Michael Langston reflects on they physics of ODU's basketball season and looks forward to the Monarchs' upcoming appearance in the NIT:
The Old Dominion Monarchs, the basketball team of my alma mater, will play Charleston Southern Wednesday in the NIT. They earned that bid by being named one of the first four out by the committee on Selection Sunday. So begins a season's denouement.
Aside from Sunday's disappointment, this winter was a roller coaster of a season that broke several records for a program just two years removed from its worst ever. The Monarchs did everything they had to do in out-of-conference play. They ran roughshod over the Commonwealth committee of the A-10, beating VCU, GMU and Richmond handily. They took it to LSU and they ended up making it to conference play with an 11-1 record. Then came January.
The first week of the month involved a bus trip from Norfolk to Charlotte on Sunday, January 4th. ODU's 61-54 victory moved the team to 12-1, their best start in the program's history. It also led to their first ever ranking in the top 25. After beating the Niners, they bussed to Huntington, West Virginia, where they crushed the Herd 72-51. From Marshall, they again bussed to Bowling Green, Kentucky. This game was the end of a long, long trip, where the Hilltoppers and a sold-out Diddle awaited to play CUSA's first ranked basketball team since Memphis left the league for the
ODU would retain their dominance at home throughout the season, extending their home winning streak to 21 games. However, the road woes continued. The Monarchs' struggles in this capacity were not unique. Regular season champ Louisiana Tech, like the Monarchs, only lost games on the road. UTEP, another of the league's best teams, would get its bubble burst with losses on the road to a pair of the league's worst teams: Marshall and Southern Miss. However, for ODU, the visiting locker room was a coalmine welcoming canaries.
The mid-majors can't afford to fly everywhere. Their budgets, a fraction of what the basketball royalty enjoy, force teams to cut corners the big boys would never even consider. They take long bus trips and heal their wounds in ice baths made in tiny hotel bath tubs.The committee forgets these discrepencies when it comes to Selection Sunday. But shouldn't those differences be noted? Maybe. Maybe not. Regardless of whether or not they're noted, they still matter. They are the reality of the sport. Lack of tradition and inferior infrastructure may make success sweeter, but it also makes the likelihood of success more rare.
ODU would finish the season 24-6 (only the third time the program has won that many games in the regular season), tied for second place in CUSA, 3-0 versus the top 50, and an RPI in the 30s. Despite these accomplishments, ODU fans knew the team would need to do damage in the conference tournament for the right dominoes to fall in place. While the chances of making the Tournament appeared unlikely, the possibility remained in the air when only two bids were stolen by non-first team low and mid-majors. The other bubble teams failed to win their conference tournaments, and ODU was primed to earn another at-large. All they had to do was win a game or two.
Then they played MTSU. A team that ODU does not match up well with at all. MTSU is bigger, just as quick. They are ODU's kryptonite; have been all season.ODU doesn't have the slashing guards necessary to break down the zone defense and their three-point shooting was inconsistent throughout the season. The Blue Raiders and their awful RPI beat the Monarchs. This loss was all the committee needed to mark the Monarchs as undeserving of an at-large. Despite their superior record against the big boys, impressive RPI, and their successes against other NCAA tournament teams, they were deemed too small to matter.
Now, we Monarchs are left filling out brackets complete with teams we feel ODU could beat--and teams they have beaten. We wouldn't place bets on them beating the Kentuckies or Dukes of the field. But they deserved a chance to prove the naysayers wrong. Texas, UCLA and Oklahoma State among others have had plenty of opportunities to prove they can beat the best and failed again and again. ODU, along with Colorado State, Richmond, Murray State and Temple never got that opportunity. So, instead of thinking about being the next Cinderella,we're being bused to the NIT and talking ourselves into believing this is where we belong. And, in the process, we're saying things like, "It's about the experience and not the destination."After all, the real destination is now next season.
So, I'll be at the Ted on Wednesday with thousands of other fans, dreaming of what could have been and a March that ends with a trip to MSG. Until then, I'll be watching this video on repeat.
Mike Langston can be followed @LangstonLCB.