It’s no easy task taking on the National Champions.
Fairfield found that out last year, even if they didn’t know it at the time when they suited up against Duke at Cameron Indoor Stadium just 24 hours after taking down the CCSU version of the Blue Devils in last year’s iteration of the Connecticut 6 Classic.
This year the Stags get an extra day to travel south before they take on the University of North Carolina, ranked #1 in the nation, on Sunday. The Tar Heels carry hopes of a National Championship into the 2015-16 season, looking to match their in-state rival’s success from March.
Marcus Gilbert once again leads the charge for Fairfield. His 15 points paced the Stags in last year’s meeting with Duke, and he opened this season with eight points in Fairfield’s 70-57 loss to Yale in Friday’s season opener in the initial game of the Connecticut 6.
“It’s a great experience playing one of the bigger, better schools like that,” Gilbert said of the trip to Carolina. “It’s tough, but we’re always coming out to get a win.”
Frankly, these type of early-season games don’t often end well. After all, the Stags got thrashed by Duke 109-59 a year ago. However, they do offer an invaluable learning experience for the team to measure up against the best of the best.
“Last year it was real hard, and it showed in the second half,” head coach Sydney Johnson said of playing on back to back days. Our guys were running on empty and yet playing one of the best teams in the country. We rallied and I thought we had a terrific first half, but it was tough in that second half. I think the guys just literally ran out of gas.”
They may have slim hope – in fact KenPom gives the Stags a 4% chance to pull the upset in Chapel Hill – but you can’t pull off a monumental upset if the odds are in your favor.
Vincent Simone covers Quinnipiac, the MAAC, and Hofstra among others for Big Apple Buckets. You can follow him on Twitter @VTSimone.