Cal State University – Bakersfield
Preseason rankings: 3rd (coaches), 3rd (media)
Aside from Seattle, the one school with the most potential to emerge into a mid-major power has to be CSU-Bakersfield. Nestled in the basketball hotbed of California, close enough to recruit LA and the Bay Area with ease, Bakersfield is in and of itself a fairly major, rapidly growing media market. It’s the 62nd biggest metropolitan area in the US, roughly on par with Omaha and El Paso. And it’s a market that CSUB can own, because there is zero competition in the sporting landscape. No big pro teams. No other universities. A 10,000 seat arena with a shiny new court. And a developing basketball program, one that made its first NCAA postseason appearance in the 2012 CIT. They took a minor step backwards last season, finishing 14-16 as an independent, and lost five seniors. But the race between the Roadrunners and the Redhawks to establish their respective programs near the top of the WAC will still be a fierce and entertaining one to watch.
When they play: Jan. 16 at home, Feb. 15 in Bakersfield
Schedule breakdown: H – 5 A – 7 N – 2 Power Conference – 4 (WSU, Nevada, Fresno St, USC), Lower Division – 1
Home games against Nevada and Santa Clara are both very winnable. The season-opening trip to Washington State might be the toughest game Bakersfield plays all year. Interestingly, the Roadrunners have back-to-back road games against last year’s WAC opponents UT-Arlington and UTSA. Those will provide a very good early look at where CSUB might fit in this new-look conference.
One to watch: Brandon Barnes. The Roadrunners will go as far as their senior guard will take them. The son of Bakersfield head coach Rod Barnes, Brandon was second on the team in scoring and first in rebounds – despite standing just 6’1”. He also shot a blistering 43% from beyond the arc. He’ll play mostly as a 2-guard and the offense will flow through him.
Blog prediction: 3rd. Bakersfield has been a D-1 school since just 2010, but has more big-game experience than any of the other conference newcomers. They’ll feature an up-tempo offense capable of scoring inside and outside. Having played many of their new WAC rivals already in past seasons, including a road overtime win at Seattle last year, the Roadrunners should be primed and ready for a strong conference debut.