One more sign that the Cal State Bakersfield men’s basketball season is drawing closer is the annual Blue-Gold Scrimmage coming up Thursday at 7 p.m. in the Icardo Center. The event will feature a team scrimmage — and a women’s team scrimmage — a 3-point shooting contest and a dunk contest.
After that, the next big milestones on the calendar are an exhibition against Biola on Nov. 4 and the season opener at home against Whittier College on Nov. 10, featuring a pregame ceremony to honor last year’s regular season Western Athletic Conference champions.
With the official start of the season about two and a half weeks away, here are six storylines to keep an eye on.
How healthy is Brent Wrapp?
Redshirt senior Brent Wrapp is not just the “heart and soul” of the team, he’s also the floor general, most experienced player and starting point guard. The team equates him to a having a coach on the court and compares him to head coach Rod Barnes.
But Wrapp broke his foot at the end of last season, he said, and might have other injuries in the foot. He sat out the team’s first practice on Oct. 2 with a boot on. He’s now out of the boot and practicing some days. Wrapp is at about 80 or 85 percent, Barnes said Tuesday.
The Colorado native was picked as a preseason second team All-WAC player by the coaches and media. He led the conference last season with a 2.30 assist-to-turnover ratio.
His absence will leave a large hole that will likely be filled by transfer Rickey Holden from Jones County (Mississippi) Community College.
How will CSUB replace 3 of its top 4 scorers?
Three of CSUB top four scorers from a season ago were all lost to graduation. Jaylin Airington, Dedrick Basile and Matt Smith combined for 37 points per game — 51.2 percent of the team total — and together started all but one game.
One of the most obvious ways to make up the scoring is to expand Damiyne Durham and Shon Briggs’ roles.
Durham was CSUB’s biggest 3-point threat and second leading scorer despite coming off the bench. Barnes said he’s bigger and stronger this season, which should make Durham’s game more complete and increase his scoring threat.
Briggs finished last season with four straight double-digit point outings, including a 17-point performance in CSUB’s upset win over Cal in the first round of the National Invitation Tournament. He spent the offseason working on his shot for transition 3s.
How quickly can Rickey Holden become acclimated to the team?
Even if Wrapp is completely healthy to start the year, Holden will likely have a prominent role as the backup point guard and a general playmaker. But if Wrapp isn’t ready to go, the pressure could be on Holden to command the offense from the get go. Holden has been “light years” ahead of the rest of the newcomers in practice, Barnes said, and has been the most consistent player since the start of the summer.
Still, it’ll be hard for Holden to understand the offense, defense and head coach the way Wrapp, in his fifth year, does. Holden could be thrown into the fire less than a week into the season when CSUB travels to Tucson, Ariz. to play Arizona, which was ranked fourth in the final AP Top 25 poll.
Is Jarkel Joiner the real deal?
Freshman guard Jarkel Joiner has been hyped up since coming from Oxford (Miss.) High, where his 36.5 points per game was the second-highest scoring average in the nation among seniors. After watching him practice, teammates and the coaches are high on what Joiner could do in his first year.
There will be plenty of opportunity to score — which Joiner knows how to do well — with the freshman likely to start the year at the two-guard spot in the backcourt with either Wrapp or Holden, Barnes said. The question is how well will he adapt to the college level once the real games start.
Will the Roadrunners put together the WAC’s best defense again?
At least half of the WAC coaches mentioned Cal State Bakersfield’s defense during their press conferences at the WAC’s basketball media day on Oct. 10. Barnes is known for his emphasis on defense and CSUB held its opponents to 63.9 points per game last season, which was the best among WAC teams.
The Roadrunners traditionally don’t blow teams out of the water with offensive shootouts and have a lot of scoring to replace. Though they do have some dynamic scorers on the roster, the success of the defense might determine the fate of the season.
Can CSUB make history again?
The past two season have been historic for CSUB, with a WAC tournament win and NCAA Tournament berth in 2015-16, and a regular season WAC title and NIT semifinals appearance last year. The question is, how will the Roadrunners follow up seasons that featured the program’s first NCAA Tournament appearance and Division I postseason wins?
Obviously, the goal is to combine the success of the two years by winning the WAC regular season and tournament titles for a trip to the NCAA Tournament. But Barnes is still figuring out the potential of this year’s young team.