Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Tonight the first of many tests for Fairfield

As the Stags prepare to face the Pioneers tonight at the Arena at Harbor Yard, there is a buzz in the air, writes Chris Elsberry. The excitement on campus is palpable.

But, for a second, look deeper than this game. Consider that Cooley and company, despite what in many respects was an admirable loss against Memphis last Saturday evening, are clear-cut favorites in this game, a position Fairfield does not normally find itself in too frequently. A win is just a job well done; a loss could be catastrophic.

Fairfield flies to Puerto Rico four hours after tonight's game ends, and there waiting for them will be three opponents from powerhouse conferences. Even the most optimistic fan will tell you that 1-2 is probably a best-case scenario.

The Stags then come back to campus for two of their more challenging out-of-conference games: a Thanksgiving weekend game at Alumni Hall against American, last season's Patriot League champions, and then Holy Cross, a talented team that downed Sacred Heart in its season-opener and has beaten Cooley in each of his first two seasons.

Translation: If the Stags lose tonight, they could be staring at 0-6 going into MAAC play. Another slow start. The same script all over again.

Granted, in the Metro Atlantic conference, the only chance that Fairfield has to clinch a berth in the NCAA tournament is to run the table in Albany come March. Still, a second preseason ranking means higher expectations. The best way for Fairfield to match those expectations is to win the games the are supposed to win. No more St. Francis or Yale games, like a year ago.

Tonight is one of those games.


  • Siena looked every bit the team they are projected to be last night in their home-opener against Boise State. Still, we won't see what this team is really made of until those out-of-conference stunners: Pittsburgh, Kansas, and (in just nine days) Tennessee.
  • Albany and Siena: the perfect couple. The Times-Union center has become the place to be in the Capital Region, writes Mark McGuire.
  • Niagara's Tyrone Lewis stepped right in to the go-to scoring role in the team's 79-62 win over Towson. It will be interesting to see the Purple Eagles offense evolve sans Charron Fisher. Up next: No. 23 Villanova.Link
  • BC spanked Jimmy Patsos and the Greyhounds on Monday night, 90-57. Anyone get the hint that Cooley leaked a word or two to get back at their rivals? Just saying.
  • The good news for the 'Hounds: Providence transfer guard Jamal Barney scored 18 points and looked dangerous. Very dangerous.
  • St. Joseph's (Pa.) defeated Rider, 69-57, in the Broncs' season-opener. Not sure what to make of this one, but I can't say that it is a bad outing for a team that: 1) just lost its best player to the NBA, 2) was playing a great mid-major and a regional rival, and 3) had its best freshman (Jermaine Jackson) and point guard (Justin Robinson) hurt. All things considered, not bad at all.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Reflections on Ted Spencer

Now that the dust has settled and reality is beginning to kick in, here's a few things that have been kicking around in my head over the past 24 hours about Ted Spencer and his new position at FU:

  • I can't say that this is bizarre timing given the end of his contract, coupled with the realignment of Men's Lacrosse divisions, especially the ECAC. The Stags have been overly unimpressive since moving into the division in 2006, finishing with a cumulative 8-13 conference record no higher than tied for fourth overall. Maybe Doris and Co. felt a change was needed to take "the next step".
  • 13 seasons is an awfully long time for anyone to be a head coach at one school. Dianne Nolan and the Coach K's and Jim Calhouns of the world aside, Spencer should be considered a tenured and successful face of the program.
  • Spencer's coaching career was a remarkable run that will be remembered as a watershed moment for Fairfield Athletics. Before Spencer, Fairfield lax was an infant; today, its a national powerhouse. That alone is his legacy, and he earned every bit of it.
  • Did the game pass him by? Doubtful, but sometimes a new voice is needed. I can remember sitting in the stands with Tom Cleary (we used to sit in the parents section for a different angle) late last season and hearing a few voices of displeasure at the team's offensive schemes against the Loyola zone defense. Some of that was probably due to the five freshman on the field on offense, but it's possible coaching had something to do with it.
  • Favorite Spencer story: Coach and I would talk about once a week in his office during lax season about the team, upcoming games, and other random stuff. He was really a genuinely great guy who would love to sit down and talk about his passion. Anyway, one day my freshman year I made the mistake of wearing a 'WE ARE ND' green shirt to his office (I'm a big Irish football fan. I know, I know...) I could tell he noticed - he kept glancing at it the entire interview. Finally, at the end of our talk, he stopped me as I walked out and pointed to a picture of the game winning goal in South Bend from back in 2002. "Greatest game of my career," he said with a huge smile. "Remember now, Keith, you're a Stag now," he threw in for good measure. It was the first time I really fell apart of the Fairfield family.
  • For those who were unhappy with the team's progress (see above about Loyola game), than maybe this move is a necessary evil. But you have to say this about Spencer: even in the face of an expiring contract and after a comeback from cancer, he still had the presence of mind to begin a youth movement and turn to a talented freshman class last year. It must've been challenging - imagine that conversation with Matt Scanlon or Chris Atwell - but he did not shy away from going young on the field (especially on offense). Whoever inherits this team gets some fantastic underclassmen and (from what I'm hearing) another impressive incoming group.

