John Krikorian stepped into some mighty big shoes this past June when he replaced 26-year head coach C.J. Woollum, who retired to focus on his duties as Christopher Newport athletic director. Krikorian won 60.7 percent of his games at the United States Merchant Marine Academy, and his team went 24-5 last season.
How well that success translates to the Captains, who lose two starters from the 15-13 squad that rallied down the stretch last year to give Woollum the USA South tournament championship as a going-away present, remains to be seen.
Mike Green, who averaged 11. Junior forward and Denbigh grad Brian Hermann also returns after averaging 8.7 points.
"With any coaching transition, there's new faces and time that it takes to implement a new system," Krikorian said. "We're kind of feeling the whole process right now, and I imagine it's going to take us a couple of games to figure out who we are."
Coach: John Krikorian (first year at CNU, 65-42 in four years overall)
Last year: Lost in the first round of the Division III NCAA tournament.
The opener: Nov. 19 vs. Lynchburg
Five games to watch: Nov. 11, vs. Bridgewater, CNU Invitational; Jan. 5, vs. Shenandoah; Jan. 12 at N.C. Wesleyan; Jan. 15 vs. Ferrum; Feb 22, USA South quarterfinal.
What is the team's greatest strength? The unknown. With any change comes a certain amount of excitement, and that's the case with what Krikorian said will be "first and foremost a man-to-man defensive team" that will also look for opportunities to push the ball. Such a style requires conditioning and discipline, and should be fun to watch – if properly executed.
What's the team's greatest weakness? The unknown. Krikorian inherits a team that loses three of its top six scorers from last season, including center Mark Blasingame, who averaged 10 points and 10 rebounds, and has neither a true big man nor a true point guard. Krikorian, encouraged by improvements he's seen so far, is eager for more.
What is the team's conference outlook? The defending tournament champion Captains received one first-place vote in a preseason poll of conference coaches, who picked CNU to finish second in the USA South, behind Ferrum. Shenandoah, picked third, also received a first-place vote, and will provide a quick test in the Captains' league opener on Jan. 5.
What's the best-case scenario? The Captains jell immediately, with the sharp-shooting Taylor and Green quickly adjusting to their tweaked roles in Krikorian's new system as CNU's newcomers meld seamlessly with the more experienced players. The instant chemistry carries CNU to a repeat tournament crown and NCAA appearance for its first-year coach to match Woollum's retirement gift.
What's more likely to happen? Team and coach take the early part of the season to feel each other out and iron out the major wrinkles in their new relationship. Conference play provides consistent tests of that relationship, with up-and-down results, and by the time the tournament rolls around, the Captains are ready to contend for another crown.