Howard won 10 games in Coach Frankie Allen's first season and came within one game of making the NCAA tournament last year. This season, the Bison believe they have the manpower to make the jump to their first NCAA appearance since 1992.

"It is a great opportunity for us this year," Allen said.

The main reason for Allen's optimism is his pair of terrific seniors, small forward Kyle Williams and shooting guard Ron Williamson. Williams, a rangy wing forward who plays all three perimeter positions, was selected as the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference's preseason player of the year. Williamson offers a nice balance, an able shooter and slasher who is too dangerous to let teams concentrate solely on defending Williams.

The real key will be how quickly freshman point guard Louis Ford, the brother of former Michigan standout Rumeal Robinson, adjusts to the college game. Allen believes that Ford, listed at 5 feet 6, possesses the court vision and savvy to keep his up-tempo system humming.

"I can't tell you how good it feels to have a point guard who understands the game," Allen said. "The only knock on Louis is the one he's dealt with his whole life -- that he's short."

The front court replaces two starters, losing center Aki Thomas and power forward Darren Kennedy to graduation. Junior college transfer Qadir Habeeb will step in immediately at center, while senior Mario Grove will be asked to provide the intangibles and toughness the coaches had counted on from Kennedy last season.

-- Steve Argeris

Kyle Williams, above, and Ron Williamson should give the Bison balanced scoring.