It was a given that when Jeff Jones was hired at Old Dominion two years ago that the former Virginia and American coach would have the Monarchs back to a competitive, winning level of basketball but I don't think anyone thought they'd be this good this early. The Monarchs moved to 12-1 on the season yesterday after taking down Charlotte 61-54 and are up to a season high fourth ranking in our Mid-Major Madness Power 15.
The cupboard was rather bare when Jones took the job in Norfolk, but an interesting replenishing act has the Monarch cruising into Conference USA play. Jones has some transfer he's brought in, his own talent, and some leftovers that has formed a bit of an unorthodox roster but a successful one.
The biggest piece of the puzzle that Jones received was when Trey Freeman decided to return home transferring from Campbell, where he was the Big South Freshman of the Year, to Old Dominion. Freeman was expected to be a good addition but thus far he's been a great addition for the Monarchs. He's a true point guard who is averaging 16.1, 3.6 rebounds, and 3.5 assists. He's currently the only Monarch averaging in double-figures in terms of scoring this season.
Joining Freeman in the transfer category is graduate student and former George Mason big man Jonathan Arledge, who has started every game for ODU. Arledge is averaging 7.1 points and 5.5 boards per outing, but he's not even the most intriguing big to come to Norfolk. That honor would go to 6'8 Nik Biberaj who came to ODU by way of a Division III school right down the road Christopher Newport. Biberaj was a walking double-double at CNU and brings a lot of energy off the ODU bench. He's only averaging 2.7 points and 2.3 rebounds but he's starting to get more and more responsibilities and is a valuable body coming off the bench.
In terms of what Jones inherited at ODU, he has guard Aaron Bacote and forward Richard Ross leading the way. Both are averaging over 9 points per game and Bacote has the potential to go off at any time, as evidenced by his 31 point performance in upsetting rival VCU in November. Both also rebound the basketball at a high rate and it's really a testament to Jones on how well the Monarch rebound the ball overall. As a whole the Monarchs are thirty-fifth in the nation in rebounding percentage.
While Jones might getting the most out of some players that he inherited he also has some youngsters surging in Ambros Mosley, Jordan Baker, and Denzell Taylor. All contribute on a nightly basis for ODU and all have matured quickly after being tossed into the fire as very young players.
Overall ODU may be a surprising favorite in Conference USA overtaking the likes of UTEP, Louisiana Tech, and others but there is still plenty of basketball left. Jones' team is sound on both ends of the court and should be tough night in and night out. The Monarchs will certainly get a good CUSA test this Saturday when they head to the always hostile E.A. Diddle Arena to take on 8-5 Western Kentucky who just beat Marshall 81-62 in their CUSA opener.