Friday, November 16, 2007

Plenty of Fights Ahead

When Jon Han got up from the floor on Tuesday night against Holy Cross, he lost control. There was certainly a lot of frustration in his actions - as he charged after Holy Cross guard Kyle Cruze. After all, the Stags were handled by Wake Forest last Saturday and were being tossed around by Holy Cross the entire night.

Said Cooley, "I was very disappointed with the way our team responded to (Holy Cross') physicality."

Lesson learned. A few days later, the Stags were able to get a win over American University in D.C. - the first of hopefully many in the win column. The team stormed out of the gate with a 14-0 second half run - and, from what I've heard, it looks as if Cooley may have found some rhythm with his personnel after last night's halftime.

Which brings me back to my original point: patience. The reasoning behind Fairfield's brutal out-of-conference schedule is to prepare them for the MAAC. As Cooley said after the Wake game, "We're not trying to compete with Wake Forest. We're trying to compete with Loyola and Siena".

If the Stags can pull some positives out of the sketchy start to the season, it's that they have played against some of the best and come out better for it.

Whether or not they turns those lessons into victories remains to be seen.

  • Holy Cross did a great job getting to the line and converting; whether or not it was a merited opportunity remains to be seen. It doesn't take a genius to figure out that Cooley was not pleased with the officiating. The Crusaders' breathed a sigh of relief that the got a W on the road without big man Tim Clifford for most of the game.
  • Jon Han vowed that the team would pick itself up and learn after the Holy Cross loss.
  • Jimmy Patsos got some pub in the recent edition of Sports Illustrated, which is the 2007-08 college basketball preview. The Greyhounds took down American a few days before the Stags came to town.
  • Team source told me that the best story of the D.C. trip to American was the bus driver not showing up to drive the team to the pre-game shoot around. Luckily for them, Cooley called in a favor with John Thomson III and got the Stags into Georgetown's practice facility just in time.
  • Assistant coach and coordinator of scouting Tim Fuller has resigned. Coach Cooley confirmed the news yesterday in an interview - but it's something that we've been hearing about for a few weeks now.
  • Without Fuller in the equation, one can only speculate whether or not it had an impact on former signee Jamal Turner. It's hard to say that the two aren't connected.
  • Head Coach Ed Cooley is not unfamiliar with Sacred Heart, as Mike Puma writes here. It's been a while.
  • Sacred Heart just won't stop talking. They'll be up for this one. The Pioneers are off to a rough 1-3 start. They recently dropped a game to lowly Hartford. But it's a hyped game and they'll be up for it - as will SHU's "Big Red" faithful.
  • Regardless of how you feel on the Sacred Heart game, it is no more a rivalry than Holy Cross - which was as intense a game as you can find.
  • Early scouting report on SHU: a lot of athletes, not as many basketball "team" players. FU is looking to go in often to Greg Nero (who exploded with 13 second-half points vs. American) and Anthony Johnson to counter the Pioneers' small team. Execution will be key for the Stags, but it is a very winnable game.
- Keith Connors

[Photo Credit: Connecticut Post]

Thursday, November 8, 2007

Let The Games Begin

Last Friday night at Harbor Yard, we got the appetizer.

It wasn't pretty, but Fairfield gave us a glimpse into the season ahead. One thing is for sure: this is a deeply talented team that has a lot of options beyond the starting five. One can look no further to that fact that Marty O'Sullivan and Mamadou Diakhate, two returning veterans, did not play as much as Lyndon Jordan and Sean Grzeck.

Now, in all honesty, it is only a scrimmage. But if we learned anything about head coach Ed Cooley last season, it's that he isn't afraid to go to a younger lineup.

It's hard to envision Fairfield finishing sixth in the MAAC. Still, with a young roster of up-and-comers, it isn't out of the realm of possibility than 2007-08 still may be a rebuilding process. However, one can't help but think that there is a chance that things may gel, the team may hit the ground running, and the Stags could find themselves playing basketball in March.

