Monday, March 21, 2011

Fairfield Men Fall, Interest High in Cooley

Thoughts while waiting for the Marist women's game against Duke, at the Blue Devils' Cameron Indoor Stadium home court, later tonight (Monday)...

The Fairfield men's team had its record-setting season come to an end with a 72-68 setback to Kent State in the second round of the National Invitation Tournament.

Not even playing on its Arena at Harbor Yard homecourt facility could keep the Stags' season going.

Fairfield's standout sophomore guard Derek Needham had 18 first-half points on 7-0f-11 shooting, but only scored two more (1-of-8 shooting) after the intermission to finish with a game-high 20 points.

The Stags were still tied at 52-52 with 10:51 left, but Kent State scored the next four points and Fairfield trailed the remainder of the way.

A very disappointing crowd of 3,954 turned out for the contest. Just a thought here, but Fairfield basketball, based both on the turnout for an NIT contest as well as attendance figures for its two MAAC tournament games at the Bridgeport, Conn., arena, isn't exactly a big draw in Bridgeport. Those relatively small turnouts for post-season games should just about end any sentiment over whether the conference tournament should ever return to Bridgeport. Of course, I don't make those decisions, and the league doesn't consult me. So that's just the opinion of your blogging hoopscribe.

Anyway, Fairfield returns an extremely strong nucleus of players for next year and will most definitely be the preseason pick as conference favorites. Keep an eye on this blog. In the next few weeks we will begin the annual team-by-team analysis. Those reports will look back at each team's season and look ahead to future prospects for each program. We'll give that under-the-microscope treatment to every men's and women's teams, as we do after each season.

But, the biggest piece that might not be returning to the Fairfield bench is fifth-year head coach Ed Cooley, who elevated the program to new heights.

Cooley has already been granted permission to talk to Providence of the Big East about its coaching vacancy, and is expected to talk to administrators there later this week, according to published reports. It might be an attractive job for the Fairfield coach, who grew up in Providence.

But, there are also reports that North Carolina State of the Atlantic Coast Conference might be reaching out to Cooley and it's certainly not out of the realm of possibility that Georgia Tech, also of the ACC, will take a look at the Fairfield coach.

Why not? Cooley took a program that had not won a conference regular-season title since 1995-96 and tied the program record for victories last season (24) and, then, broke it this year with the Stags' 25-8 record and its first regular-season crown in 15 years.

Those seasons were the only time in Fairfield history that its men's team won at least 20 games in back-to-back seasons.

About the only blemish on Cooley's Fairfield resume is that his teams failed to win a conference tournament title to earn the league's automatic berth to the NCAA event.

But Cooley has done more than enough otherwise to be recognized as one of the top mid-major level coaches nationally, and is more than deserving of the attention from higher-level programs.

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