If there's one major takeaway from its recently released men's basketball schedule, it's that Cal State Bakersfield's final season in the WAC will be a challenging one.
Revealed on Thursday, the Roadrunner schedule contains road games against two of the final eight teams left standing in last year's NCAA Tournament. They'll make a second-straight trip to Gonzaga on Nov. 23, then wrap non-conference play with a Dec. 29 game at Texas Tech, which held a lead with under 30 seconds to play in regulation of the national championship game before falling to Virginia in overtime.
Things won't be easy before that either. The first two Division-I opponents CSUB is slated to face, South Dakota State and Northern Iowa, have played a combined seven NCAA Tournament games since 2015.
All this leads to WAC play, which brings two games against an almost fully reloaded New Mexico State squad that lost just one WAC game en route to a regular season and tournament title last season.
How these Roadrunners, who lost four of their top five scorers as well as their assist and rebound leaders from last year, handle these challenges remains to be seen. Regardless, there's no shortage of intrigue with the first exhibition contest less than six weeks away.
Here are the most interesting storylines facing CSUB entering the season.
While the Gonzaga and Texas Tech games might leap out more to casual viewers, another non-conference tilt against a 2019 NCAA Tournament opponent likely holds more significance to Roadrunner coach Rod Barnes.
On Dec. 7, Barnes will lead CSUB into Ole Miss, where he found success as both a player and coach. Barnes was an All-SEC selection as a senior for the Rebels in 1988, then joined the school's coaching staff in 1993, where he stayed until 2006.
After taking over as head coach in 1998, Barnes went 141-109 and made the NCAA Tournament three times. His best year came in 2001, when he was named Naismith College Coach of the Year and led the Rebels to their only Sweet 16 appearance.
The game will mark the first time Barnes has coached against his Alma Mater.
The contest will also reunite the Roadrunners with 2019 All-WAC guard Jarkel Joiner, who transferred to Ole Miss this offseason. Joiner won't be able to suit up, though, as NCAA transfer rules prohibit him from taking the floor this season.
Big West preview
Before officially making their move to the Big West in 2020-21, the Roadrunners will get a brief glimpse of what they'll be up against in future conference outings.
CSUB hosts soon-to-be conference foe UC Santa Barbara on Dec. 3, then travels for a road matchup against Cal Poly on Dec. 21.
Big West competition is nothing new to the Roadrunners, who are currently on a three-game win streak against teams from that league. This includes a 74-61 win over Cal Poly and a 66-58 win over Cal State Fullerton a season ago.
Hoping to be at their best going into the WAC Tournament, the Roadrunners certainly won't be coasting through the end of the regular season.
CSUB plays its final home game against New Mexico State on Feb. 29, before traveling to face Grand Canyon in the regular season finale March 7.
The Aggies, who won 30 games and came within a point of upsetting Final Four participant Auburn in the first round of the NCAA Tournament last season, return four of their top five scorers, a group led by all-conference guard Terrell Brown.
The Antelopes, who faced the Aggies in the WAC title game last spring, also return their top-two scorers in Carlos Johnson (14.3 points per game) and Alessandro Lever (12.5).
In his preseason program rankings list, Ken Pomery ranked New Mexico State and Grand Canyon as the top two teams in the WAC, with the Aggies coming in at No. 112 and the Antelopes listed at No. 178 in his overall rankings.
The 'Runners were ranked fifth in the WAC and 252nd overall in the same poll.