I'm appallingly disturbed at my lack of familiarity with Old Dominion's basketball team. It wasn't too long ago Ricardo Marsh charged over Emmanuel Mathis. Alex Loughton did those damned Alex Loughton things. Brian Henderson hacked Eric Maynor. Joey Rodriguez guarded Gerald Lee. Darius James wore mace and blue but now heads to his office every morning at 1200 West Broad Street.
It's highly unlikely referee Steve Gordon will ignore a Shaka Smart timeout request, and I know if ODU executes a long bomb out-of-bounds play late in the game, it won't make or break NCAA tournament hopes for two teams.
There is no Blaine Taylor--can you grasp that?--nor Our Man Pav dressing up like Blaine Taylor. (Who even wants to dress up like Jeff Jones?) This will be the first time since the Siegel Center opened that Old Dominion will play VCU and assistant coach Jim Corrigan will not be on the Monarchs bench.
I could keep going, and so could you. And every bit of it is rooted in an intimate familiarity with each other, that level of intimacy that bred the contempt that fueled one of the most heated and best rivalries in all of college basketball. However time's inexorable march changed things. The landscape of college sports, much like erosion or high tide or dead leaves turning to oil, exerted its unstoppable forces on the rivalry and changed it forever.
Both basketball programs have taken divergent paths in recent years, and I can tell you exactly when it started: February 9, 2007.
That's the day ODU AD Jim Jarrett announced Bobby Wilder would be its first football coach. It was two weeks after VCU defeated ODU in the Siegel Center, and the day before ODU returned the favor in the Ted Constant Center.
Five weeks after that game, in freezing Buffalo, Old Dominion lost a heartbreaker to Butler (of all teams) in the NCAA tournament, and on the very same floor Eric Maynor daggered Duke. Oh, it took a few years for the economics and board room decisions to fully affect the corpse of a once-great rivalry, but hindsight allows us to pinpoint the time of death.
VCU has springboarded into national prominence, with success and NCAA tournament victories and sellouts you know well. ODU has slogged into an unfamiliar conference with a new coach and a half-full Ted Constant Center. ODU is flourishing in football--and good for them--but the basketball program has taken a back seat in the VCU basketball War Wagon. Because of that stark reality I don't know the ODU players any more than I know Winthrop's.
I know Richard Ross a little. He is a supreme athlete and a kid that could've become a star, but I feel like I read he isn't even starting for Jones. I think Aaron Bacote was pretty good in the VCU game last year. Or was he the guy that was terrible? Which one was the Palmore guy? Dmitri Batten--he's still there? Who plays center, and when was the last time ODU had a question mark at center?
So we are clear, I'm not cracking on the ODU players. I just don't know them. And that's unfortunate. But they know us. They know the history. They have the motivation. You can bet our staff, too, will educate the current VCU players on what this rivalry means and its history. Our coaches will ensure the kids know every tendency in the ODU attack.
The players will be ready, just like always. The fans? I don't know that either.