Previewing the Old Dominion Monarchs

Posted In News - By Alan Kelly On Tuesday, December 2nd, 2014 With 0 Comments

Wednesday night, George Mason takes on old CAA rival Old Dominion at 7:30 pm in the second game of a doubleheader. Both teams are coming off emotional highs, with ODU defeating VCU in Norfolk on Saturday, and the Patriots winning on Jalen Jenkins’ buzzer-beater, hoisted long-distance from approximately Gunston Hall itself. It will be interesting to see which team(s) can avoid a letdown. For those fans who can make it out a little early, the women’s team plays East Tennessee State at 5 pm. The ladies are off to a promising 4-3 start and lead the Atlantic 10 in scoring at 80.6 points per contest.

Eleven months ago, the Patriot men traveled to Norfolk on a cold Saturday night in January for their final non-conference game, and the uneven contest was a microcosm of the Patriots’ entire season. Mason fell behind by double-digits before halftime, and a furious comeback in the last five minutes of regulation was foiled when the final Mason possession, with a chance to tie, ended on a turnover. ODU struggled from the floor the entire second half, scoring their last basket with 8:10 to play, but 35 second-half free throw attempts were enough to hold off the Patriots, 71-66.

In order to catch up on an old familiar foe, I asked Joe Varela from to answer a few questions about the 2014-15 edition of the Monarchs. Old Dominion has had an impressive start to the season, with a 5-1 record and wins over Richmond, LSU, and #14 VCU. Who are the leaders for this year’s Monarchs, and what have been the keys to the team’s success?

JV: There are two that immediately come to mind, Trey Freeman and Richard Ross.

Trey Freeman (19.0 ppg) is the one player this team is built around and it started last season as he was sitting out his transfer year from Campbell.  The 6’2″ point guard gets ODU into their half court sets every single time down the floor and then the ball finds a way back into his hands if the shot clock reaches ten seconds or below as he’s the best at creating his own shot.  He can get a 17-foot jumper off against anyone.  He has also proved to be a much better defender than advertised through six games.

Richard Ross (10.0 ppg, 5.5 rpg) is the other player that can make plays on both ends of the floor when things break down.  He’s been here forever and has made the sacrifice to bulk up from being a small forward into the team’s center.

This edition has beaten the likes of VCU, Richmond, and LSU by grinding away at their opponent possession by possession for 40 minutes.  The Monarchs play a relentless style on both ends of the floor that requires all ten players to work for everything they have.  It began last season with a commitment to defense and has taken that next step with a much deeper and more athletic roster.  Now ODU can take teams to the wire and close. These two teams are very familiar opponents, but with Blaine Taylor’s departure, the Monarchs brought in former UVA and American U head coach Jeff Jones. What changes has Jones brought to the Monarchs, compared to Taylor’s teams?

JV: A commitment to man to man defense.

Jeff Jones has a system and is committed to sticking to it.  Blaine Taylor constantly evolved while at ODU.  He brought his Stanford style he learned under Mike Montgomery and enjoyed immediate success.  When forced to rebuild, he elected to pursue athletes that he could develop into basketball players and to his credit, it worked … most of the time.

As Taylor’s teams became bigger and slower he was forced to play more zone.  Leaning on a zone as a crutch is okay, but once a team/coach begins to rely on their zone they lose much of their man to man identity.

Jeff Jones has restored that at ODU and it is a hard working style.  They hedge and fight over every single ball screen and are rarely caught out of position.  As a result they have become one of the stingier defenses in the nation, currently yielding just .86 points per possession and just over 38.6 defensive field goal percentage.  It is a grind to play this team on most nights. Much like George Mason, Old Dominion is in their second season in a new conference. In their debut, the Monarchs finished 18-18, including 9-7 in Conference USA. How smooth has the transition been thus far? Was C-USA a step up in competition from the old CAA, or was it largely a lateral move?

JV: It is yet to be seen as far as what type of move it will be.  It will be tough to top the old CAA because when ODU, Mason and VCU were going good that was roughly 30 percent of the league being a Top 50 program.  Then a Northeastern, Hofstra and say occasionally a JMU were not too far behind.  A good season for the CAA would produce several Top 100 opportunities within conference play because the bottom half of the league was reasonable.

Conference USA has as many good teams but it is a larger league and the bottom has not been good.  The Monarchs were picked 15th out of 16 last season and after three games (at East Carolina, at Florida International, at Florida Atlantic), ODU was sitting alone in first place.  I know, quite an accomplishment.  What I’ve found is that a greater percentage of C-USA is not fanatical about basketball so a focused ODU can grind away nine wins as a baseline.  A good ODU team can win twelve and compete with the top third year in and year out.  I’m skeptical that this conference can produce multiple bids on a regular basis. The other C-USA schools struggle to get name programs in their gym.

The old CAA in its heyday was probably stronger than this C-USA but ODU had no choice, look at the CAA now. Former George Mason forward Jonathan Arledge took advantage of the graduate transfer rule and transferred to ODU after an injury redshirt in Fairfax last season. How well has he performed thus far, and what are the expectations for Arledge this season?

JV:Arledge has performed about as well as I expected and I’m holding him to a higher standard than most because I know how enthused Jeff Jones was to acquire his services.

The Monarchs return ten key members from last season that either helped the team to a 13-win turnaround on the floor or were with the team every day in practice.  Arledge is the one member available right now that is brand new to the program.  That has been noticeable.  There have been times when ODU’s offensive system has looked crisp then the ball hits Arledge at the top of the key and things slow to a halt while he goes through his options.  His timing is not yet in sync with some of the others.

Then there are moments where he makes a play, whether it be a post feed from the high post or catches a ball on the low block and finishes and I’m like … whoa, wait a minute, we have something here.  He’s bought into the defensive system already and even though there are times when I wonder who he’s going to guard, he gets the job done with team defensive concepts.

He seems like a great isolation player and there is no doubt as the season progresses that Jones will add some sets to further highlight Arledge and his strengths.  Right now he’s still knocking the rust off and understanding his role.  C-USA has a lot of athletic shot blockers and the teams with stretch power forwards are the ones at the top of the conference standings.  We hope Arledge can develop into someone that brings post players out of the paint.

I can see what Arledge is going to be a month or two from now and that is someone who can occasionally pop for a 17-point, 8-rebound night.  That is what this team needs against certain opponents, especially during the grind of conference play.

About - Alan Kelly is a 2010 and 2013 graduate of George Mason University and a former member of the Patriot Platoon. He had the memorable experience of being in the middle of the college decision process as George Mason's Final Four run unfolded. He currently resides in Northern Virginia.

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