There's sort of a feeling that conference play is coming early for the Cal State Bakersfield men's basketball team.
While the start of the WAC season is still more than a month away, the Roadrunners will get a taste of what life in their future conference, the Big West, will be like when UC Santa Barbara comes to the Icardo Center on Tuesday night.
“It’s a big game for us because we want to send a message," CSUB forward Greg Lee said. "The whole point of this game is to win for the season, but also send a message that we’re coming. We’ve got to prove a point."
In the midst of their first two-game win streak of the season, the 'Runners will get a stiff challenge from a Gaucho team on a three-game win streak of its own. Santa Barbara, which was picked to finish second in the Big West this season, comes to Bakersfield 4-3 overall, with two of its losses coming to Pac-12 teams.
An offense that has four players scoring in double-figures is led by preseason All-Big West players Amadou Sow and Max Heidegger, who score 15.6 and 14 points per game respectively for an offense averaging a Big West-high 75.4 points.
Sow is also second in the Big West, averaging 8.7 rebounds per game.
The productive offense will challenge a CSUB defense, which after surrendering 83.6 points per game during a recent three-game skid, allowed just 58 per in wins over Hampton and San Diego Christian over the weekend.
Matchups with the Big West are nothing new to the Roadrunners. They went 2-0 against the league last season and have won three-consecutive games against conference teams overall, a streak coach Rod Barnes naturally wants to see continue Tuesday night.
"Being our first opponent this season that’s in a conference, the Big West, that we’re going into next year, we want a great showing," Barnes said.
But with a new-look, 4-5 team still looking to find a consistent identity, Barnes says his team isn't in a position to look ahead one day, let alone one season.
“We haven’t talked about the Big West," he said. "We talked about them being good because they’re the next opponent. That’s all we’ll do right now. We have so much that we have to improve on, that we need to improve on, that we can’t start to look at outside things, conference, whether we’re on TV or whether the team’s in a Power Five league.
"Right now we’ve got to really focus on us and that’s all we’re doing.”