Saturday, December 31, 2011

Fairfield Men's Preview: Fightning For 2nd

Here's another in the series previewing MAAC teams.

Up now ...


2011-12 RECORD TO DATE: 2-0 in MAAC play, 7-6 overall.

2010-11 RECORD: 15-3 in MAAC play, 25-8 overall.


KEY RETURNEES: 5-11 junior guard Derek Needham (11.8 points, 2.6 assists), 7-0 senior center Ryan Olander (11.8 points, 4.6 rebounds, 1.9 blocks), 6-5 sophomore forward Maurice Barrow (8.6 6.4, 2.6 assists).

KEY LOSSES: Forwards Yorel Hawkins (10.0, 5.3), Warren Edney (6.7, 3.3).

NOTES: Much talent, but also much transition. Former coach Ed Cooley, who oversaw the program's turnaround, left for Providence and was replaced by former Princeton coach Sydney Johnson. The 7-6 start isn't terrific, but somewhat understandable considering the opposition, including losses against Providence, Minnesota, Dayton, Indiana State, UConn and Drexel ... Things haven't fully clicked yet for the Stags. More ball movement is being emphasized, but the leading assist players are Needham and Barrow at 2.6 per game, surprisingly low figures ... Rakim Sanders, a 6-5 senior transfer from Boston College, has become the go-to-guy on offense and has taken 42 more shots than the nearest teammate, while averaging team highs of 16.6 points and 7.6 rebounds. The other newcomer to the starting lineup is point guard Desmond Wade (3.7, 2.4, 2.4 assists). Wade, a transfer from Houston, has moved Needham off the point and to shooting guard, where his numbers are down considerably. Needham looked like a future MAAC Player of the Year as a freshman (16.4 points, 5.2 assists), but now looks like merely a solid player (11.8, 2.6) ... Others have seen their roles change, too. Junior Colin Nickerson, who had a strong freshman year, is only averaging 2.3, 1.2 as a junior ... The team has almost no front-court depth as 6-8 freshman Adam Jones is the top reserve, yet hasn't played more than nine minutes in a game in the last six contests ... Clearly, there's an adjustment period going on here as only two role-playing seniors were lost from last year's team that set a program record for victories with a 25-8 finish, while winning the conference's regular-season title.

WHAT FAIRFIELD NEEDS TO DO TO SUCCEED: Get more experience playing together. Find some front-court depth. There's plenty of talent here, but the transition from an entirely new coaching staff to two key transfers becoming eligible and moving into the starting lineup to a new playing style has all taken some time to adjust to.

PREDICTION: There's still plenty of time to go, and the barely over .500 record to date is attributable to a very difficult non-league schedule. Clearly, though, Iona has emerged as the MAAC's best team, and it looks like it will be Fairfield and Loyola battling for second place.

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