As much as Mississippi State appreciates this opportunity to open a season in a national tournament, Coach Rick Stansbury clearly would prefer an easier team to tip-off against. Fairfield might not be a big name in SEC country but basketball experts know how good the Stags are. Coach Tim O'Toole's team is coming off a 19-11 season and third-place finish in the MAAC, yet the 2003-04 squad could have done so much more if not for loss of two key players at mid-season. Now those leaders are back along with an experienced, successful roster, and Fairfield is predicted to finish second to Manhatten in this year's MAAC chase. They may well be better than that, with three players named preseason All-MAAC (Gai, Todd, Maxwell).
Probable Starting Lineups (2003-04 stats)
Fairfield: G Tyquawn Goode, 5-5 SR, 5.6 ppg, 3.3 assists, 32 3pts; G Terrence Todd, 6-0 JR, 14.9 ppg, 4.9 rpg, 31 3pts; C Deng Gai, 6-9 SR, 13.3 ppg, 8.6 rpg; F Michael Bell, 6-4 JR, 8.2 ppg, 2.6 rpg; F Dewitt Maxwell, 6-5 JR, 10.9 ppg, 4.9 rpg.
FU Backups: G Kudjo Sogadzi, 6-2 SR, 6.4 ppg; G Mike an Schaick, 6-2 SO, 2.5 ppg; F Marty O'Sullivan, 6-7 SO, 2.3 ppg.
Mississippi State: G Gary Ervin, 5-11 SO, 5.4 ppg, 2.5 apg; G Winsome Frazier, 6-4 SR, 13.1 ppg, 4.1 rpg, 62 3pts; C Marcus Campbell, 7-0 SR, 6.2 ppg, 3.9 rpg; F Shane Power, 6-5 SR, 9.7 ppg, 4.2 rpg, 38 3pts; F Piotr Stellmach, 6-9 SO, 0.9 ppg, 1.1 rpg.
MSU Backups: F Ontario Harper, 6-4 SR, 7.4 ppg, 4.9 rpg (2002-03); C Wesley Morgan, 7-2 JR, 2.1 ppg, 1.6 rpg; F Michael Boler, 6-5 SO, 0.3 ppg, 1.0 rpg; C Walter Sharpe, 6-9 FR; F Charles Rhodes, 6-8 FR.
Rick Stansbury (Campbellsville, Ky., College 1982) is starting his seventh season as head coach at Mississippi State. He has a 126-64 record at MSU, with one overall SEC championship, two Western Division titles, one SEC Tournament championship, and three NCAA tournament berths. He already ranks third in career victories at MSU, both overall and SEC (53-43).
Tim O'Toole (Fairfield, 1986) is starting a seventh season at his alma mater, after stints as an aide at Fordham, Army, Iona, Syracuse, Duke, and Seton Hall. He is 88-86 both at Fairfield and as a head coach.
The teams have never met. State is 4-0 against Alabama A&M, the last meeting in 2002; and 7-0 against Birmingham-Southern with the last game in 1992. BSC is coached by Duane Reboul, a former MSU aide to Richard Williams. The Stags have never beaten a SEC team.
The last time the Bulldogs played on this particular court, it was another four-team tournament at the other end of a season. March, 2003 to be exact, and favored State went down hard to Butler. And we all recall last March's loss to Xavier in the 2004 NCAAs. The lesson: whether pre- or post-season, in tournament play anybody in Division I can beat anyone, even ranked teams from ‘power' conferences. And especially teams that are missing star players. If this opening-week lineup gets by the Stags, as well as the second-round opponent, they've won something worthwhile indeed and will be that much more confident when Roberts—and Edmondson—are able to rejoin them. They'll also have earned a trip to New York to play in the spotlight again.