Opponent's name: Fairfield Stags
Head Coach: Sydney Johnson (in his 1st season)
Last Season Record: 25-8 (16-4 in conference)
Went to the NIT and lost in the second round
Key Player to Fear: Rakim Sanders (almost 19ppg so far)
The last two seasons had the Stags on a tear. They won 20+ games and had postseason tournaments outside the NCAA (first the CBI and then the NIT). With their coach Ed Cooley taking the Providence job, Sydney Johnson, the passionate Princeton coach who almost upset Kentucky last year in the NCAAs, comes in and try to continue the momentum and sustain Fairfield as one of the premier mid-majors in the country, just a step below Xavier, Gonzaga and Butler.
The leading scorer for this team so far is Rakim Sanders. A former Boston College Eagle, Sanders transfered to Fairfield for his last go-around. So far, it seems that he's enjoying his stay. He's averaging 18.3 boards and around 5boards per contest. Though he's shooting 40-something percent from the line, I am willing to bet that it's simply an anomaly. Despite his size, 6-5, he's being slotted into the power forward spot.
Sanders has company. Junior Derek Needham averaged 14 points and 4.5 assists last season. His ballhandling is suspect and can often force things needlessly, but he does more good and bad. Senior Ryan Olander patrols the paint, averaging 10 points and 7 boards. There's sophomore Maurice Barrow, a wing that has improved from his freshman year and is averaging 13 points and 7 boards so far. The last piece of the starting lineup is Desmond Wade, a Houston transfer that is good at dishing the rock, not necessarily shooting.
This is a game that will largely be decided on the perimeter. Besides Olander most of the key players on both teams hang out from the outside rather than in. It will be a war between two good backcourts (King, Colvin and Lockett vs. Sanders, Needham and Barrow). Whoever performs better will be a major factor in allowing his own team to win.
ASU has a bit of a size advantage on the wings. Sanders and Barrow are 6-5 each so beyond Olander, Fairfield will mostly play a team with 2 sub 6 footers (Wade, Needham), and 2 6 foot 5 guys (Sanders, Barrow). So Lockett, Colvin, King and Felix can match up with the 4some, hopefully resulting in more offensive rebounds, more rebounds in general.
But of course, there's Olander. This is where Pateev and James B. must step up. They don't have to go beast mode; all they need to do is, as Gary Williams puts it, rebound and defend and give a chippy or two from time to time (i added the last part).
1 thing Coach Sendek could think of is forcing 3 pointers. As good as Fairfield is as a whole, they are not a great 3 point shooting bunch. Only Sanders and Olander (4 of 8 so far) seem to be capable shooters from deep, while Needham, Barrow and Wade struggle from there. Shut down the first two and contain dribble penetration from the last 3. In this case, a conventional zone defense, maybe the matchup zone, looks like the fit. But if the shots are falling, go to man-to-man but only if the fouling is kept to a minimum.
What about forcing them to go to the line? So far, Fairfield is a terrible 55% from the line. Hopefully they will continue to struggle there so the Devs can stay close in the waning seconds.
If Fairfield runs the Princeton offense, as seen with Coach Johnson's teams at Princeton, the Devs must communicate with each other on the court at all times, otherwise the offense can and will shred them from all over the court.
On offense, we must cut turnovers on the halfcourt, and must run opportunistically. Look, ASU hasn't really been running it up and down right now, so only run if a high percentage shot is available.
Here are my things to watch:
- Points in the paint (i don't think ASU will win this one, but just keep it close, please)
- Rebounding edge (Remember, we have a bit of a size advantage)
- 3 point shooting percentage (force everyone except Sanders and Olander to take those shots)
Regardless of the results, GO SUN Ds!!!