And it's not out of the realm of possibility that Cooley and the gang could pull a 180-degree turnaround and perform well in a tough out-of-conference schedule. With powerhouses like Kentucky and Michigan State falling to small, mid-major schools in scrimmages, why can't the Stags follow in suit? Especially given the transitional nature of Wake's team right now.

Oh, the beauty of the pre-season.

  • Jon Han was The Man for Fairfield against Bridgeport. The Stags were able to overcome a sluggish start and hold on for a win over the Purple Knights.
  • Ed Cooley did his best to rotate players and avoided going into the playbook all night. After the game, he was as calm as ever. He told me, "I just can't wait to go home and watch (the Boston College) Eagles game tomorrow, man."
  • Wake Forest, after a tumultuous off-season, is ready to roll. In many respects, the season begins with a heavy heart for the Demon Deacons. For many, like junior guard Harvey Hale, it's to focus on the game; a welcome distraction after a tough loss. As a Duke fan growing up, I can say that Skip Prosser's Wake teams were as tough as they come. It's a loss that will most-definitely be felt.
  • As Lenox Rawlings writes, a pre-season prediction for Wake to finish near the bottom of the pack in the ACC (the team is starting four freshman and a red-shirt sophomore) just adds fuel to the fire for hard-workers like Hale.
  • There are plenty of questions surrounding the Deacs as they head into the season.
  • Early Scouting Report on Wake from a Fairfield perspective: expect to see a lot of match-up zone. From what I've heard, Fairfield has prepared all week to face a lot of the 2-3 zone on Friday night - probably due to a lack of respect for the Stags' outside shooting sans Michael Van Schaick.
  • Fairfield signed a blockbuster deal with Cablevision that will provide game coverage as early as this season. AD Gene Doris hopes that this will develop into a great partnership - with a possible full season televised schedule on the horizon. Great news for FU from an exposure and public relations standpoint.
  • To add more fuel to the so-called Cooley/Jimmy Patsos rivalry, Loyola (Md.) has received a great deal of publicity in the pre-season, as his Greyhound squad is largely considered to be the favorite in the MAAC. The reason? Senior guard Gerald Brown (22.2 ppg, 5.0 rpg, 2.7 apg), a 6'4" kid from Baltimore who led the MAAC and ranked eighth in the nation in scoring. He's that good.
For our final tidbit of prep heading into the season, here's a little history lesson. After some research (after all, I've only been a part of the Fairfield family for 14 months), it seems that there's some reason for hope that a Fairfield upset in Friday night's contest is possible. One simply needs to look to the past.

The 1997 miracle run of the Stags was one of the more remarkable in the school's history. After an injury-plagued, underachieving season, Fairfield caught fire just in time for the MAAC tournament. The Stags (11-18 on the season) downed St. Peter's, Canisuis, and top-seeded Iona to clinched an NCAA tourney berth.

In the 1-16 game, the Stags pushed North Carolina to the brink. The Stags started the second half strong and took a 37-28 lead early, but their bid to become the first 16 seed to claim a top-seed as their victim, but ultimately fell short, 82-74.

The host city of that game? Winston-Salem. The arena? Lawrence Joel Veterans Memorial Coliseum.

Hey, you never know.

Friday, November 2, 2007

As the Calendar turns to November

The last time I wrote from Harbor Yard, a teary-eyed Michael Van Schaick was trying to put a first round loss to Loyola (Md.) into words, and Ed Cooley was vowing that 2007 would have a far different ending.

7 months have passed and now we return to the start and wonder what the road ahead will bring. How will Fairfield respond to losing their leader? It will be difficult to decipher at first, as the Stags once against face a daunting early season schedule from the outset.

One thing is for sure, with eight underclassmen, this is still a young team - and a sixth-place MAAC projection in the coaches' poll proves expectations are low.

But that's fine with Fairfield.

- K.C.