Which brings me to my next topic: Who is next in line?

More to come.

Friday, March 21, 2008

K-Rock's March Bracket Brawl

For those of you who are either Rock fans and/or live in the NY area, K-rock radio (NY's number one rock station) is holding a March Madness-esque bracket matching up the greatest bands in rock history. The regions are: '70's, 80s, '90s, Modern Rock. Really, really tough. Some of my favorites:

Here's some thoughts:
  • My Final Four: Zeppelin, Foo Fighters, Metallica, and Chili Peppers. Kind of a no brainer.
  • Some good match-ups in the '70s: Sweet 16 saw Hendrix vs. Rolling Stones and Pink Floyd vs. Led Zeppelin. Does it get much better?
  • '80s: I love U2, probably one of my favorites, but Guns n' Roses had to get the nod to go to the Elite Eight. Unfortunately, they saw Metallica.
  • '90s Sweet Sixteen: Pearl Jam vs. Chili Peppers and Sublime vs. Nirvana. Love it.
  • Modern Day had some good match-ups from the outset, probably since big time bands are still establishing themselves. For me, it came down to Foo Fighters and Green Day (Linkin Park gave a run, though)
Head on over to Krockradio.com to try one yourself. Any thoughts?

Change of Plans

Not many people read the 'Mirror Sports Blog'. Sad, but true. Even less read my own personal blog. As a result, I'm changing the running NCAA blog over to our main page (hopefully we'll pick up a few RSS feeders and stuff Cleary's Gmail box). So head on over there for more coverage. I'll just stick to random thoughts and Duke on this page.

More to come, though.

Surprises Abound in Noon Games

I'm a little shocked to say the least at a few of these games. It's currently halftime all around, so let's do a quick run down:

  • Tennessee leads American, 29-22 - That's it? I'm a little surprised with the Vols. This is the same team that our Stags defeated handily a few months ago. I'd expect a big half from Bruce Pearl and Co. coming out of the half.
  • Gonzaga leads Davidson, 41-36 - Disclaimer: I'm one of the few that picked Davidson as a sexy sleeper in my bracket. That being said, I'm expecting better from Davidson in the second. The 'Zags have been out of their mind shooting in the first half. Almost too good. Gray has 15 on 5-of-5 from three alone! I expect a drop off. At least I hope.
  • St. Mary's leads Miami, 32-27 - Not too shocked by this one. Miami seemed like the big conference school that had a few big wins to sneak in (cough, Duke). St. Mary's is a legitimate team from the WCC, an extremely underrated conference that has produced three (count 'em, three) NCAA teams. Mary's should win.
  • SHOCKER OF THE DAY: Western Kentucky leads Drake, 47-38 - It's come to this. Now it's a shock when a little darling school like Drake is losing. Personally, I liked Drake so much that I had them taking down UConn (don't tell Cleary) in the second round. What's the story here? The Hilltoppers are shooting the lights out. 60% from the field and seven threes to boot. The Gonzaga effect may kick in here too.
Much more to come. Stay tuned

Mid-Majors All Around

It's another great day to be a hoop fan (obviously), but it is a particularly good morning to be a fan of mid major teams. I'm splitting my time between a Cinderella 7/10 battle between Gonzaga and Davidson. On my laptop, I'm checking out St. Mary's trying to upset Miami in the East Region's 7/10 game.

If that's not enough for you, American (yes, the same American that Fairfield beat earlier this season) is giving Tennesse a run for its money early on. I'm not sure how far that will last, but so far they've looked good.

I guess Belmont inspired everyone a little.

Updates at the half.

Thursday, March 20, 2008

Cats' Show Fight, but Marquette Moves On

Ramel Bradley's three pointer with 24 seconds pulled the Wildcats to within two, but it was just not enough. The Golden Eagles pulled away with some late free throws, and they're moving on up in the tournament.

A plus for KU: Joe Crawford was an absolute monster in this game - 35 points on 13-of-22 shooting. He single handily kept Kentucky in this game. The stats do not even do justice considering some of these points were during Marquette's two second-half runs.

Marquette's guard play and fast-break offense are downright scary. Jerel McNeal and Dominic Jaynes (with Lazar Hayward at the 3) were fantastic - scoring 20, 15, and 16 respectively.

