BY CHRIS MACKOWIAK
If anyone is familiar with Salisbury men’s basketball, they knew many questions would haunt the Sea Gulls to start this season as the team lost six of their top players, including returning only two starters.
After a 2-0 start, it seems that the puzzle pieces are being put into place as to the identity of this 2017-18 team. Most notable on the team’s stat line is their 93.5 points-per-game and 53.5 rebounds-per-game.
Those two numbers seem insane considering the questions in the post and scoring this season, but this young, streaky team is proving the doubters wrong at least early on. Salisbury was picked to finish tied for third in the Capital Athletic Conference (CAC) after finishing as the conference runner-up the last two seasons.
While fresh faces and freshmen littered the opening day roster, the team was not as inexperienced as fans initially thought. That fact has played out on the court in their opening wins over Washington College and Goucher College.
Despite a packed Maggs PAC for the season-opener last Wednesday with an impressive student crowd, there should be some caution on high-expectations. Fans should let this team grow and breath as the season goes on.
— Salisbury Athletics (@suseagulls) November 16, 2017
Although the numbers are very impressive from the team’s opening victories, Washington and Goucher combined for 12 wins last season. Therefore, they are not the best competition to gauge this Sea Gull squad on. However, what Salisbury did on the floor is notable.
The real tests for this team come over a two-game stretch starting Tuesday. The Sea Gulls host Old Dominion Athletic Conference (ODAC) Semifinalist Virginia Wesleyan (2-0) in their annual match-up as an appetizer prior to the Thanksgiving break. After that, Salisbury heads down to Newport News, Va. for their opening CAC game against their rivals Christopher Newport (2-0).
Marlins and Sea Gulls are more alike than one would think
Over the last few years, the VWU Marlins and Salisbury have matched up well. Both teams rely heavily on the three-pointer and like to play aggressive defense by stealing the ball to force turnovers.
This season the comparisons become a bit creepy. The Marlins lost a size-able amount of their team as well from last season, including four starters among the seven seniors from last season.
The two most notable players of the four were guards Tim Jones and Khory Moore. Moore is now playing professional basketball in Croatia after scoring over 2000 career points and averaging 17.8 points-per-game across his four-year career which included 93 starts in 114 appearances.
Jones provided scoring alongside his point guard duties during his 79 career starts, averaging 3.1 assists-per-game and 10.4 points-per-game.
With those two scorers gone from a team that averaged 82.5 points-per-game last season, the Marlins are looking for new options just like the Sea Gulls.
One more comparison between the two. VWU Head Coach Dave Macedo, now in his 18th season, has developed the Marlins into a perennial power in the past. He is the winningest coach in the program’s history, leading VWU to a national title in 2005-6 and two other Final Four appearances.
However, the team has not reached the NCAA Tournament since 2014-15, a rarity. On the court in Maggs on Tuesday will be two teams on the opposite ends of the spectrum.
A coach in SU’s Andy Sachs who is in his third season back in the maroon and gold trying to lead a younger squad to another NCAA Tournament in order to extend their program-record three consecutive NCAA appearance streak. On the other side, Macedo is looking to bring the Marlins back to the ‘promised land’ with a newer squad of his own.
Marlins and Sea Gulls will never see eye-to-eye, except on the hardwood Tuesday night as two teams picked to finish third in their respective conferences battle it out.
Changing tides under Sachs
The former Virginia Wesleyan assistant, Sachs has won his only two games against the Marlins as the Salisbury head coach. Two years ago, Salisbury took down the second-ranked Marlins 71-60 in Maggs. Last season, VWU could not find the revenge factor in their home venue and fell again to Salisbury 68-60.
For two teams that emphasize similar principles in their overall game plans, those two score lines display some good-sized victories for the maroon and gold in games that could have gone either way.
Two stats really made the difference in those last two contests: free throw percentage and turnovers.
Over the last two match-ups, both teams have gotten to the line, but only one has really capitalized on it. Salisbury has a 71.2 percent mark between the two games, near their seasonal average. VWU only had 56.3 percent mark at the line despite having more attempts in the two games.
Early on this season, the Marlins only have a 62.2 percent mark at the line, 10th currently among ODAC teams. It might be a formula that hampers the away side once again.
However, if VWU can find their touch at the line, they could see big points. After only committing a CAC-best 16.9 personal fouls per game last season, Salisbury is giving up 23 personals-per-game through their two games. For a young Salisbury team, the chances might come for the Marlins.
Taking advantage of opportunities provided by the opponent is definitely something to watch in this game. Both teams enjoy stealing the ball as both are first in steals-per-game among their respective conference teams.
Both squads also are forcing the most turnovers among their conference teams with 21.5 apiece. However, Salisbury has had the better defensive effort when the teams meet.
The last two seasons VWU has averaged 18.5 turnovers against SU, while Salisbury only commits nine turnovers-per-game against the Marlins.
As Sachs looks to implement his aggressive full-court press from two seasons ago, watch for the Marlins to try and tackle this obstacle.
Down the line, watch the CNU guard situation
While the Marlins are the focus this week with Salisbury’s next game over a week away, it is worth it to keep an eye on the conference-favorite and 14th ranked CNU Captains. As Salisbury grows into a new squad, they draw the two-time CAC defending champions as their conference opener.
However, the Captains are dealing with nagging injuries to start the season. CNU has started the season 3-0, but the first two were wins in close contests against Randolph Macon and Catholic.
Just like the Sea Gulls, CNU has lost much star power in the off season, which opens the door even more for a veteran heavy York (Pa.) squad in the CAC. However, one senior that does return for the Captains have been notably absent.
Maybe the best back court in the CAC, senior guards Aaron McFarland and Marcus Carter have not seen the floor in excess to start the season. McFarland missed the first game before returning for the last two, and Carter reportedly suffered an injury after playing for five minutes in the season opener.
As two players that are very important for the Captains to keep their CAC-run going, it is an important story-line going forward, especially considering that the Sea Gulls travel to Newport News, Va. on Nov. 29.
The depth of CNU Head Coach John Krikorian’s teams is always impressive and they have needed to go to it early on. However, if Salisbury can find their stride and chemistry early on this season, the Sea Gulls could take advantage.
The schedule also does work out well for the Sea Gulls in the end with the Captains not coming to Salisbury until Jan. 31, when the freshmen will be at their most experienced. For a Salisbury program that has not had the ball bounce their way in the certain recent CAC Championship games, the path may draw some light.