Top 68 Team Previews: #43 Fairfield Stags
Rakim Sanders will be a huge addition for Fairfield this season. (Icon SMI)
By Kevin Mallory
Wednesday, August 24, 2011
Last Season: 25-8 (15-3)
Key Losses: Yorel Hawkins
Head Coach: Sydney Johnson
Projected Starting Lineup
PG: Derek Needham 5-11 Jr.
SG: Maurice Barrow 6-5 So.
SF: Rakim Sanders 6-5 Sr.
PF: Adam Jones 6-8 Fr.
C: Ryan Olander 7-0 Sr.
Key Reserves: Colin Nickerson 6-3 Jr. SG, Vincent Van Nes 7-0 Fr. C, Desmond Wade 5-8 Jr. PG, Jamel Fields 6-1 So. PG
The Stags won the MAAC regular season title and advanced to the second round of last season's NIT tournament behind one of the stingiest defenses in the country. While Fairfield is going through a transitional period, look for defense to once again be the Stags' calling card. Fairfield allowed 58.3 points per game, second-best in the nation. Look for that trend to continue in 2011-12. With great size and athleticism in the frontcourt, Sydney Johnson's squad should once again be one of the top defensive teams in the NCAA.
Johnson spent the past four years rebuilding Princeton, winning the Ivy League Championship and taking the Tigers to the NCAA tournament. He takes over for the departed Ed Cooley, who left to accept the head coaching job at Providence.
With the aforementioned shakeup at the top, Derek Needham returns as the Stags' point guard, leading scorer (14.1 points per game last season) and best player. Needham will need to take on a greater leadership role and that begins with his own offensive efficiency. The 5-foot-11 point guard shot 36 percent from the field while shooting 70 percent from the strike and committing nearly four turnovers per game. In order for the Stags to take that next step, Needham will need to become a steady influence on the floor.
A player primed to take that next step is sophomore Maurice Barrow. Barrow began the season coming off the bench, but once he was inserted into the starting lineup the Stags took off. He was a legitimate contender for MAAC Rookie of the Year, and Stag fans hope that Barrow's late-season run was a precursor for things to come this season. If Barrow continues to play well in the post while continuing to improve his overall offensive game, Fairfield will be in prime position to repeat as conference champs.
A glaring weakness from last season's team was that there was not much size. The Stags hope to have corrected that problem with the addition of Vincent Van Nes, a 7-footer from Great Britain. Van Nes will be looked at to provide some frontcourt depth and display some of his smooth offensive skill set.
With Ryan Olander and Van Nes, both 7-footers, the Stags will have a huge advantage over most of their foes. Not many MAAC teams or fellow mid-majors have one legitimate 7-footer on their roster, let alone two.
Look for some transfers to bring in some major punch to an offense that, at times last year, found it difficult to score. Rakim Sanders, from Boston College, and lightning-quick point guard Desmond Wade from Houston, will be expected to pack some offensive punch for Fairfield. Both players sat out last season due to the NCAA's transfer rules, but that time away from the court could give the Stags two hungry contributors. Sanders is one of 39 Boston College Eagles to score 1,000 points and Wade was only the third Houston player to have back-to-back 100 assist seasons.
Sanders should immediately be one of the best players in the MAAC. A 6-foot-5 senior wing, Sanders could have NBA potential. He is strong and athletic, can handle the ball well, can knock down jumpers, and can score inside.
Fairfield should pack a little bit more of an offensive punch this season to go along with an already stingy and pesky defense. The Stags will again be in the favorite to win the MAAC, and if all goes well Johnson could have his team playing in the NCAA tournament in his first year at the helm.