This is the year that springtime comes in December for Morgan State coach Michael Holmes.
In recent seasons, MSU basketball has meant Meatgrinder Schedule University, as the Bears hit the road as designated opponents for college basketball heavyweights.
Two years ago, Morgan State didn't play its first home game until the middle of January.
Last year, it played one at Hill Field House in December. By the time the Bears played their second home game, on Jan. 16, their record was 0-9.
But this year's December schedule is lighter -- despite games at Maryland, Georgetown, Long Island, Florida State and New Mexico State.
"We have two home games in December for the first time since I've been here," said Holmes, in his fourth season at Morgan.
Actually, the prospects for another rugged December don't faze Holmes or his players. "It's not a big deal that we play major teams now," he said. "A lot of people during those games raised their play to a higher level," said junior guard Terry Wright. "It helped us get off to a really quick start in the conference."
The Bears won seven of their first nine games in the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference, finishing second in the MEAC with a 9-7 record and going 9-17 overall.
This year, with only two full-time starters returning -- point guard Chico Langston and guard Terry Sellers -- and seven new faces on the roster, Holmes is letting the players battle it out for starting positions. He said he still doesn't know who will start or even be in the regular rotation.
Maybe he's just being coy when he says: "It's pretty tight right now. I know Langston's going to start at the point. . . ." Then he names every other player as competing for a job.
But maybe he's not just being coy.
Wright said: "A lot of the players who came in this year seem more committed to the program. Practices are a lot more competitive. I put in a lot more time on my own to improve. Last year, I left after practice. I'm staying a half-hour after practice this year. I've seen a lot of my teammates do similar things."
So what does Holmes see as the strength of this season's Bears? "It probably will be our chemistry," he said just minutes after fretting that his team hadn't yet found any.
And what are its weaknesses? "I'm a little worried about my 2-guard spot defensively," he said.
Sole weaknesses such as that do not normally cause coaches sleepless nights.
Maybe Holmes is saying, in effect, that he has some talented players, but he doesn't yet know how this team will develop. Morgan State's traditionally tough December should ready his team for a mid-January stretch of four conference road games in eight days.
"I believe we need to be tested," Wright said. "I'm looking forward to it. I honestly believe we have chemistry, but you throw three officials out there and 6,000 people and you have other variables."