Looking Ahead to Maryland-Fairfield

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It's time to think of something happier than football. Like basketball.

Maryland plays the Fairfield Stags - really, Stags - on Tuesday, and they'll provide a different, if not more difficult, type of challenge for the Terps.

Fairfield was pretty decent last year, going 17-15 in a strong mid-major conference - the MAAC, which houses Siena -  despite a host of injuries and the dismissal of their star PG - and, indeed, lone star player - Jonathan Han. They returned everyone but Han and a senior guard who averaged 9 points a game, and also see the return of F/C Anthony Johnson, who missed the second half of last year due to one of the scariest injures you can sustain - blood clots in his lungs. He's back now, and is expected to be the team leader

It's a bit tough to get a handle on this team. On one hand, they lost their first exhibition game to Bridgeport and have no real stars. One the other hand, they have a well-rounded team with a good frontcourt, and won their first real game, against Central Connecticut, pretty handily.

Actually, if they were entirely healthy, I'd be pretty afraid of them. Every position other than PG is set with talented and experienced players, and they have a couple of talented freshmen coming in. In fact, this front court will be a nice test for Maryland's young big men, with the aforementioned Anthony Johnson, redshirt freshman Shimeek Johnson, and two talented, sizable backups in Mike Evanovich and Ryan Olander.

The backcourt, on the flipside, isn't as strong, and is a weakness for Fairfield right now. They're still searching for a point guard, with Lyndon Jordan, who took over for Han last year, and Derek Needham, a true freshman, fighting for playing time. Needham was more impressive in the win over Central Connecticut, but he's less experienced. Both will play, and both may start, but which is running the point will be the major point of contention. They're also expecting contributions from another true freshman, Colin Nickerson, at SG.

As if the backcourt's inexperience and lack of proven players wasn't enough, the Stags have too many injuries to major contributors to really be competitive. Shimeek Johnson will probably be starting at PF, but he would normally take a back seat to Yorel Hawkins or Greg Nero, two players who combined to average 20 points a game last year. Both are out with injuries, and have missed all of Fairfield's games (including the exhibitions). Both would usually start, with Nero at the 4 and Hawkins at the 3.

Throw into those absences the lack of usual SG Warren Edney, who averaged 9 PPG last year and dropped 24 on Memphis. With those three key absences, the Stags will be forced to use Nickerson, Needham, Jordan, and Shimeek Johnson more than they originally expected to. Imagine missing Landon Milbourne, Cliff Tucker, and Sean Mosley - that's what Fairfield's dealing with. Oh, and Greivis Vasquez got kicked off the team last year.

Of course, Fairfield's supporting cast is relatively stronger than Maryland's, as Anthony Johnson will be able to provide a real challenge for Jordan Williams and James Padgett. Johnson, who was from Bishop Maginn, knows James Padgett well (Maginn and Lincoln have met before in the NY playoffs many a time), but won't provide a huge challenge. Guys like Evanovich, though, could cause trouble if he has a good day - he's a good outside shooter despite his height, and averaged a double-double in the final week of last year.

The frontcourt is good enough to trouble Maryland's young'uns, but the rest of the team isn't. If they had all their team ready, this would be a good early challenge for the Terps. As it is, the backcourt is too weak, inexperienced, and thin too really stick with Maryland. I'm not expecting another 40 point win, but it shouldn't be tough game.

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