The Fairfield Stags, last year’s MAAC champion, come to town tomorrow looking to show the Gophers just what they’re all about. In addition to our preview, John Templon of Big Apple Buckets answered a few questions about Fairfield and what we might expect come game time.
FTB: Fairfield is coming off two impressive seasons in the MAAC. What are the expectations for the squad this year after barely missing out on the NCAA Tournament last year?
BAB: The expectation is that this team will compete for a MAAC championship and a berth to the NCAA Tournament. There’s a ton of talent on the roster, including two transfers in Rakim Sanders (Boston College) and Desmond Wade (Houston). Thus it’s NCAAs or bust after last season’s loss to St. Peter’s in the conference tournament, which meant a 25-win season ended in the NIT.
FTB: What can we expect to see from Fairfield when they come to town? Who are the players we’ll need to watch out for?
BAB: The big guys for Fairfield this season are Rakim Sanders, a transfer from Boston College that leads the team in scoring this season at 20.5 points per game, Derek Needham, a talented point guard, and Ryan Olander, a seven-foot senior in the post. Also, through two game sophomore Maurice Barrow has raised his scoring average from 6.2 points per game last season to 19 this season, so watch out for him as well.
FTB: What do the Stags need to do to take down the Gophers on the road?
BAB: Fairfield just played another major conference opponent in Providence. The offense did just fine, but the defense was pretty bad. That’s the end the Stags are going to have to lock down on against Minnesota in order to pull off the upset. Basically Fairfield needs to work on preventing open shots, that’s the only thing that really went wrong in the 80-72 loss to the Friars. Of course Minnesota is a lot better than Providence.
FTB: The Stags open up a new era this season with a new coach in Sydney Johnson. What happened with the previous coach (Ed Cooley) and why was there a need for a replacement?
BAB: The reason Fairfield got to play Providence at home is because Ed Cooley left the Stags for the Big East this past April. Johnson was then persuaded to leave Princeton for a pretty lateral job in terms of competition. In terms of resources, including scholarships and compensation, it was probably the right move for him. That said, it takes a little while to adjust to the Princeton offense and that’s caused some fits and starts for the Fairfield offense thus far this season. But defense, not offense has sort of been the problem. Some players, like Needham, might look a little awkward in the Princeton sets still, but there’s so much talent it just compensates on its own.
FTB: How do you think the game will end up playing out?
BAB: My guess is that Fairfield will manage to keep things close for at least a half, maybe even more. Minnesota has a lot of talent, but Fairfield has some guys with major conference experience. While it will take awhile, eventually the Gophers will pull away and win by around six points or eight points, if I had to guess.