Cal State Bakersfield head coach Rod Barnes is realistic when it comes to where his team is at compared to the other schools in the Western Athletic Conference.
“We’re probably the fourth or fifth best team going into the league play,” Barnes said. “But that doesn't say anything until you play the games.”
And what matters more is where the team is at when the season ends in March.
Barnes and his players are determined not to take a step back from the success of the last two years. That mission starts Saturday at Utah Valley at 6 p.m. in CSUB’s first conference game of the season.
The last two seasons have ended with CSUB as WAC champions. In 2015-16, the Roadrunners won the WAC tournament and punched their ticket to the first NCAA Tournament in school history. In 2016-17, CSUB lost in the WAC tournament finals but had already won the regular season crown and represented the conference in the National Invitation Tournament.
The coaches picked the Roadrunners to finish third both of those years. The media placed CSUB fourth and then third.
“We’re gonna do like we always do,” Barnes said. “Every season, we’ve been picked third or fourth — somewhere in there — and as the season goes on we get better. Last year, we were old enough and experienced enough to win enough games early in the season that we won the regular season (WAC championship). Can this team do that? Yeah, I think we can do that because I'm not sure there’s people in the league that may run away with the league this year.”
Grand Canyon was the unanimous preseason favorite, featuring preseason player of the year Joshua Braun.
But all eyes seem to be on New Mexico State now after the Aggies beat Davidson and then-No. 6 and undefeated Miami in a two-day span. New Mexico State is led in part by senior Zach Lofton, who is second in the conference in scoring while with the fifth different school in his college career.
The Aggies might have a shot at an at-large bid to the Big Dance if they don’t win the conference tournament.
Again, the coaches predicted a third place finish from CSUB and the media predicted a fourth place finish.
“I think we’re talented enough,” Barnes said of making a run at the end of the year. “I think we’re deep enough.”
The question is if CSUB can be consistent enough to win.
CSUB women host Utah Valley on Saturday
The Roadrunners’ women’s team starts conference play on Saturday against Utah Valley, too. The women will be at home in the Icardo Center at 1 p.m.
Head coach Greg McCall has long been anticipating the start of the league schedule because he feels his top-40 scoring defense is unmatched in the conference.
“Super excited,” McCall said. “This team, they’re ready. They’re hungry.”
The coaches picked CSUB to finish second back in October — with two first place votes — and the media put the Roadrunners third. CSUB has never won the WAC tournament or regular season. McCall likes his chances of changing that this season.
Jon Mettus can be reached at 661-395-7389. Follow him on Twitter at @jmettus.