Coach: Gil Jackson (first season as a head coach).

Last season: 5-23, 2-16 Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference, lost in conference first round.

The glue: The Bison's dramatic plunge after a somewhat promising start last season coincided with the loss of point guard Louis Ford to academic troubles. Howard began the season 4-6 and 2-0 in the MEAC; after Ford's departure, the Bison went 1-17. Ford's grades are in order this year, and he will lead a three-guard offense for a team without many interior threats.

When he played last year, the 5-foot-6 senior guard led Howard in points (14.1 per game), assists (5.6), steals (3.8) and free-throw percentage (.917). And with first-year coach Jackson, a longtime assistant at Penn, adjusting to a new league and a different style of play, Ford will be counted on for both scoring and leadership.

"He just has a huge, huge basketball IQ -- he knows what opponents are going to do before they do it," Jackson said. "He's definitely going to be the focal point."

Cliffone Ault, Howard's third-leading scorer a year ago, is enrolled in school but not on the team. Ford's back-court mates will include Will Gant, who averaged 14.0 points a game, and Darek Mitchell, a solid outside shooter who needs to work on his defense.

Game to watch: Feb. 6 vs. Hampton. The Pirates embarrassed Howard by 39 last January in front of the Bison's second-biggest crowd of the season. Bruce Brown, Hampton's 6-11 center, led the nation in field goal percentage last year and is the MEAC's preseason player of the year.

Postseason prospects (from 1 to 4 basketballs): Howard has not played in the NCAA tournament since 1992 and was picked to finish 10th out of 11 teams in the MEAC.