Things start to get real for the Cal State Bakersfield men's basketball program Saturday night.
After beating up on Division II opponent Notre Dame De Namur 103-51 in the regular season opener Tuesday, the Roadrunners begin the D-I portion of their schedule Saturday with a home tilt against South Dakota State, one of the steadiest mid-major programs of recent seasons.
The Jackrabbits have played in the postseason in each of the last eight years, making five appearances in the NCAA Tournament. They're coming of a 24-9 season in which they won the Summit League regular season title and reached the NIT.
“It’s a test for us," Roadrunner coach Rod Barnes said of SDSU. "They’re a really good team, they’re well coached, they have tradition and history, especially over the last six to eight years.”
SDSU is in a bit of a transition, though, following the graduation of Mike Daum, the Summit League's all-time leading scorer and the program's all-time leading rebounder. The Jackrabbits were picked to finish fifth in the preseason league poll.
Though the sample size is small, the Jacks have had early success replacing the inside production of the 6-foot-9, 235-pound Daum.
Douglas Wilson scored 24 points on 10-of-13 shooting, while Matt Dentlinger (14) and Alex Arinas (10) each had double-digit rebounds in a 70-57 Tuesday win over UTRGV, a team projected to finish ahead of CSUB in the WAC.
Wilson then led a balanced attack with 13 points and eight rebounds in an 86-58 win over NAIA foe Peru State (Neb.) on Thursday.
Saturday will provide a much stiffer challenge inside for a Roadrunner team that outscored Notre Dame de Namur 44-8 in the paint while holding a 53-27 rebounding edge. Though the competition will be tougher, players expect the gameplan will be much the same.
“Overall, our style ain’t going to change," said center Shawn Smith, who scored 18 points in 17 minutes Tuesday. "We’re still going to do the same thing. It’s starts with playing hard.”
Barnes doesn't expect effort will be an issue for a Roadrunner team that can use Saturday's tilt as a measuring stick for where they are early in the season.
"It's time," he said. "It's two mid-major programs that have been good over the last three or four years. It'll give us some kind of signal or idea of where we are now. And we need that."