Here's another in the series previewing the preliminary round games of the men's MAAC tournament ...
No. 7 Seed Fairfield (9-9, 17-14) vs. No. 10 Saint Peter's (3-15, 9-20), Friday at 9:30 p.m.
WHAT FAIRFIELD HAS: Possibly the best team to have to compete in the preliminary round. If the Stags can get a couple of wins here, it would almost surely be a candidate for a minor national post-season tournament, barring winning four straight in this event to advance to the NCAA's. Five of its league losses have been by five points, or fewer. At midseason, the Stags were the league's hottest team with seven wins in an eight-game stretch. It has a guard in senior Derek Needham capable of taking over a game on his own, good depth (legitimately eight deep), size and athleticism. But, the season has been, as head coach Sydney Johnson pointed out, "a roller coaster." If Fairfield can get on the upside of the ride, it has legitimate chance.
WHAT SAINT PETER'S HAS: One of the better last-place conference teams in recent memory. Of its 14 conference losses, half have been by 10 or fewer points and two by just two points. The Peacocks also have some veteran leadership. Forward Dariius Conley and guard Yvon Raymond were both key members of the program's NCAA team of 2010-11. It has a long-range scorer in sophomore guard Desi Washington (14.9), whose 78 three-pointers made rank third in the MAAC. Blaise French has become a proficient point guard and ranks third in the league in assists (4.5 per game).
WHAT FAIRFIELD DOESN'T HAVE: Consistency, for one. After that 7-1 run late in the season, it lost its BracketBusters game to UAlbany, then finished out league play with losses at Manhattan and at Marist. If Needham doesn't make significant contributions offensively, the Stags struggle. Against Manhattan Fairfield managed just 31 points (Needham was 2-for-9). Against Marist (a 73-61 loss) Needham was 1-for-9. Other than Needham, no other player averages more than 8.8 ppg. The Stags did have two freshmen, forwards Marcus Gilbert and Amadou Sidibe, named to the all-conference Rookie Team. But, the need for freshmen to play big minutes usually means there will be some inconsistent moments.
WHAT SAINT PETER'S DOESN'T HAVE: Probably enough offensive fire-power. Only Washington averages more than 10.1 per contest.. The Peacocks are also a little undersized (Conley, a strong 6-7 post only averages 4.7 rebounds per contest. And, it has been without forwards Patrick Jackson, a defensive specialist, for the second half of the season. Karee Ferguson, some potential offensive firepower, has also missed much of the season and has rarely been 100 percent even when he's played.
HOW FAIRFIELD CAN WIN: It certainly can knock off multiple teams here with its precision offense and attention to defense, two aspects of play that usually bode well this time of year. Needham, though, would have have consistently strong offensive performances, and get help from someone ... probably 6-5 forward Maurice Barrow, who had a 25-point breakout against Rider in early February. Desmond Wade, the senior point guard, is also capable of knocking down some big shots. If the youngsters play well, and Fairfield can get games at its preferred pace, it is certainly capable of making a run.
HOW SAINT PETER'S CAN WIN: One game at a time ... attention to defense and physical play (often allowed at tournament time), the style that captured this event for the Peacocks two years ago. But, limited numbers and less talent than two years ago make that a difficult task. Still, Saint Peter's has been competitive for much of the MAAC season, despite its record. Just a little bit more and the team is capable of a surprise here.