and are now back for their senior seasons, fully healthy.

Tyler Smith, a 6-foot-11 junior center, also sat out as a redshirt. He's dropped nearly 20 pounds from a year ago and has added quickness.

Brandon Barnes, a senior guard and Rod Barnes' son, found himself at forward at times last season despite being only 6-foot-1. Now he's back at his natural guard spot.

Add shooting guard Javonte Maynor, forward Corey Hall and senior Stefon Johnson, a 6-foot-6 transfer from Gardner-Webb and Rod Barnes feels a solid foundation is in place.

"With those guys we feel we have most of the positions covered with experience and guys who have been around the block a time or two. And they've been (playing) together and that's important.

"They have a good feel for each other. They know the strengths and weaknesses of each guy. That's going to help us. And they know what's expected of them on the court and in practice, and off the court also."

Maynor, Smith and newcomer Tyrell Corbin, a guard, are juniors. The sophomores are 6-foot-9 center Aly Ahmed, guard Jaylin Airington and forward Erik Kinney.

Sophomore 6-foot-8 forward Deng Deng, who played at Long Beach State, will redshirt this year because of NCAA transfer rules.

"Those are a bunch of guys who will be returning next year, so we feel we've got a good base for the next couple of years. We have a program that is built to have success."

Finally a conference home

The team's hopes are buoyed by membership in the Western Athletic Conference after six seasons as a Division I independent.

WAC coaches and media covering the WAC both have predicted a third-place finish for the Roadrunners, behind overwhelming favorite New Mexico State and Seattle.

"We hope to be in the mix," Barnes said. "We felt it was important to not come into a new league being looked at as a last-place team."

And having a conference home is significant because that means a set schedule in January and February -- months in past years that were difficult to find games -- and, most important, the carrot of the WAC Tournament champion qualifying for the NCAA Tournament. The WAC Tournament will be held March 13-15 in Las Vegas.

"The biggest thing is being in a conference tournament and having a chance to play in March Madness," Barnes said.

"You want to be in a league, to have a chance to play those three days in March and hopefully after those three days you're holding the (WAC championship) trophy in your hands and you get a chance to go on. That brings a lot of excitement."

Barnes said he built this season's squad with the idea that it would help make CSUB attractive for whatever conference the Roadrunners joined.

"We didn't want people to look at our roster and go, 'They don't have a kid over 6-4, so there's no way they'll be attractive for our league,' or 'they can't recruit well enough,'" Barnes said.

"We wanted to add size because we didn't know where we would land.

"We feel we've landed in a conference that has a few teams with some big guys. Seattle has a big front line. Idaho usually has good size. New Mexico State has great size."

Barnes said being in a conference changes the focus of a season.

He noted that an independent program's goal is a winning season, so all games were equally important. Now it's about the WAC.

"Obviously, the non-conference is important, but it's not as important as the conference," Barnes said. "The conference is important, but not nearly as important as the (conference) tournament."

Because of that, Barnes said the focus in pre-conference games is preparation for WAC play.

"Maybe you play with a different lineup, or you might play zone where maybe you wouldn't before," he said. "That's because you want to work on your zone to help you against this team or that team in your league. ...

"Everything is about leading up to the weekend in Las Vegas in March."

Who replaces Carter?

The graduation of CSUB career scoring leader Stephon Carter creates a gaping hole in CSUB's lineup.

Carter, a four-year starter and Garces High graduate, averaged 15.9 points per game last season.

"Steph was unique in that we knew most games you could write out 15 points from him," Barnes said. "I'm not sure we have a guy that we can count on like that this season."

But Barnes said that doesn't worry him.

"What makes us more effective: We have a bunch of guys who on any night could get 15 points, which makes us a more effective and more dangerous team," he said.

The challenge for the coaching staff and players is to give more scoring opportunities to a player who's hot in a given game, Barnes said.

"So if it's this guy's night, we make sure the chemistry's right so he's going to be able to go after those 15 to 18 points," Barnes said.

"We think we've got enough people that if it's not one guy's night, another guy can step up.

"We've got a bunch of guys who can get that 13 to 14 a night. Hopefully we can build our team so we have four or five guys in double figures from 12 to 13 (per game) down to 10. We think that's the way we have to do it."

Barnes said the depth will allow CSUB to play his preferred style of basketball.

"We'll play a more up-tempo style," Barnes said. "We've got a lot of size. We've got a lot of experience. We've got a lot of bodies. ...

"Because of our depth, I'm not as afraid of foul trouble.

"My philosophy has been the last couple of years: A guy gets two fouls in the first half and he's going to sit out the rest of the half. That's not true now.

"If he's playing well, we'll keep him in there. Now if he gets his third one, we'll take him out.

"We'll play fast and you'll see us go inside more because we have the size, something we haven't done a lot of the last couple of years.

"If you really want to be good, you've got to be able to go inside when you need a basket."