Beware Siena. Beware Niagara. Beware Rider. Beware Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference.
There's a team playing some very good basketball up in Connecticut. It's a team predicted to finish fourth in the MAAC, but right now, it looks like it can beat anyone in the conference.
That team: the Fairfield Stags.
The Stags are off to an 8-3 start. Sure, Sacred Heart is the best team they've beaten, but don't forget they haven't been at full strength all year. Swingman Warren Edney and star Greg Nero have been sidelined for all 11 games.
It's really not inconceivable at all to think Fairfield would be off to a 10-1 start with Nero and Edney available. Other than a 29 point loss at Maryland, the Stags have lost two games by a total of nine points—by four at Hofstra and by five at Rhode Island, who has beaten Providence and Boston College.
Despite the injuries, Fairfield has exceeded expectations. The early season success can be attributed to the core of Yorel Hawkins, Derek Needham, and Anthony Johnson.
Hawkins, a 6'5" forward who missed the first three games of the year, has scored in double figures in all but one game. He's leading the Stags with 16.9 points per game.
Excluding a three game stretch in November, Johnson has been a dominant force on both ends of the floor. He has seven double-doubles and is averaging 13.8 points, 9.5 rebounds, and 2.2 blocks per game.
Needham has been the most impressive Stag. As a freshman, the quick point guard is averaging 15.8 points and 6.1 assists in a team-leading 34.1 minutes per game. He's still making some poor decisions, but he is running an effective offense.
Fairfield has been so successful because it has talent beyond its core. Lyndon Jordan, Mike Evanovic, and Ryan Olander can all be relied on for offense. Even redshirt freshman Shimeek Johnson showed promise while Hawkins was sidelined early in the year.
Coach Ed Cooley has a great mind for the game and keeps his players focused and motivated.
The Stags have the components to compete with the MAAC's best and will only improve if/when Nero and Edney come back.
Photo from fairfieldstags.com