The Cal State Bakersfield men’s basketball team has played for a Western Athletic Conference Tournament championship each of the past two years. Reaching that prolific stage will be a big challenge in 2018, however.
The Roadrunners enter this year’s tournament as the No. 7 seed, and will face No. 2 Utah Valley in the opening round of tournament play on Thursday at 2:30 p.m.
Here are some key obstacles CSUB must overcome in order to make a run at NCAA postseason play once again:
Tough, tough draw: Of all teams the Roadrunners could face in the tournament’s opening round, Utah Valley seems to be the worst possible scenario, at least on paper. Simply put, the Roadrunners haven’t matched up well with the Wolverines, having lost to them twice this season in blowout fashion — 75-42 at Utah Valley on Jan. 6, and 70-47 in Bakersfield on Feb. 22.
But that’s not all. If CSUB happens to upset UVU, they would likely then face No. 3 Grand Canyon (barring the Antelope get past No. 6 Kansas City in the tournament’s opening round). This is the first year GCU is eligible for postseason play and they’re one of the conference’s top teams — albeit one the Roadrunners beat in Bakersfield, 71-58, on Feb. 17.
And then, if somehow the Roadrunners run that gauntlet? There’s a good chance they would face No. 1-seed New Mexico State for the championship. The Aggies have been a good team all season, and another NCAA Tournament berth seems well within their reach in 2018.
In other words, CSUB would likely have to go through the WAC’s version of murderer’s row to sniff postseason contention once again. That’s a tall order.
Score points: Sounds simple enough. But the Roadrunners rank last in the conference in points per game this season (65.8). That puts a lot of pressure on a defense that ranks fourth overall in points surrendered per contest (68.5).
While the Roadrunners lack a veteran player that can be relied upon consistently to put the ball in the hole, they have a handful of X-factors that simply need to play well. Damiyne Durham headlines the list, a junior guard who can shoot the team into or out of a game on any given evening. Freshman guard Jarkel Joiner is going to do big things in his college career, but at this point he’s a young player who can be up and down. The team will also need big efforts from fellow guard Rickey Holden and redshirt freshman forward Justin Davis if they hope to truly spring an upset or two in the tournament.
March Madness: It’s that time of year again, where surprises are commonplace across the college basketball world. The Roadrunners are pretty much what their record says they are — a sub-.500 team (12-17 overall, 5-9 in the WAC) that has the No. 7-seed in a conference that features the mediocre (Texas-Rio Grande Valley, Missouri-Kansas City) to the downright dreadful (Chicago State and its 3-28 overall record) in the bottom-half of the standings. Still, they don’t call it March Madness for nothing. Maybe CSUB will have some of that postseason magic on its side. They’ll need a lot of it if they want to make a run in 2018.