But make no mistake, this isn’t your Old Dominion of old. The Monarchs are reeling to the tune of a 1-7 start that includes four home losses including a 27-point thrashing at the hands of fellow A-10 conference mate Richmond, the largest loss for ODU in the history of the Ted Constant Convocation Center they call home.
The Monarchs, picked to finish fourth in the CAA after losing the core of their team this past season have looked more like the fourth best team in the Tidewater area.
But this is a rivalry. This is VCU versus ODU in Norfolk. A sold out Ted full of angry fans — scratch that, REALLY angry fans –who want nothing more than to see their 1-7 squad pull off the upset of bitter rival VCU.
Here’s the preview…
Historically one of, if not THE best rivalry in the Commonwealth when it comes to college basketball, VCU and ODU have squared off 87 times since 1969, with the Rams leading the series 45-42 after a 2011-12 season sweep of the Monarchs.
VCU will look to notch their third-straight win in Norfolk, winning by nine against ODU’s 2011 CAA Champion team, and four this past season after trailing by three with 1:01 left to play.
A quick look at ODU: ODU is certainly in a rebuilding stage but hoped to have more than just the foundation dug at this point with senior NC State transfer DeShawn Painter joining junior Clemson transfer Donte Hill on a team that has struggled to replace last season’s top three scorers. The Monarchs are still rebounding like the boys in blue of old, but unlike the tougher ODU squads, have struggled to defend. Blaine Taylor’s club is allowing 7.8 more points than last year’s team, 11.5 more than their 2011 CAA title group. Shooting seems to always be a problem for the Monarchs, but this year’s team has been historically bad. ODU’s 39.5% field goal clip ranks 303rd nationally, their 25.6% makes from deep is down 6.4% from the previous year’s team. What’s worse is those numbers come against the 206th strongest schedule so far this season. The Monarchs have zero players averaging double-digits at the moment, but have a number of capable scorers, most notably sophomore Dimitri Batten. Batten has struggled with the added pressure, but is a capable shooter who hit 40% of his threes the previous season. Batten is joined by junior guard Donte Hill who was a headache for the Rams in their last meeting, hitting three of his five long range attempts en route to a 15-point performance. Hill is joined by fellow ACC transfer DeShawn Painter who anchors the paint for the Monarchs. Painter has been a solid 8.3 points and 7.3 rebounds for ODU this season, but has yet to be the dominating presence many ODU fans anticipated this season. The Monarchs are averaging 15 turnovers per game, tied for the second-most per game by teams VCU has faced this season.
A quick look at VCU: The Rams have won their last two after dropping close games to nationally ranked Duke and Missouri in the Bahamas. Their last win, a 75-65 victory of a very good Belmont team, came without starting senior point guard Darius Theus. Theus, a Portsmouth native, hopes to play in tomorrow’s matchup in front of a large number of friends and family, but is no guarantee as he is recovering from a knee injury. This marks the second true road test of VCU’s season, their first coming in the form of a 90-54 domination of Winthrop. The Rams are outscoring ODU by 11 points per game and holding teams to three points less than the Monarchs scoring average. The tallest task however for ODU’s coaching staff will be preparing freshman guards Aaron Bacote and Keenan Palmore for a VCU defensive who’s 11.6 steals per game ranks sixth nationally.
Tale of the Tape…
Scoring Offense: VCU 73.6 pts/game, ODU 62.5
Scoring Defense: VCU 60.6 points allowed, ODU 69.9
Field Goal%: VCU 44.5%, ODU 39.5%
Field Goal% Defense: VCU 44.5%, 46.4%
3-Point Field Goal%: VCU 34.1%, ODU 25.6%
3-Point Field Goal% Defense: VCU 27.9%, 36.6%
Rebounding Margin: ODU +7.4, VCU +4.1
Turnover Margin: VCU +5.8, ODU -1.88
VCU wins if: They play, as Shaka Smart would say…”on edge”. As any VCU fan who’s watched the Rams for any extended period of time could tell you, occasionally your team has one of those letdown kind of games. One that gets a way from you or one where you play down to the opponents level of competition but still eek out a win. Factor that in with rivalry voodoo and this is a very scary game for VCU. VCU will win or lose this one between the ears. Come out mentally strong, play VCU basketball and there is no way the Rams lose. But allow the pressure of winning a game your SUPPOSED to win get to you, especially in front of a Ted full of angry Monarch fans, and you have the makings of a bad road loss in front of your biggest rival. Sound like enough pressure?
ODU wins if: See above. The crowd has to be a factor for the Monarchs, and in order for that to be the case, they’ll need an elevated level of play from their guards. This really is a “welcome to college basketball” type moment for Palmore and Bicote in particular. ODU faced a daunting challenge on the road against Murray State, and responded fairly well for the young squad in their 79-72 loss, but from a ball pressure perspective, are stepping up perhaps two weight classes in facing VCU. With two of the Rams top defensive guards, Darius Theus and Briante Weber, both hailing from the Tidewater area, the Rams defensive intensity could reach a season high. Beat the press, find open shooters and get a good night from Batten and Hill and the Monarchs have a chance in this one. That is of course…easier said than done.