It'll be interesting to see how Marquette's quickness and speed matches up with (presumably) Stanford' two big boys.

Two Things I'm Lovin'

It's only a few hours into the '08 Tourney, but here's two things I already love about this year (and it has nothing to do with the actual Dance itself):

1) Jordan's Nike Jumpman 23 commercial. "There are no Cinderellas". So intense, from start to finish. I love seeing practice, sprints, weight lifting.. it's a great message and some amazing scenes. I loved the cameo clips of J.T.III with a whistle in a Georgetown gym and Boise State practicing the 'Statue of Liberty' play.

2) Pat Forde has a great column on ESPN today. I always love satirical writing (Bill Simmons and Rick Reilly are two of my favorites). Forde does a great job putting his spin on all 64 teams and their dreams/nightmares. As a Duke fan, I can appreciate the puns on Coach K's lame 'American Express' ads. Good stuff.

Honorable Mention: Two words - Gus Johnson.

I'll admit when I'm wrong

I'm a humble guy, so I'll admit that I've made a little mistake in an early-round prediction. I bit the mid-major apple in the 8-9 game between UNLV and Kent State, another one of the games that tipped at 2 o'clock.

The score right now: 37-15 Runnin' Rebel. 18:17 left. In the second half.

That's right, Kent State is shooting 22% (6-of-22) from the floor. Chris Singelatary is the team's leading scorer with 6 points. 6!

Ten points at the half is all that needs to be said. Tough one for another mid-major school against an at-large premier team.

Golden Eagles' Pulling Away?

Sure seems like it. It's a 12-2 run for Marquette - which now gives them a 7-point lead. That marks the largest lead of the game for either side. Billy Gillespe calls a timeout and rightfully so. The Wildcats desperately need to slow the pace of the game down and stop the bleeding.

Case in point, Marquette's last three baskets were on easy dribble penetration and drives. If they get those kind of points, it is going to be a long day.

More to come.

UK/Marquette and Sleeper Bubbles Burst

So far so good out of this game between the Wildcats and Golden Eagles. Coming in, I wasn't so sure that Kentucky would match-up well with Marquette's fast paced offense and perimeter play. After one half, though, I'm convinced they can. Guard Joe Crawford has 19 and looks strong. If could only get some help on offense..

Meanwhile, Pittsburgh is handling Oral Roberts (39-18 with 3:00 to go in the first half) and Purdue seems to be in control against Baylor (43-27 with 2:30 in the first). Many pundits (including Sports Illustrated's March Madness special) predicted both of these games to be possible early-round upsets. A few of my friends who took that advice. Such is life.

In the tournament, it seems like it's best to pick the favorite and just hold your breath.

More to come.

Xavier survives, advances

It was far from what you would expect out of a '3-14 game', but Xavier got exactly what it wanted out of its first-round game: a win. Muskateers advance, 73-61. In a survive-and-advance type of tournament, there will undoubtedly be hectic games like this along the way for a high seed.

It just so happened that a steaming hot SEC Champion was a 14. When's the last time you heard that?

In any event, the Muskateers' victory is great for the A-10 and mid majors everywhere (Farifield included); it would've looked terrible if a 20+ win team with big-time hype couldn't take down a power conference team that finished one game over .500 in the regular season. (Also, this is graet news for all those who have Xavier as a sleeper team to take down Duke and/or UCLA.)

More to come. Marquette/Kentucky is next.

Saturday, March 8, 2008

The Ballad of Jimmy Patsos

Loyola (Md.) enters tonight's game against Fairfield with a young core of athletes who, despite a slow start, found a way to connect. The reason for that connection? Most would point to Loyola head coach Jimmy Patsos, the man behind the operation.

We've all heard the stories by now - an eleven-year veteran under Maryland coach Gary Williams, a tireless worker who turned around a one-win program, a Maryland native who desired to build a program on his own accord.

For better or for worse, the legend of Jimmy Patsos has spread like wildfire throughout Baltimore and the MAAC alike due to his unique, loud style of coaching. Loyola loves him. Fans clad in green at last season's MAAC tournament wore 'We love Patsos' t-shirts and embraced him after the game.

Patsos explained his approach in his own word's after a win over Canisius in 2005 (at the time, Loyola was a paltry 3-11 in the MAAC): ""You aren't getting anywhere in life -- forget basketball -- in life without emotion." (Credit: Washington Post)

While he is most certainly brash, confident, enthusiastic, his style bodes ill of relations with coaches and screams of controversy.

Take for instance last year's MAAC Tournament opener against Fairfield - a game ultimately won by the Greyhounds. Aside from his Gary Williams-eque screams throughout the contest, Patsos proceeded to scream in the face of Fairfield point guard Jonathan Han as he attempted to break a press. Ed Cooley took offense.

