To say it has been an intriguing first three weeks of the season for the Stags would be an understatement. Fairfield has already played seven games,  three against high major teams (Minnesota, Providence, Arizona State), and two against quality Mid-Major schools (Dayton, Indiana State). The inconsistent Stags have squeaked out to a 3-4 record, including a 4th place finish at the Old Spice Classic in Orlando, Florida. It’s time to put the Stags on paper for their quarterly season report card.

 

Frontcourt

 

Rakim Sanders has been an absolute monster,  being a dominant presence both offensively and defensively. In seven games, Sanders has solidified himself as one of the top players in the MAAC. He leads the team with 18.1 points and 5.7 rebounds per game, recording double figures in scoring  in all seven games. Against three solid opponents at the Old Spice Classic (Arizona State, Dayton, Indiana State), he was giving opposing coaches headaches. You can’t put a guard on him because he will post you up, you can’t put a forward on him because of his outside shooting and driving ability. Not only is he Fairfield’s best interior threat, but he is the team’s best three point shooter as well, knocking down 11 three pointers at a 35.5 percent clip.

Besides Sanders, preseason first team All-MAAC selection Ryan Olander is second on the team in scoring with 11.7 PPG. The seven footer scored the first eight points for the Stags against Dayton, and has really added a ton of versatility to his offensive repertoire. He is being aggressive at the rim, and has a much improved touch near the basket. At times in Orlando he seemed unstoppable, especially with the ability to knock down the three point shot. However, he has to stay dominant throughout the whole game instead of short spurts. There is no reason to think Olander should be anything less than a first team All-MAAC player, and he has the ability to single handedly dominate  a MAAC frontcourt.

Sophomore Maurice Barrow is third on the team in scoring, averaging 10.1 PPG, and has shown quite an improvement in his offensive game. Barrow now has the ability to knock down the mid-range jump shot, and notched a career high 19 points against Quinnipiac in the season opener. At 6-5, he is an undersized power forward, yet he is still managing 6.6 rebounds per game, which is second on the team. Although his offensive production was not as high in the Old Spice Classic, if he stays healthy the Stags may just have the most versatile front court in the MAAC. Keith Matthews has made the most of his opportunities as well, the 6 foot 5 sophomore put up 8 points against Indiana State in just 19 minutes on the hardwood. Adam Jones has also been a pleasant surprise as well, the 6 foot 8 freshman is second on the team with four blocks.

 

Defense

 

Last year the Stags finished second in the nation in scoring defense, giving up a miniscule 58.9 points per game. This season, against much stiffer competition, Fairfield still leads the MAAC in scoring defense, holding the opposition to just 61.6 points per game. Ryan Olander is fourth in the MAAC with 1.7 blocks per game and the Stags held Arizona State, a PAC-12 team, to a season low of 44 points. As a team Fairfield is third in the MAAC with an average of 8.1 steals a game. In the final eight minutes against Indiana State, Fairfield applied the full court pressure and was able to force seven turnovers to close the gap to 3 in an eventual 72-66 loss to the Sycamores. Although it is tough to apply pressure for 40 minutes of basketball, the Stags outscored Indiana State 26-11 over those final eight minutes. Rakim Sanders recorded an eye popping six steals against the Sycamores. Last season, Fairfield’s offense relied heavily on their dominant defense. This year Fairfield is going to have to play the same relentless defense that they did under Coach Cooley.

 

 

 

Offensive Production out of the Guards

 

In a season that many people thought the offensive play out of the guards would be a strong point, the Stags backcourt simply is not putting up the offensive numbers they are capable of. In four losses, Fairfield’s six guards have only put up 18.5 PPG. Think about this, Iona’s point guard Scott Machado is averaging 19.8 points per game by himself. As well as the guards have been playing defensively, the offense is just not there right now. The Stags have some of the quickest guards in the MAAC, and have five legitimate guards that can come in and produce. Yet they are not getting the easy points in transition that they were getting last year, and more importantly, they are not getting to the rim. Granted, Fairfield has played a significantly harder out of conference schedule this year, but these guards are too talented not to produce.

Three point shooting has been a great struggle for the guards. In the NCAA tournament, we often see mid-majors shocking higher seeds in the first rounds due to their ability to stroke the three ball and hit foul shots. Right now, the five guards are shooting 26 percent from behind the arc. Pre-season first team All-MAAC player Derek Needham needs to penetrate to the rim more often.  if Needham can get going, this can be a very dangerous Fairfield team.

 

Turnovers/Free Throw Shooting

 

In Fairfield’s three wins, they only turned the ball over 13.2 times per game. In their four losses, they have turned the ball over 16.8 times per game. Fairfield’s free throw shooting has been downright bad. After Sunday’s loss they were 311th in the nation in free-throw percentage, only knocking down 58.5 percent of their foul shots. In the Old Spice Classic semi-final final against Dayton, Fairifeld shot 7-19 from the line, while Dayton shot 9-12 as the Stags fell 56-49. Free throw shooting and turnovers are usually critical factors in close games; if the Stags take care of the ball, and shoot at an average rate from the foul line, Fairfield could easily be 4-3, or even 5-2. Their opponents have shot better than them from the line in five of seven games, and have shot better than the Stags in all four of their losses.

 

 

 

Don’t be deceived by the 3-4 record, this is a very good Fairfield team. The combined record of the schools Fairfield has lost to is 21-5, and they have not lost a game by more than ten points. Fairfield did also beat a Pac-12 team in Arizona State. However, there are extremely high expectations in Stag Nation this year, and the time to win is now.  Although they went to Italy, we have to remember that these players and Sydney Johnson have only played seven regular season games together, and the chemistry will naturally come in time, along with the correct lineups for certain situation as Johnson gets acclimated to his players. Right now, Fairfield looks like the second best team in the MAAC. Iona has been dominant, with  Scott Machado, Michael Glover, and Lamont Jones spearheading an attack that leads the entire nation in scoring. On Friday, Fairfield embarks on the Buffalo trip to open up MAAC play against Niagara, before making the short ride to Canisius on Sunday. This is a golden opportunity for Fairfield to get some positive mojo going. Two wins on one of the toughest road trips of the season would be key in terms of confidence,  but a loss or two here could be deadly.

 

Grades

Offense: C+

Defense: B+

Frontcourt: B+

Backcourt: B-

 

OVERALL: B-

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