By Chris Mackowiak
March Madness. Brackets strewn across work places and homes. Division I gets most of the attention, but with four television channels showing games in a single moment, who could resist?
Division III has had its fair share of suspense and awe this season. The Salisbury men’s basketball team is in the midst of a mission to return to the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) Tournament for a third-straight year. The feat, if completed, would be a first in program history.
But in Division III, is February Madness the correct title? The next two weeks will mean a lot in shaping the Sea Gulls potentially historic season. Their mission: to win the Capital Athletic Conference (CAC) Championship to gain the automatic conference bid, or gain one of the limited at-large bids from the NCAA committee.
With their win over Southern Virginia on Feb. 11, Salisbury clinched at least the No. 2 seed in the CAC Tournament. This means that they will host at least a CAC Semifinal. Christopher Newport currently still holds a one-game lead over the Sea Gulls in the conference standings for the No. 1 seed.
The simple path is winning the conference, but it is not an easy path to take for granted, as Salisbury would either travel to or host the nationally third-ranked Captains.
Therefore, here, The Flyer takes a look at Salisbury’s NCAA DIII Tournament resume in the pursuit of an at-large bid.
In 2015, Salisbury won the CAC over Christopher Newport to gain the bid. In 2016, the Sea Gulls fell on the road to CNU in the CAC Championship, but Salisbury still grabbed a spot in the NCAA Tournament.
After the CAC Championship last season, this was the Sea Gulls’ profile:
- 21-6 overall (13-5 CAC, finishing second)
- A perfect 7-0 non-conference record
- 0-3 vs. nationally-ranked CNU (2 OT losses, including CAC Champ.)
- CAC losses vs. York (away in OT), vs. PSH (home in OT), vs. St. Mary’s (home)
Three ‘good’ losses vs. top-five ranked CNU and a perfect non-conference slate was enough to get the Sea Gulls in. Two home losses in conference hurt Salisbury overall. The bonus was that four of the team’s six losses were in overtime.
Now, to this season: SU head coach Andrew Sachs came in to his second season facing one of the tougher non-conference slates in the nation. The Sea Gulls prevailed overall going 5-2 in the non-conference. Their only two losses came at the D3hoops.com Hoopsville Classic in Las Vegas. A large bonus this season is that the team is undefeated at home to this point in the season with a record of 10-0.
Below, The Flyer analyzes each of the non-conference opponents Salisbury faced this season. Stock in wins and losses will come down to how that specific opponent finishes in their own conference by the end of the season. Strength of schedule (SOS) is a calculation of the tenacity of a team’s schedule based on their record and opponent’s success.
Within the CAC, Salisbury has three losses to this point: 78-74 loss at York (Pa.), a 55-53 loss at No. 3 CNU, and a 85-73 loss at St. Mary’s (Md.). Another top resume win was their 59-58 home win vs. then-No. 5 CNU on the famously-viral half court buzzer beater by junior forward Chad Barcikowski. The shot is currently up for the GEICO Play of the Year.
Every year it is a positive for the resumes of both CNU and Salisbury to have each other on their respective schedule.
Here is Salisbury’s overall profile to this point:
- Currently ranked eleventh by D3hoops.com
- 19-5 (14-3 CAC); second in their conference
- NCAA SOS: .536; ranked third in Mid-Atlantic Region
- 5-2 non-conference record; 10-0 at home; 3 road losses
Last season for Salisbury, the magic number was 21 wins. Making it to another CAC Championship will bring another potential top-15 match-up with CNU. If the Sea Gulls win that game, then none of this matters as they would attain an automatic bid.
The best advice for Salisbury fans is to pull for these non-conference teams in their respective conference tournaments. The better the wins and losses look for the Sea Gulls translates into a more positive image for the NCAA Selection Committee.
UPDATE: With the loss at St. Mary’s (Md.) Wed. night, things have become interesting for Salisbury. Now, SU will most likely have to win at Frostburg on Sat., in the CAC Semifinals, and hope that they meet CNU in the CAC Finals. This formula should get Salisbury into the NCAA Tournament, but their hopes of hosting opening NCAA games has greatly decreased.