Inside the Monarchy
March Madness? It comes in many shapes and sizes
by Rich Radford
Old Dominion’s basketball programs, both the men’s and the women’s, will be playing this week. And while neither is in the NCAA Tournament, both have reachable goals and a reason to be.
And for both, the friendly confines of the Ted Constant Convocation Center should give them an edge.
The men will tip off Wednesday night at 7 against South Dakota State in the first round of the College Basketball Invitational. For first-year head coach Jeff Jones, it offers a chance for his team to reach the .500 mark. They will come in with a 16-17 record. With two wins they can at least salvage a break-even record in what has been a true rebound year.
Last year, the Monarchs suffered through a five-win season and the mindset after that debacle was to disperse and lick their emotional wounds while the program looked for a new coach.
This year? Much different.
“I texted Richard Ross to ask how he felt about playing in the CBI and he texted back, ‘Coach, I’m excited that we’re playing some more basketball. Anytime we get to play is great,’ ” Jones said. “The CBI is a perfect scenario for a young team like ours. We can build on this going into next year and we can work on the one thing that I think has been a deciding factor for us this year, valuing the ball.
“When we’ve limited our turnovers, we’ve played some really good basketball.”
As a team, the Monarchs have made strides and had fun. A program that was at one of its darkest moments a year ago is showing wonderful signs of life a year later. Promise blooms, even if the flowers along Hampton Boulevard haven’t during this harsh winter.
But the men are the only ones playing. A night later on Thursday, ODU’s women’s team will meet the Naval Academy in the first round of the women’s National Invitation Tournament.
“We had a team meeting on Monday and I told the team there was a chance we could make the NIT field,” ODU women’s coach Karen Barefoot said. “I had the attention of all of them when I said it and every set of eyes on the room were focused on me. They are into this. They know we’re playing our best basketball right now in March.”
It was an up and down campaign for the women’s program, but the Monarchs finished by winning 8 of their last 11. A six-game winning streak came to an end when they lost to Southern Miss in the Conference USA Tournament.
“This team didn’t want that to be its last game,” Barefoot said. “And I didn’t either.”
As odd as this might sound, being in the WNIT this season might be the better draw mentally for a women’s basketball program, for the Women’s NCAA Tournament is a top-heavy event. Almost everybody is picking unbeatens Connecticut and Notre Dame to meet in the championship game. For any other team, the NCAA Tournament is a virtually unwinnable event.
The NIT, in comparison, is wide open.
Barefoot figures ODU’s much-improved strength of schedule had something to do with their spot in the NIT. ODU’s improved from 182 to 111 this year.
“Someone took a look at our resume and rewarded us,” Barefoot said. “The obvious goal is to play in the NCAA Tournament, but the NIT helps move our team forward. I like the situation we are in. We have an opportunity for a lot of growth. And we’ve very enthusiastic about playing at home.”
That is definitely one thing you don’t get in the NCAAs, where home court advantages aren’t supposed to exist. For ODU’s men and women, the seats will be blue and so will the fans.
There is more basketball to be played.