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Previewing the Old Dominion Monarchs with ODU Bleed Blue

We get an inside look at the Monarchs from

Joshua Lindsey-USA TODAY Sports

UTEP hits the road this week for a difficult two game East Coast road swing.

First up is the Old Dominion Monarchs on Thursday, and gives us some insight on this years Monarch squad.

MR: ODU could be the most disappointing team in a down year in C-USA, what has caused what seems like a step back for this year's team?

So many things...First off it is always a struggle to replicate what was a special season months earlier.  Last season ODU went 27-8 and won just about every single game they had the chance or were supposed to.

Everything fell into place and they still had holdovers from a 5-25 season two years earlier that were desperate to prove everyone wrong.

The focus has clearly not been the same this season.  Players were suspended early in the season and then two players were dismissed from the team, one of which was ODU's one perimeter threat.  The Monarchs have also struggled to find a big that can pull post players away from the basket after the graduation of two seniors.

Jeff Jones does not have the roster in year three of his coaching tenure to compete with the top portion of the league.

Brandan Stith has the talent, but has his increased production been a surprise for ODU this year?

No, not at all.  It is a surprise and often a frustration when Stith does not have a big game.  It is not uncommon for Stith to score 15 points on just seven or eight attempts from the field, he just is not as featured in the offense as some would like.  Stith gets a lot of his work on the offensive glass where he's second in C-USA (to Denzell Taylor) and 20th nationally in offensive rebounding percentage.

When you watch this kid play, you'll notice his athleticism, size, hands, length and wonder how is he not 20/10 every single night.  Hopefully that is coming down the road because he's only a sophomore but his ceiling is through the roof.

ODU's been a top defensive team since they entered the league, what does this current team do well on the defensive end that can cause problems for UTEP?

The defense has been the biggest regression from a season ago with less depth on the roster.  Still if the matchup is right (not Marshall/UAB), ODU will challenge every single cut, screen and shot for 40 minutes and allow approximately zero transition points.  Jeff Jones likes to build a wall inside the arc and make the opponent take forced shots.

ODU's defensive percentages from two and three are still very good, 3rd in the league in both categories and they protect their backboard (4th best defensive rebounding rate/C-USA).

Where they have been vulnerable is when a team can put three or four skilled guards on the floor and drive them to the basket.  Rice shot 38 free throws when they upset the Monarchs a couple of weeks ago, almost entirely on defensive breakdowns.

Seems like keeping up with high scoring teams has been a theme for ODU of late, who has to step up on offense if Thursday's game turns into a shootout?

This seems like it could become a free flowing game and that often bodes well for 6'7 (FR) Zoran Talley.  I'm sure Tim Floyd will have some sort of parallelogam a one cooked up for Trey Freeman, he seems to enjoy making teams play left handed.  If that's the case ODU will need Talley to pick his way through the openings that remain after a defense has fixated on Freeman's midrange game.

If Talley can chip in at least ten points, while Stith and Freeman combine for 40 then ODU just needs Aaron Bacote to do something.

Freeman is ODU's best player but Bacote has been ODU's most important in regard to winning.  Teams know that shutting down Bacote is the key to victory.  So Talley is the most likely third scorer but for ODU it needs to be Bacote.

Present me a quick case for Trey Freeman's C-USA MVP candidacy?

He carries ODU every single night and without him this team is UTSA.  As the point guard on the slowest team in the conference, he leads the league in scoring, has the best turnover rate and in my opinion is the best defensive guard in the league.  He can get a good look at the basket on every single possession, nobody can keep him from scoring when he gets hot.

Biggest matchup worry when looking at UTEP?

There are just too many guys to guard.  UTEP has the ability to overwhelm ODU defensively with raw talent by spreading them out like Marshall, Rice, Charlotte and UAB have.  ODU has some really good defenders but there are weak links and UTEP has the firepower to identify that.

Dominic Artis is a big talent at point guard, I think Freeman gets up for that challenge.  Lee Moore is UTEP's most consistent offensive force and ODU has a defender in Jordan Baker who is among the best wing defenders in the league.  ODU could have problems if that pace gets up and an Omega Harris or Earvin Morris finds a friendly matchup.

What is separates the TED from other C-USA home court advantages?

The TED is an amazing venue and a real luxury for ODU fans but it wasn't built to give the Monarchs any advantages like other facilities.  ODU's home court advantage comes from the fans.  This has been a down year and ODU has taken some losses at home after building a 32 game winning streak.

The players and coaches get the credit for the wins and the allure of the TED helps to bring the fans out but there is a core group of basketball fans that have been around for decades that want to win more than anyone.

They would go to a high school gym to support the Monarchs.  Similarly to UTEP, ODU has tradition in basketball and wants to get back to where they feel they belong.  These are the two most passionate basketball fan bases in the conference and both love their basketball.

Big thanks to the guys over the for giving us a detailed insight!