This time a year ago, everything was brand new for the Saint Mary men's basketball team.
Competing in its first national tournament in nearly a decade, the up-and-coming Spires' experience was short lived. The team was bounced out in the opening round.
Three-hundred sixty-five days later, USM is in a familiar position with a much different outlook.
"I've seen a difference with the returners from last year in just their preparation," Saint Mary coach Jon Bishop said. "Everything is not new like it was last year. We are hoping that helps us and we can take a more business-like approach. I'm hoping it's a big advantage for us."
The Spires will open up the NAIA Division II Men's Basketball Championship Wednesday when it faces Saint Xavier at 9:45 p.m. on the College of the Ozarks campus in Point Lookout, Mo.
Saint Xavier is 28-5 and currently ranked No. 7 nationally.
"I think any time you get to this format at the end of the year, everybody is good." Bishop said. "I think it comes down to who can guard and make enough plays on the offensive end. We like our draw. I think we matchup well with them."
Win and USM will advance to a second round bout on Friday versus either Indiana Southwest (27-4) or Valley City State (21-8) at 4 p.m. Lose and the Spires go home, something the team doesn't want to suffer through yet again.
"I think it's going to come down to the defensive end," Bishop said. "We have to dictate some things and be the aggressor defensively. If we can do that, that will lead us to getting good looks on the offensive end."
Follow twitter.com/LVTSportsGuy for updates and scores from this week's national competition.