OCALA--The College of Central Florida men's basketball team has been a model of consistency under coach Tim Ryan.
The Patriots have earned 10 consecutive trips to the FCSAA State Tournament, the third longest since the tournament began in 1961. Along the way, CF won the NJCAA National Championship in 2013. Those results have made the Patriots one of the most respected programs in the nation.
"With all that we've accomplished, we tend to get everyone's best game," Ryan said. "Last year, hands down, we played the toughest schedule in the nation and this year we have scheduled tough once again."
Over the past two seasons, the Patriots have been eliminated in the opening round of the state tournament, but this time around it will try to utilize a strong mix of veterans and newcomers to make an impact in the postseason.
"We've got a good group of kids who are working very hard," Ryan said. "They support one another and really go hard. I think you will see us improve over the course of the season.
"We've got good team chemistry and I really feel we can do some good things."
Leading the way for CF are returning standouts Eddy Polanco (6-3), Allen Costley (6-5) and Devaughn Jenkins (6-8), who will all be part of the starting lineup. Also starting for CF will be Paul Turner (6-5) and Kevin Maura (5-8), a sophomore transfer from Abiliene Christian.
Local fans will have a chance to get a look at the Patriots this Friday when they host ASA College at 7:30 p.m.
From there, CF will host St. Petersburg College on Halloween Night at 7:30. Fans who dress up in a costume will receive free admission.
Celebrations are for the fans, though, and the chance to face a tough team like SPC will provide a good barometer for the Patriots.
"We used to open up each year against St. Pete and I really like facing them early," said Ryan, whose team was eliminated from the state tournament after winning the previous 10 meetings with the Titans. "They are the best running team in the state each year and it really gets your kids ready for what they are going to face on a nightly basis.
"They come out and punch you in the mouth and it is a good test for your kids to see how they respond."
CF will play 17 home games this season, which is the most it has played in a single season in school history.
"Our home crowd is the best in the state," Ryan said. "The people here in Ocala really support our program. That's a big advantage to our guys. It helps in so many areas to have support like that."
In terms of the Mid-Florida Conference, CF will battle it out with the likes of Daytona State, Santa Fe and FSC-Jacksonville.
The Falcons, the two-time defending MFC champions, have the most experienced team coming into the season. DSC is ranked No. 2 in the preseason poll, while CF comes in at No. 9.
The Patriots, meanwhile, have won the MFC tournament in each of the past two years. In doing so, CF has been dominant against rival Santa Fe. Overall, CF has won 21 of the last 23 against the Saints and has eliminated the Saints three times since 2011.
"The conference is always very tough," Ryan said. "It's a tough game every night out. I am enthusiastic about our team.
"I think the fans of Ocala will like what they see."