Patsos' post-game group hug with fans after the Greyhounds' win, in the midst of Fairfield Country at Harbor Yard, illustrated how much one's view of Patsos is all a matter of perspective. The Loyola faithful viewed him as the ultimate people person, taking a personal moment to bask in a victory with a few loyal fans. Some in the Red Sea saw a coach whose exhumed arrogance.

Regardless of one's opinion on the man (or Ed Cooley's for that matter), his success cannot be discredited. And, as a famous motto goes, "controversy creates cash". According to many close to the man, he has already started his attempt to take it down a notch. This much is sure: As long as he's behind the bench for Loyola, Patsos will continue to wear his emotions on his sleeve.

For better or for worse.

Friday, March 7, 2008

All Maac'd Out

We've only been here for five hours, and I'm already having trouble keeping my eyes open. Such is life here in Albany, N.Y. this weekend - where the MAAC tournament is in full form.

As we speak, the Fairfield ladies are doing a fine job taking care of hometown Siena. It'd seem as if Joe Frager and company will avenge last season's loss in the first-round at Harbor Yard. Again, there's still 17 minutes left (you never know in tournaments), but a 15-point lead seems safe in the hands of a veteran team.

As for the Mirror Crew and I, it's been an interesting morning to say the least. We left Fairfield around 7a.m. after spending three hours trying to convince Public Safety and Res Life that Chris Simmons and I were harmless enough to let us in for the night. Once again, being "on the list" follows us everywhere.

Here's some thoughts:
  • The Men's Basketball team is practicing - as we speak - a few blocks down in the Albany Convention Center. I'm sure that a walk-through and shootaround will follow at some point this evening.
  • ResLife lady Ophelia (great accent, too) came up huge to allow Simmons and I to get into Loyola last night. Ophie, you rock, mon'!
  • Looking for a random way to get up to Albany? Simmons' GPS led us to Route 8 -a scenic tour of the back roads and randomness that is Western Connecticut and Massachusetts. Wow. That's all I can say. Unless you're into beaver storage and Berkshire Hillbillies - and those are direct quotes - then 8 and Jeff Foxworthy are something to look into.
  • Yanks take on the 'Stros and the new-look Rays in two split-squad games. I'll have my eye on both during down time.
  • Caffeine, anyone?
  • We've got a blogger right in front of us, Ben Doody blogging to my right - I'd like to think the Mirror Sports Blog has started a craze. At least you're all getting your full of MAAC coverage.
  • Breakfast d' Albany: cinammon buns. With no napkins.
More to come.

Thursday, January 24, 2008

Stags' Key Stretch Begins Tomorrow

Ed Cooley walked away from the court, shaking his head and looking around the building, perhaps searching the rafters of the Hynes Center to find some answers. His son, Isaiah, who had sat courtside behind his dad, ran along the benches to meet his father, confused with his father's actions.

Make that two confused Cooleys.

It wasn't that a road loss to a well-rested Iona team was the end of the world; it was the team's mannerisms. A four-point game at half turned into a sloppy display of defense. Poor perimeter coverage made Milan Prodanovic (five consecutive three-point shots to start in the second half) look like the second-coming of J.J. Redick. Constant turnovers left the Stags without momentum on the court.

When the Stags hit a shot, the Gaels answered. It was that kind of night.

After the game, Cooley summed it up easily: "Right now we're a team trying to find that identity".

The road back to finding an identity for Fairfield began with a 70-64 victory over St. Peter's at Alumni Hall, one that was certainly not easy but a win nonetheless. The Stags expected to win, and finally did win a game in which they were the "alleged" favorites.

Cooley was still not pleased. "We were too unselfish," said Cooley. "We need to do a better job defensively". For the coach of a young, promising bunch of up-and-comers still looking to mesh, it seems as if the head coach wants to instill the notion that simply winning is not good enough. To be great, you can't just get by.

A critical stretch begins tomorrow night at Harbor Yard, as the Stags begin a series against Canisius Golden Griffs. It is no secret that the Griffs have struggled mightily this season (only one MAAC win). With Niagara games in between both Canisius contests, the Stags would love to sweep the Griffs and build off the momentum of the Alumni Hall win. In an ideal Fairfield world, the Stags could potentially split games with the Purple Eagles or better (not too out of the question given Niagara's play of late).

As we have seen all season, though, it mainly comes down to the Stags team we see on the court this weekend against the MAAC's Buffalo tandem. Is it the Stags' team that showed flashes of brilliance against St. Pete's?

Or the team that a confused head coach walked away from last Friday night?

- Keith Connors

[Photo Credit: Fairfield University S.I.D.]