Blog Entry

MAAC title game preview: Fairfield vs. Loyola

Posted on: March 5, 2012 12:41 am
Edited on: March 5, 2012 12:42 am
The Fairfield Stags are why coaches love and hate conference tournaments. Seeded No. 4 in the MAAC, Fairfield underachieved for most of the season. It should have challenged Iona for the league title, but it was clear from about mid-January that Sydney Johnson's team wasn't just playing for second, it would struggle to get third. It wound up getting fourth.

It's a talented team not playing to its advantage in the regular season. Then it finds the switch, flicks it on, and now the NCAAs are a game away. It's a great thing when you're coaching that kind of team, but man do other coaches hate when this happens against them.

The reason the Stags are playing for the league bid to the NCAA tournament is because the team found its groove, relied on its superstar and defeated Iona Sunday afternoon in the MAAC semis. Rakim Sanders, who scored 27 for FU, is now the alpha. There is no question about it, that's why Fairfield's still around. What interesting is the way this happened, how the team came to look to and rely on Sanders. It was an accident. Starting guard Derek Needham was this team's leader in October. But Sanders is the most talented guy on the roster, someone who could be drafted in June. When Needham broke his foot and was ruled out for the season on Feb. 27, rightfully most expected Fairfield to reach the semis of the MAAC, tops, then give way to Iona.

Hasn't happened. Now it looks like the Stags are more focused with one undeniable leader on the floor. They looked like a different team in beating the Gaels the way they did. With this response, they get to face Jimmy Patsos' Loyola Greyhounds, the No. 2 seed. At 13-5, Loyola was one game better than Fairfield in the league. But the team's riding high because it won 20 games this season, and are you ready for this? It was the first time in the more-than-30-year history of Loyola in D-I that the program won 20 games. That's flabbergasting.

Loyola's tough because they're great at offensive rebounds -- and they get to the line a lot. The team doesn't shoot well, but boy do they make up for it. They don't run, and neither does Fairfield. The Stags are a much better defensive team, and it's got the better player. Fairfield should probably win, but Patsos has been brewing magic in Maryland all season long. The teams split the season series. We could get another fantastic MAAC final on ESPN Monday night at 7 ET.

--Matt Norlander
Category: NCAAB

Since: Mar 8, 2007
Posted on: March 5, 2012 10:04 am

MAAC title game preview: Fairfield vs. Loyola

If Iona had lost in the championship game rather than the smis, the, maybe, just maybe, they could have snuck in as an at-large.  Too bad - they're fun to watch.

Since: Apr 13, 2007
Posted on: March 5, 2012 8:24 am

MAAC title game preview: Fairfield vs. Loyola

Iona doesn't have an awful resume by any means, but the system just doesn't reward low end mid-majors whose profiles aren't sterling.  They're almost certainly NIT-bound. 

Since: Feb 26, 2008
Posted on: March 5, 2012 7:02 am

MAAC title game preview: Fairfield vs. Loyola

Another choke job by Iona. This team frustrates me to no end. As talented (or more) than the teams of the late 90's-early 00's and the Steve Burtt team, but consistently come up short when it matters most. Kind of fitting that they'll miss the NCAAs again.

Since: Oct 9, 2006
Posted on: March 5, 2012 1:17 am

MAAC title game preview: Fairfield vs. Loyola

I'd rather see Iona as an at-large than some Big Ten school with a losing conference record.

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