Season Preview: Sea Gulls poised for success, up to challenge of strong CAC

Season Preview: Sea Gulls poised for success, up to challenge of strong CAC

SALISBURY, Md. – The Salisbury University men's basketball team finished the 2013-14 season winning 10 of its final 13 games and earning a Capital Athletic Conference tournament berth for the second-consecutive season; the Sea Gulls look to carry that late-season momentum into this season and take the next step towards winning the conference championship.

"We are excited for the season," Head Coach Josh Merkel said. "We want to improve and get better every day, and our goal is to be champions. We want to compete for a CAC championship."

SU brings back a host of talent from a team that only lost three seniors last season, including the 2013-14 CAC Rookie of the Year Gordon Jeter, while adding a group of transfers and freshmen that looks to provide a competitive lineup to challenge a strong conference for the Gulls' first conference title since the 1995-96 season.

"We have a number of returners that played last year and played significant minutes and significant roles," Merkel said. "We have a strong core of veterans that are able to articulate how we practice, how hard we work, what is expected off the court.  To have a player-driven culture is very important to us."

BACKCOURT

Senior Conor Strickland and sophomore Charles Porter both return for the Sea Gulls to form a formidable backcourt duo. Strickland enters the year as one of the team's two seniors, while Porter looks to elevate his play after a solid freshman campaign that saw him finish third on the team in scoring with 9.7 points per game and first with 2.2 assists per game. He played in 26 games, with 12 starts.

This season, Porter looks to step up as a consistent scorer for the Sea Gulls, as he is the top returning scorer from last season. He will also provide a multitalented player that can fill the stat sheet with rebounds and assists.

Strickland, one of the team's on- and off-court leaders, played in all 26 games last season, while making 11 starts and finishing tied for second on the squad with two assists per game. He also shot .500 percent from the floor and .439 percent from behind the three-point arc.

"Conor grew up around basketball and has a very high basketball IQ.  He is an extension of the coaching staff and knows our language." Merkel said. "He is very liked by our guys and he is able to hold guys accountable. Our guys love playing with him because they know he is always looking to create for others."

Sophomore Justin Witmer had an impressive freshman season, as well, playing in 21 contests with one start. He came on strong at the end of the season, appearing in each of the team's final 10 games and scoring in double digits four times, including a career-high 25 in the Sea Gulls' final regular-season game. This season, the Rockville, Maryland native will provide valuable minutes for SU with his ability to stretch the floor as an outside shooter and strong defensive skills.

Salisbury brings in a group of transfers and freshmen that will be looking to complement the team's returning backcourt players. Juniors Justin May, Bobby Bates, and Rocky Harris and freshmen Jordan Brooks and Connor Lulay will all be pushing for time on the court this season, while senior Nick Sparacino also returns for the Gulls.

FRONTCOURT

Jeter headlines the SU frontcourt, after leading the team with 6.3 rebounds per game and ranking fourth on the team with 7.8 points per game. Returning from a season in which he was named the CAC's top rookie, the Easton, Maryland native is primed for a big year as one of the Gulls leaders and top returners, spending the offseason working to improve his game.

"The most impressive thing about Gordon is how quickly he learns," Merkel said. "He has made strides from freshman to sophomore year, and he is a magnetic leader that our guys really rally around."

Junior Kyle Savercool also returns for Salisbury after playing in 24 games with eight starts in 2013-14. Savercool comes into this season looking to continue to provide solid defense for the team, while stepping up as a scoring threat, after averaging 3.9 points per game in 17.8 minutes per contest last season.

"You can tell that Kyle put the work in this summer," Merkel said. "His shot looks great, he is playing with a ton of confidence, and we have seen great strides from him in practice. He has always been a great defender for us; and is our toughest player every day."

Two returners that will give Salisbury valuable time down low are juniors Ryan Miller and Jacoy Gillum. Miller played in 23 games, while starting seven last year, and Gillum saw time in 12 contests. Junior Wyatt Smith also looks to step in and help out the SU frontcourt in his first season with the team.

SCHEDULE

"We always want to schedule as aggressively as we can outside of our league because our league is so tough," Merkel said. "We will be tested early, and our guys are looking forward to that."

The Sea Gulls begin their season, hosting the Optimist Tournament; SU will take on Bryn Athyn College in its first game of the season to open the tournament on Saturday, November 15.

Salisbury starts the year with some competitive non-conference action, before moving into CAC play in a strong, competitive league.

"The league just continues to get better," Merkel said. "There are great coaches and great players in this league, and we feel energized by the challenge of playing these teams twice a year."

St. Mary's College of Maryland will pose as the Gulls' first conference challenge of the year, traveling to the Seahawks on Wednesday, December 3, before returning home for their first home CAC game, taking on Penn State University-Harrisburg on Saturday, December 6.

The CAC tournament is set to begin on Tuesday, February 24 for first-round action.

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