At the start of the season, Cal State Bakersfield was projected to finish in the middle of the WAC standings in both men's and women's basketball.

While outside expectations don't seem to have changed much for the men, it's a different story with the Roadrunner women. If advanced metrics are to be believed, the CSUB women have transformed from a middle-of-the-pack team to one that is a heavy favorite to cut down the nets at the conference tournament in Las Vegas in March.

With a jump to the Big West coming at season's end, each team is looking to close out its final year in the WAC strong, with the ultimate goal, naturally, being to capture the league's automatic bid into the NCAA Tournament. Here's a look at each team's prospects heading into conference play, which begins this weekend. 

Men

With more than 50 percent new players on its roster, CSUB went through some predictable growing pains in non-conference play.

Many of the struggles have come on the defensive end, particularly on the perimeter. The Roadrunners entered Wednesday ranked 337th in 3-point field goal defense, with opponents hitting 3s at a 38.2 percent clip.

CSUB, currently 6-9 overall, did string together some strong performances recently, earning consecutive wins over Montana State and Cal Poly before losing a respectable 73-58 game against nationally ranked Texas Tech.

After being picked to finish sixth by coaches and seventh by media in the preseason, expectations, at least in the metrics world, are roughly the same for the 'Runners.

In RPI ratings, the Roadrunners rank fifth in the league, 255th overall. In the newly established NET Rankings, CSUB comes in at No. 272, the seventh best mark in the WAC.

What to expect: I honestly don't know. Cowardly as that may be to put into print, it feels almost impossible to determining anything outside of a league favorite at this point.

After an up-and-down, injury-riddled non-conference run, New Mexico State (83rd in RPI, 108th in NET) remains a heavy favorite to earn the WAC's NCAA Tournament bid for the ninth time since 2010.

If there was any doubting the Aggies' place atop the league's power structure, it was erased with a 58-52 win over Mississippi State on Dec. 22. It was a much-needed signature win for the conference which otherwise went 0-22 against power conference schools and Gonzaga, losing by an average of 23.9 points per game.

If it's hard to pin down where the Roadrunners stand in the conference right now, it should be easier at this point next week, following home games against Grand Canyon and California Baptist.

The Antelopes come to Bakersfield Saturday ranked third among WAC teams in RPI (224th) and fifth in NET (247). The Lancers, whose 9-4 non-conference record was the league's best, are fourth in RPI (253) and second in NET (178) in the WAC.

Women

Suffice it to say, opinions of WAC women's basketball are not high this season. Out of 32 conferences, the WAC currently ranks dead last in overall RPI.

But as the rest of the league has sputtered, a Roadrunner team that had its first winning record (8-5) in non-conference play since 2014 has emerged as a decided numerical favorite.

In RPI, the Roadrunners rank 123rd nationally. Entering Wednesday, no one else in the conference was in the top 250.

It's a similar story in NET rankings, where CSUB entered Wednesday ranked 118th. Missouri-Kansas City is currently second in the conference at No. 245.

Expectations: Clearly, they're high and rightfully so. But if CSUB is going to make its first ever trip to the Division I NCAA Tournament, there's one persistent problem that needs to be corrected.

While the Roadrunners are a perfect 8-0 at home, it's been an entirely different story away from the Icardo Center, where they are winless in five games.

While competition for most of these games has been stiff, CSUB had a noticeable setback against UC Riverside Tuesday. Facing a Highlander team that entered the day 3-10, the Roadrunners didn't make a field goal in the final 7:29, losing 53-52 when a second-chance attempt rolled off the rim at the buzzer.

That loss sent CSUB plummeting in national rankings. Prior to the loss, they were ranked 80th in RPI and 75th in NET.

If they hope to solidify themselves as the WAC frontrunner early, the Roadrunners, who've lost eight straight road games dating back to last year, will have to do so away from Bakersfield.

They travel to face Grand Canyon Saturday then are at California Baptist Wednesday. The Lancers (8-6) were the only other team in the WAC to finish non-conference play above .500.

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