When Cal State Bakersfield head coach Rod Barnes thinks about success, he doesn’t necessarily think about banners and trophies. It’s the potential of a team that’s on his mind.
He doesn’t expect a national championship at the start of every season, but isn’t keen on a season ending — in his mind — earlier than it should.
The 2017 portion of this year’s schedule is in the books with the Roadrunners sporting a 7-8 record at the end of nonconference play. CSUB has high hopes for 2018 and the month of March, specifically.
Conference play starts Jan. 6 at Utah Valley. A Western Athletic Conference championship and a second NCAA Tournament appearance in three years is on the Roadrunners’ minds. Even last year’s run to the final four of the National Invitation Tournament in Madison Square Garden was a disappointment in a sense.
This team has the potential to make a run at the end of the season and return from Las Vegas on top. But it’s consistency — or lack thereof — that will determine the result of the year.
“One thing for us is we don’t ever want to look back and say we didn’t get everything we could get out of a team,” Barnes said on Oct. 2 during CSUB’s first practice of the season.
Considering the lost production and amount of new pieces this season, it wasn’t exactly clear what the fate of the season would be.
The only returning starter in point guard Brent Wrapp was sidelined with a foot injury basically the entire offseason. Junior college transfer Rickey Holden and freshman Jarkel Joiner would have to man the backcourt. CSUB needed a strong contributor out of a group of freshmen and redshirt freshmen that had never played college basketball.
But Wrapp is finally mostly healthy and back to feeling like his old self. Holden turned into CSUB’s most consistent player on the offensive and defensive ends. Joiner leads the team with 11.6 points per game. Redshirt freshman Justin Davis has averaged 22.8 minutes, eight points and five rebounds per game in the last four contests.
On the court, that translated into big back-to-back wins over Idaho and Georgia Southern. CSUB avenged an early-season 77-53 loss to Georgia Southern and beat Idaho for the second time in about three weeks. Both teams are near Kenpom’s top 100. Georgia Southern is ranked 101, Idaho is 106 and CSUB is 195.
The two wins were sandwiched by a losses to previously winless to Northern Arizona at home and Kenpom-ranked 229th Delaware (by 14) on the road, though.
Even in the Roadrunners’ final non-conference game at Arkansas, which received Top 25 votes, CSUB weathered a few runs to sit tied with the Razorbacks, 38-38, near the end of the second half. It was a strong early showing. But the Roadrunners were outscored by 27 the rest of the way.
The WAC might be stronger than it has been in recent years.
New Mexico State knocked off then-No. 6 and undefeated Miami on Dec 23. It lost to USC by just five on Christmas Day and is one of the top mid-major teams in the country.
In its first season of postseason eligibility, Grand Canyon took Boise State to double overtime on the road and has the 24th and 34th best defense in the country in terms of opponent field goal percentage and turnovers forced, respectively.
Utah Valley opened the season with only a 10-point loss to then-No. 5 Kentucky at Rupp Arena. The Wolverines have the eighth best rebounding margin in the country and are shooting a 31st best 49.4 percent.
“It’s going to be a competitive deal, but I feel good going into conference play because I feel like we’ve played a really good schedule,” Barnes said on Dec. 12. “... We’ll see teams like Idaho. We’ll see teams like Georgia Southern.”
If the the Roadrunners are on, no game for the rest of the season will be out of reach. It has the tools to be dangerous.
But there’s no two-game conference tournament slate for the No. 1 seed this year and a WAC title could require three straight wins against UVU, Grand Canyon and New Mexico State.
CSUB won’t be able to afford an off game.
“There’s an edge still in our program that we have another level that we want to get to,” Barnes said on Oct. 2. “To do that, it’s gonna take work. We talk about that process every day. It’s not going to happen today. It’s not going to happen next week. it’s going to happen over the season. Just stay focused. Once we get to Vegas, we’ll see where we are.”