After rebuilding year last season, Marcus Gilbert and Fairfield face steep uphill climb back to top of MAAC. (Photo courtesy of Big Apple Buckets)
Last season could best be described for Fairfield as a long and winding road of sorts, one that saw the Stags gain critical experience in the wake of losing floor general Derek Needham, who proved irreplaceable at various points of the year for head coach Sydney Johnson.
While his team is a year older and a year wiser, the premise remains the same for Johnson, who released a daunting schedule last week that sees his team open their first season without swingman Maurice Barrow; who graduated this past May, with five games in a ten-day span, beginning with an arduous back-to-back slate featuring Central Connecticut State in the annual Connecticut 6 tripleheader before visiting Cameron Indoor Stadium to take on Mike Krzyzewski and Duke as part of the Coaches vs. Cancer Classic on November 14 and 15, respectively.
"Every season I've been at Fairfield, we've played a difficult out of conference schedule," said Johnson, whose participation in the Coaches vs. Cancer Classic also nets the Stags three home games from November 21-23 against Wofford, Sam Houston State and South Dakota. "This season is no different."
Following the in-season tournament experience, the Stags will travel to venerable Matthews Arena to meet Northeastern on November 29, with Bucknell coming to Bridgeport on December 1. MAAC play then begins for Fairfield four days later when reigning conference champion Manhattan comes to town, with that game preceding a December 7 affair in Hamden against Quinnipiac, the second time the Stags will play at the TD Bank Sports Center this season, as the venue is the site of this year's Connecticut 6.
A near-two-week hiatus for final exams comes to an end when Belmont comes to the WebsterBank Arena on December 20 to return a game the Stags contested in Tennessee a year ago. Fairfield hits the road two days later to take on reigning America East champion Albany before returning home to meet former MAAC rival Loyola, whom Johnson lost to in the 2012 MAAC championship during his first season as Ed Cooley's successor, on December 28. The Loyola game starts a three-game homestand that carries over into 2015 with the resumption of conference play against Siena (January 2) and Rider. (January 5)
Fairfield takes on Jimmy Patsos and the Saints one more time in Albany on January 11 before visiting the Hynes Center in New Rochelle two days later to face Iona. A January 16 home date with Marist precedes a journey to the Jersey Shore (January 18) to battle Monmouth, while the Stags alternate home and away uniforms once more against Canisius (at home on January 22) and Marist, to whom they travel on the 25th of the month. Home tilts with Monmouth (January 30) and Iona (February 2) will take Fairfield into a two-game swing through New Jersey, where awaiting them will be Rider on February 5th and Saint Peter's, who swept the Stags in all three meetings last year; with each victory coming on a three-pointer by Desi Washington, on February 7.
Three of Fairfield's next four games after that come at home, beginning with Quinnipiac on February 13. Only a February 15 trek to Riverdale to face Manhattan breaks up the homestand, which resumes when Niagara comes to Connecticut on February 19, with Saint Peter's following suit two days later. The annual western New York swing will close the regular season for the Stags, who visit Canisius on February 27 and Niagara on March 1.