By CHRIS MACKOWIAK
Despite the season being four months away, basketball is just around the corner for the Salisbury University men’s basketball team. On Wednesday, the team officially released their 2017-18 season schedule to the public on the Salisbury University Athletics website.
Most notably for the team headed into the new season is the loss of their more veteran talentin guard Justin Witmer alongside forwards Wyatt Smith and Gordan Jeter. Fans will see a younger core hit the court with more familiar upperclassmen.
All eyes will again be on the Capital Athletic Conference (CAC) battle as Salisbury continues to aim for their first conference title since 2015. Christopher Newport has taken the top prize over SU the last two seasons. However, the Sea Gulls’ tough non-conference road and strength of schedule have been enough in the last two seasons to reward them one of just a few NCAA Tournament at-large bids.
Entering his third season at the helm, SU head coach Andrew Sachs deserves the credit for the feat. Last season with Salisbury’s at large bid, it was the first time in program history that the team went to three consecutive NCAA Tournaments.
Now they’ll aim for their fourth consecutive NCAA bid come November. Once again, Sachs draws a litany of non-conference opponents from across the east coast, preparing the Sea Gulls for the likes of CNU and York College (Pa.) once they hit the conference regular season.
Of the seven non-conference games, opponents include Washington College (season opener), Goucher College, Arcadia University and Rowan University, who finished as a New Jersey Athletic Conference (NJAC) semifinalist.
The other opponent, not part of a regular season tournament, for the Sea Gulls is a familiar foe in Virginia Wesleyan University. The Marlins come off a 19-9 (10-6 ODAC) season in which VWU reached the Old Dominion Athletic Conference (ODAC) semifinals before falling to Guilford.
In the seemingly annual non-conference battle, Salisbury has defeated ranked VWU squads the last two seasons. Coming up on Nov. 21, the Sea Gulls will host the Marlins just before the Thanksgiving break for Salisbury students.
The final note of the non-conference slate is the four-team College of Staten Island Tournament on Dec. 29 and 30. Salisbury heads to the Dolphins’ annual tournament after CSI took part in SU’s biannual Optimist Tournament in 2016.
In this regular season tournament, SU will battle Roanoke College on Day No. 1. The Maroons finished last season 15-11 (9-7 ODAC) alongside an appearance as ODAC Quarterfinalists. The opposite match-up is between the host team, College of Staten Island, and Oneonta State.
CSI ran through the CUNYAC last season with a 21-7 (16-0 CUNYAC) overall record to win the conference’s postseason championship before falling to Swarthmore in the NCAA First Round. Last season on their home floor, SU defeated the Dolphins 83-65. Oneonta St. nearly drew an automatic bid of their own but fell in the SUNYAC Championship to Oswego St. 75-70 to finish with a 17-11 (12-6 SUNYAC) record.
Day No. 2 of the tournament will feature winner-winner and loser-loser match-ups based on the Day No. 1 results. For CSI, it will be their first season without their longtime 27-year head coach Tony Petosa who stepped down this offseason. Petosa accumulated 459 career wins and five conference championships over his tenure.
Now into the CAC slate. In the last two seasons, York (Pa.) and CNU have been the largest thorns for Salisbury. At home, the York Spartans have defeated Salisbury each time in the last two seasons.
The Spartans look like a rising program in the CAC after finishing 17-10 and 12-6 for third in the CAC. Many will remember the tense 86-80 SU win over York in double-overtime in the CAC Semifinals towards the end of last season.
In the 2017-18 campaign, SU draws York at home on Jan. 3 and then up in Pennsylvania on Feb. 10. Their home game against the Spartans is Salisbury’s first game after the Staten Island Tournament.
However, one opponent has really been in the way of the Sea Gulls recently: CNU. Since they joined the CAC in the 2013-14 season, the Captains are 7-5 against the Sea Gulls including 5-1 in the last two seasons. While the last five games have been decided by two points or less, the Captains have found a way to get it done in the clutch.
This upcoming season SU heads to Newport News, Va. on Nov. 29 for both teams’ very first CAC game. Their second matchup won’t come in Maggs Physical Activities Center until Jan. 31.
Time will tell if it will be another Salisbury vs. CNU rivalry year in the CAC. However, a road to the title is now on paper for the Sea Gulls who take the court for their first game on Nov. 15. Stay with The Flyer for continuing coverage of SU basketball as the 2017-18 season approaches.