7. Fairfield (2006-07 Record: 13-19, 10-8 MAAC)
Head coach: Ed Cooley
Returning Starters: 4- G Jonathan Han (junior): 6-0, 160; G Devin Johnson (sophomore): 6-4, 200; F Greg Nero (sophomore): 6-7, 215; F Anthony Johnson (sophomore): 6-8, 215.
Well, the Ed Cooley era didn’t exactly get off to a sparkling start, with the Stags sputtering to a 3-15 record in their first eighteen games. But it’s the 10-4 finish to the season, along with all the key players returning, that has Fairfield thinking that a move up in the MAAC standings is within reach in 2007-08. Four starters return, led by the sophomore forward tandem of Greg Nero and Anthony Johnson. Nero (9.4 ppg, 3.6 rpg), who eventually made the MAAC All-Rookie Team, got off to a torrid start before seeing his scoring numbers drop some. But after a tour of the conference and college basketball in general, don’t expect that to happen this season. Johnson (8.6 ppg, 4.8 rpg) started all thirty-two games last season, and forms one of the better forward tandems in the Northeast with Nero.
Also returning to the frontcourt are fifth-year senior Marty O’Sullivan (5.9 ppg, 5.6 rpg) and seniors Mamadou Diakhate and Geoff Middleton. O’Sullivan, who led the team in rebounding last season, and Diakhate are good glue guys who are willing to do the little things necessary for a team to be successful. Middleton, who only played in fifteen games last season, possesses the size needed to bang in the paint at 6-9, 230. Despite playing in only fifteen games, Middleton was second on the team in blocks. Three newcomers will also be called upon to contribute at forward, although one of the three did spend last season with the program. Junior Mike Evanovich (Storrs, CT), a transfer from Iowa State, is a 6-7 forward who can knock down perimeter shots. Freshmen Yorel Hawkins (Apex, NC) and Warren Edney (Vienna, VA) are seemingly cut from the same cloth, with the ability to provide instant scoring off the bench. Edney, however, is left-handed.
The backcourt also has some quality contributors returning this season, starting with the point guard Jonathan Han. Han (7.7 ppg, 4.5 apg) proved himself to be a more than capable distributor of the basketball last season, but he needs to improve upon his percentages from the field (36% FG, 26.8% 3PT). Classmate Herbie Allen (5.8 ppg, 1.5 apg) was a solid contributor last season, but he also could stand to improve his shooting (28.9% FG, 26.8% 3PT) this season. Sophomore Devin Johnson (2.6 ppg, 2.2 rpg) may have ended up with low averages, but he did start nineteen games last year. His size helps out, especially when you realize that Han is 6-0 and Allen 5-11. Other possible contributors in the backcourt include sophomore Jimmy O’Sullivan and freshmen Lyndon Johnson and Sean Grzeck. Johnson averaged seven assists per game as a high school senior, and at 6-7 Grzeck can shoot the ball from the perimeter. How well the Stags do this season will depend on the group as a whole making up for the graduation of Michael Van Schaick.
In regards to the schedule, it’s already kicked off with a loss at Wake Forest in the first game after the death of former Wake head coach Skip Prosser. A tough way to open up the season on the road, and things don’t get any easier with upcoming non-conference games against Sacred Heart (November 18th), Cincinnati (November 24th), Georgetown (December 1st) and St. Joseph’s (December 21st). Conference play opens with a visit from preseason favorite Siena on December 7th, and later dates of importance include a three-game stretch to open 2008: @ Loyola (January 4th), @ Siena (January 8th) and Loyola at home (January 11th), and another three-game road swing to open February (Canisius, Niagara, Manhattan).
Despite the loss of Van Schaick, Coach Cooley and his staff have a larger array of options to turn to this season. Making up for the scoring lost with Van Schaick’s graduation will be a group responsibility, and it has to be encouraging to see Evanovich put up twenty in the season opener. Fairfield had the best scoring defense in the MAAC last season, allowing 64.7 points per game, and I don’t see why that can’t be the case again this year. Whether or not they make a move up in the standings will ultimately depend on the improvement in perimeter shooting, which will take some pressure away from Nero and Johnson. I see Fairfield finishing in the middle of the MAAC pack once again this season.