For the vast majority of small conference schools snagging automatic bids, the trip to the dance alone is more than enough of a reward after a long, hard-fought season. Getting a chance to represent your small school on the grandest of stages is every bit a treat for the players, and can work wonders for recruiting across the mid-major circuit for coaches.
But to Old Dominion for the second straight season, this process is simply a means to an end. The Monarchs bullied their way to repeat as CAA champs on Monday, and, remember this, look especially eager to build upon their upset-friendly run in last year's tournament.
If you remember, last March was when ODU head coach Blaine Taylor picked up some extended publicity for saying "we're not just happy to be here," in regards to his team's opening round chances against No. 6 Notre Dame. Days later the Monarchs echoed his statement as they out-executed the Irish (51-50), and then took No. 3 Baylor to the wire (76-68). Despite the crushing defeat, a seed was most definitely planted that day.
To prepare his squad for a rigorous postseason in 2011, Taylor scheduled elite opponents from the best conferences in America. The Monarchs lost to Georgetown (Big East) by three, beat Clemson (ACC) by one, beat Xavier and Richmond (A-10) each by nine, and suffered through a 23-point loss to Missouri (Big 12). Even if you ignore ODU's 3-2 record, the key here is that each one of those games came in 2010, at a time when even some of the best basketball teams in the country weren't even showing it on the court yet. Their 14-4 league mark and subsequent CAA title were both just icing on the cake.
With a resume that can put most bubble teams to shame, the Monarchs are certainly not a group that any No. 1 or No. 2 seed wants to see in its bracket. That leaves only one question: Who's going to stop them?
A breakdown after the jump...
Location: Norfolk, Virginia
Record: 27-6 (14-4)
Leading scorers:(15.0 ppg); (12.5); (9.2)
What to know:
- Only 13 teams in college hoops played at a slower pace (61.4) throughout the season. The Monarchs were even more prodding in CAA games (58.9), and are the definitive grind-you-out type of team on their best days. This, coupled with an NCAA-leading 45.2% offensive rebounding percentage, makes ODU one of the toughest teams in the nation to come back from a large deficit against.
- Pressure from the defensive zone caused problems for Notre Dame's batch of shooters last March, and a similar situation could arise against a team lacking a true point guard in round one. The Monarchs do an exceptional job of clogging the lane and eliminating penetration on D, which forces opponents to beat them via the three-ball. And because of ODU's willingness to eat the clock, an errant trigger finger from long-range at the other end could be the kiss of death.
- For as impressive as Old Dominion's run in the CAA tourney was, two notable weak points popped up that deserve your attention. First, as the stage grew and the stakes increased, turnovers went way up. From eight in their first-round win over Hofstra to 12 against Delaware and then 16 in the title game victory over Virginia Commonwealth. This is relevant because we're talking about a team that coughed it up 21 times in its worst loss of the season at Missouri. Secondly, ODU's free throw shooting accuracy is not only worrisome, it actually decreased inversely with the drop in turnovers during the CAA tourney. The Monarchs shot 69.2% then 57.9% and then 56.7% from the charity stripe in those three wins, and numbers like that hardly inspire confidence for those notorious March Madness late-game situations. Each is definitely a trend worth keeping an eye on.
Projected seed: #7. It's really all about the match-up, but this is a team that should stroll into their opening round game as the the favorites in Vegas. But if you're looking for a Cinderella, go elsewhere. The Monarchs are well-known, well-respected, and probably won't get screwed over by the committee after putting together such a notable year. With a favorable draw in front of them, there's no logical reason why ODU can't grind its way to the Sweet 16.