Outlook: After finishing a game over .500 last season, 2017-18 is a pivotal season for the Stags. They bring back just one player who scored over 10 ppg on a team that finished in the bottom 100 in Division I in offensive scoring efficiency.
Who’s in: Taj Benning (G), Jesus Cruz (G), Omar El-Sheikh (F), Wassef Methnani (F), Kevin Senghore-Peterson (F), Aidas Kavaliauskas (G)
Who’s out: Curtis Cobb (G), Jerry johnson (G), Amadou Sidibe (F), Steve Smith (F), Deniz Çelen (C)
Key Non-Conference games: @ Wagner (12-1-17), @ LIU Brooklyn (12-10-17), vs Old Dominion (12-17-17)
Things have been looking up for the Fairfield Stags since a pair of seven-win seasons back in 2013-14 and 2014-15. Two seasons ago, the Stags won 19 games and finished tied for fourth in the MAAC and last season they finished a game over .500 with a fifth-place finish in the MAAC. But this upcoming season might be a much bigger challenge for seventh-year head coach Sydney Johnson.
Fairfield will need to replace 43 percent of its total offense from last season after losing three of its top five scorers, including two of their top three in Curtis Cobb (12.1 ppg – transferred to UMass) and Jerry Johnson (11.4 ppg – transferred to Chattanooga) who transferred out of the program.
The Stags will need to further rely on their top scorer from last season in senior guard Tyler Nelson (19.5 ppg) who scored 20 or more points 16 times with a team-high 113.1 offensive rating, 53.5 effective field goal percentage and 39.1 three-point shooting percentage. He will once again need to be the go-to scorer for this Fairfield team if they are to continue to compete for an upper-tier spot in the MAAC. Nelson needs 567 points this season to become Fairfield’s all-time leading scorer, surpassing the school record of 2,006 points scored.
Fairfield will also need to replace leading rebounder Amadou Sidibe. He grabbed more than nine boards per game last season, but graduated in May. The Stags’ next best rebounder grabbed half as many. And nobody was nearly as good as Sidibe on the defensive glass last season.
Sydney Johnson will need guys like sophomore forwards Matija Milin (8.3 ppg) and Jonathan Kasibabu (6.3 ppg) to continue improving on both the scoring and rebounding ends of their game. The pair shot the ball extremely well from two-point range, as both of them shot over 60 percent from inside the three-point arc. Each shot over 68 percent when they got shots near or at the rim so expect for both to continue to be a force inside.
Senior Jerome Segura (5.9 ppg, 4.1 apg) returns as Fairfield’s starting point guard. He has started in 62 of the last 65 games he has appeared in, including every game in which he has played in the last two seasons.
The rest of Fairfield’s squad is full of newcomers and relative unknowns. Eight of their 13 scholarship players are either freshmen or sophomores including five true freshmen. The depth of this season’s team will likely come into question as Johnson will look to figure out who he can depend on past his starting five.
Interestingly, Fairfield’s roster includes players from 10 different countries which could end up tops in the nation in that regard with nine international players. They have players from as far as Kuwait, Egypt, and the Republic of Congo.
Despite playing up-tempo basketball, the Stags struggled offensively last season. They finished tenth in the 11-team MAAC in offensive scoring efficiency, falling just shy of 100 points per 100 possessions. Conversely, on defense, the Stags were one of the better teams in the MAAC, as they held opponents to 103.1 points per 100 possessions and allowed just 73.5 points per game, good for second-best in the conference.
With so many question marks beyond Tyler Nelson on the offensive end, they are going to need another strong showing once again on the defensive end to help keep them competitive in 2017-18.
Fairfield will open their campaign against Penn at home on Nov. 11 and then after their Nov. 14 matchup versus Loyola Maryland, they won’t return to play at home until Dec. 17 for their final two non-conference games. In between their brief non-conference home stands, the Stags will have games on the road against Purdue (Nov. 18), Wagner (Dec. 1), and LIU Brooklyn (Dec. 10 @ Barclays Center). Their biggest home game in non-conference will come against Old Dominion on Dec. 17. They open MAAC play at home versus Saint Peter’s (Dec. 28) and will face Manhattan twice and Iona once on the road in the first five MAAC games of the season.
With Iona going into 2017-18 as the expected favorites in the MAAC and Manhattan and Monmouth looking strong once again, it is probably going to take a lot of things to go right for Fairfield to break into the top three of the MAAC standings.
There is a lot of youth and inexperience on this Stags’ roster beyond the top four or five guys. So in order for Fairfield to find success this season, the team will have to develop depth as the season goes along. Look for Tyler Nelson to finish his Fairfield career once again on the first-team All-MAAC and quite possibly as the conference’s top scorer this season and become the school’s all-time leading scorer barring injury.
For me, this is a Fairfield team that will likely once be hovering around the .500 mark both overall and in the MAAC and I don’t think that will be a bad thing with a team that could be very top-heavy, especially on the offensive end.
[Editor’s Note: Fairfield defeated Hofstra 94-78 in an exhibition game to benefit Save the Children on Monday night. Tyler Nelson led all scorers with 30 points. Matija Milin added 22 points and 8 rebounds before fouling out after 38 minutes. Ferron Flavors, Jr.—a junior college transfer—scored 16 points in 24 minutes off the bench. The Stags scored a blistering 1.27 points per possession overall, thanks to shooting 16-26 (62%) from three. Fairfield did struggle a bit on the defensive glass, allowing Hofstra to grab 14 of their 45 misses (31%).]