"My rule was I wouldn't recruit a kid if he had grass in front of his house.
That's not my world. My world was a cracked sidewalk." —Al McGuire

Thursday, September 12, 2019

Fairfield Preview

Fairfield Stags
November 29, HP Field House, Orlando, FL

Coach: Jay Young (0-0)
3-Year NCAA Rank Average: 217.3
3-Year kenpom Average: 239.0
2019-20 T-Rank Projection: 215
Projected Starters: PG Aidas Kavaliauskas (6'1" Sr), SG Landon Taliaferro (6'3" Sr), SF Taj Benning (6'3" Jr), PF Jesus Cruz (6'5" Jr), C Vincent Eze (6'8" RS Sr)

When it comes to the Advocare Invitational field, "one of these things is not like the others" and it's definitely Fairfield. It isn't just that the Stags were bad last year, and finishing bottom of the 28th ranked MAAC is definitely bad, but they proceeded to follow that up by firing Coach Sydney Johnson and losing three starters. Big men Matija Milan and Jonathan Kasibabu graduated while freshman point guard Neftali Alvarez transferred to Mercer. Before those departures, the Stags went 9-22 on their way to the worst kenpom ranking of Johnson's coaching career.

So who comes back for rookie coach Jay Young? Taliaferro was last year's leading scorer and will carry the offensive load alongside Cruz, the only other returning player who averaged over 6 ppg last year. Kavaliauskas and Benning both earned minutes last year, but are both also very turnover prone. Eze joins as a grad transfer from Maine that contributed as a rotation piece last year and will be expected to fill a bigger role for the Stags. Calvin Whipple and Wassef Methnani provide some depth off the bench, but this is generally an unproven team that was bad for a reason. The freshmen will be intriguing, particularly 6'10" big man Chris Maidoh, who needs development but picked Fairfield over St. John's.

Young had some success as a Division II head coach before joining Steve Pikiell as an assistant, first at Stony Brook and later at Rutgers. Unlike most recent head coach hires that preach offense and pushing pace, Young is planning to set the tone for the Stags on defense. His first two days of practice were exclusively working on defense. Pikiell's teams were deliberate on offense and got their points by outworking teams on the offensive glass. Defensively, they mixed man and zone, but I would expect more zone from Fairfield this year as it's easier to install early.

The consensus seems to be that Fairfield will be around the middle of the MAAC this year, but that still leaves them as by far the worst team in Orlando. USC should handle them with ease, so if Marquette plays Fairfield, the downside is a hit to the strength of schedule but the upside is what should be a comfortable 20+ point win. This is essentially a neutral court buy game and will likely be a Quadrant 4 win when Selection Sunday rolls around. The best case scenario would be Fairfield cracking the top-200 of NET to reach Quadrant 3, but I'm not at all optimistic and honestly, the T-Rank projection might be a bit high for this team.

Marquette Connection: Before he came to Marquette, former assistant coach Aki Collins was an assistant at Fairfield. Collins joined Buzz Williams' staff in 2008 and was best known for player development, though he was also instrumental in recruiting guards Derrick Wilson and Todd Mayo. In addition, Collins' boss at Fairfield was current Providence head coach Ed Cooley, who has a 5-9 record against Marquette since leaving the Stags for the Friars.

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