The Air Force men's basketball team is awaiting the return of its not-so-secret weapon - one that helped it immensely last year.
But this has nothing to do with its two injured captains, who remain out.
Last year, in a rejuvenating campaign for the program, the Falcons fed off the home-court advantage provided by Clune Arena. The Falcons went 13-2 in their building and 5-12 away from it. Their only home losses came by three points each to Wichita State, a Final Four team, and Colorado State, another NCAA Tournament team.
The key to all of this was fairly obvious. Last year's Air Force team received 69 percent of its minutes from seniors - most of whom were regular contributors for four years - while this year's roster comprises players still gaining familiarity with the gym's surroundings. Six Falcons have started at least three games this season, and none of them were in the starting five once last season.
This year the Falcons have dropped three home games, included losses to Richmond and Colorado last week by a combined 47 points.
"Just knowing the nooks and crannies and just being out there more times than not helps you," coach Dave Pilipovich said of playing at Clune.
Air Force will have plenty of chances to get acquainted with its gym this season. Only three of the team's 11 nonconference games will not take place at home, with a stretch of eight in a row at home that will continue with Thursday's game against South Dakota.
What's more, while teams like CSU, New Mexico, San Diego State and UNLV hold most practices in a separate facility, Air Force is on the floor in Clune for half of its practices (the other half is at Center Gym in an adjacent building as it alternates each week with the women's team).
"You get used to the rims and the soft spots," Pilipovich said. "But you're also missing on the same baskets all the time, right?"
The value of the home gym was probably never more evident than with last year's group. They beat New Mexico at home and lost to the Lobos by 23 on the road. They handled Fresno State by 12 at home, lost by 15 on the road. The same disparity was true against San Diego State, Boise State and San Diego State. Home court was worth a 36-point swing in games against CSU.
"The crowds definitely aided in that," Pilipovich said. "Any time there were some tough moments in games, you'd have this loudness in Clune Arena.
"We've liked our crowds so far (this year)," Pilipovich added. "Even the games where we've had less numbers, our student section was very loud and very supportive and our football players and some other cadets athletes were here. That's been a neat thing and hopefully that will continue to grow."
Junior Kamryn Williams has not practiced this week as he continues to recover from a pulled hamstring and he will not dress for Thursday's game. Fellow captain DeLovell Earls remains out as he recovers from a broken tibia.