Back to zero, square one. And for the Fresno State men’s basketball team, that is not a bad place to be.
Coming off the program’s first NCAA Tournament appearance since 2001, the Bulldogs have several players back that contributed significant minutes to that late-season run in Paul Watson, Cullen Russo, Jahmel Taylor, Terrell Carter II and Karachi Edo.
With them comes an understanding, an acceptance of what is required and really matters, and a head start in booking a return trip.
“In all honesty, you want to look at it like you’re starting from zero,” Carter said. “That’s probably not the way everybody else sees it. They look at us like we’re up and coming. But if you have the attitude that you’re starting at zero and keep going from there and just have that work mentality, I feel like you can get better.
“Yes, we did make the NCAA Tournament. But this year, we don’t want to be tourists. You don’t want to come in and just enjoy. … It’s just like Vegas, you visit and then you leave. You want it to be like your hometown. You want the NCAA Tournament to have a hometown type of feel. You want to be there all the time.”
Fresno State last season was 6-0 in games decided by three points or fewer including 5-0 in Mountain West Conference play.
That’s territory the Bulldogs have not traversed, really, ever. Fresno State has advanced to the NCAA Tournament only six times in its history. It had back-to-back trips in 2000 and 2001 and way back in 1981 and 1982, but sustaining that level has been difficult, as it is for many mid-major programs.
In the Mountain West Conference, only San Diego State and UNLV have reached the tournament more than three seasons in a row, the Aztecs from 2010-15 and the Rebels from 2010-13. New Mexico played in three in a row, 2012-14.
The Bulldogs take the first step Friday in their opener against Texas-San Antonio at Save Mart Center, an incremental move where the result doesn’t figure to be particularly telling against a team that last season was 5-27 and has a streak of four consecutive losing seasons.
The approach, though, will be instructive for a team that has Watson, Russo, Taylor and Carter and also is integrating key pieces in point guard Jaron Hopkins, guard Deshon Taylor and freshmen Bryson Williams and Johnny McWilliams.
Yes, we did make the NCAA Tournament. But this year, we don’t want to be tourists. You want the NCAA Tournament to have a hometown type of feel. You want to be there all the time.
Fresno State center Terrell Carter II
“It helps, because those guys understand how hard it is to get there,” coach Rodney Terry said. “They understand how hard it is. Every day you have to bring it. We say we want championship reps in everything we do whether it’s an offensive drill, a defensive drill. You control that with your attitude, your approach, every single day.
“I do think the older guys that have had a chance to go through that, they know what that means. They know what a championship or an NCAA rep is, and they can demonstrate to the younger guys … ‘Hey, you’re not going hard enough.’ Or, ‘Hey, that’s not a good enough screen right there to get us to the tournament. That’s not a hard enough cut to get us to the tournament. That’s not a physical enough block out to finish a possession for us to get where we want to get to.’
“They’ve been through that, and that’s always good when you have carryover. Some years you may have four guys, some years you may have eight or nine guys. But regardless of the number, those guys know what it looks like, what it smells like.”
Fresno State, which has a chance to get off to a fast start with home games against the Roadrunners followed by Prairie View A&M and Lamar, teams that were a combined 23-70 last season, had issues with its defense in an exhibition victory over Cal State San Bernardino.
And Terry still is sorting through lineups and combinations to put on the floor.
8 Teams nationwide that improved their conference win total four years in a row, including Fresno State
Edo, who is ineligible through the fall semester, is expected back just before the Bulldogs begin Mountain West play at the end of December. William McDowell-White, who is taking classes at a Southern California prep school to gain eligibility, also hopes to play by midseason.
But the pieces could come together much faster and more easily than a year ago when the Bulldogs, for the most part, alternated wins and losses until a Feb. 3 loss at San Jose State shocked their sensibilities and they ran off 11 wins in 12 games, including nine in a row to get into the NCAA Tournament.
It’s that experience.
“We don’t want anything less because we’ve seen that we can do it,” Carter said. “That carryover sticks with the guys that were here, and we’re trying to put the good habits onto the guys that weren’t here and the bad habits that we did have now we know what we need to do to fix that. The carryover so far has been great.”
Robert Kuwada: @rkuwada
TEXAS-SAN ANTONIO AT FRESNO STATE
- Friday: 7 p.m. at Save Mart Center (15,596)
- 2015-16: Bulldogs 25-10, 13-5 Mountain West; Roadrunners 5-27, 3-15 Conference USA
- Webcast/radio: Mountain West Network (themw.com)/KFIG (AM 940), KGST (AM 1600)
Fresno State 2016-17 roster
Los Lunas, N.M.
Terrell Carter II
Sao Paulo, Brazil
Fresno State men’s basketball
- 1 vs. Cal State San Bernardino (exhibition), 7 p.m.
- 11 vs. Texas-San Antonio, 7 p.m.
- 14 vs. Prairie View A&M, 7 p.m.
- 19 vs. Lamar, 11 a.m.
- 22 at Cal State Bakersfield, 7 p.m.
- 25 at Oregon State, 6 p.m.
- 30 vs. Menlo College, 5 p.m.
- 3 at Drake, TBA
- 6 at Marquette, 4:30 p.m.
- 10 vs. Cal Poly, 4 p.m.
- 14 vs. Holy Names, 7 p.m.
- 17 at Pacific, 7 p.m.
- 20 at Oregon, 8 p.m.
- 28 at New Mexico*, 7 p.m. or 8 p.m.
- 31 vs. Nevada*, 4 p.m.
- 4 vs. Wyoming*, 7 p.m.
- 7 at San Jose State*, 2 p.m.
- 11 at Air Force*, 6 p.m.
- 14 vs. Boise State*, 4 p.m.
- 18 vs. Colorado State*, 8 p.m.
- 21 at Nevada*, 3 p.m.
- 28 at Utah State*, 6 p.m.
- 1 vs. Air Force*, 7 p.m.
- 4 vs. San Diego State*, 4 p.m.
- 8 at Wyoming*, 6 p.m.
- 11 at Colorado State*, 1 p.m.
- 15 vs. San Jose State*, 7 p.m.
- 18 vs. New Mexico*, 3 p.m.
- 22 at San Diego State*, 8 p.m.
- 28 at Boise State*, 7 p.m.
- 4 vs. UNLV*, 4 p.m.
- 8-11 Mountain West tournament in Las Vegas
*Mountain West game