As the season approaches, Mid-Major Madness will be taking a closer look at its preseason Power 15 teams.
The winter of 2013 was a tough watch for Old Dominion fans and mid-major fans alike. The Monarchs had grown into a recognizable name and mid-major power with four NCAA appearances in seven years. They grew alongside VCU and George Mason in that classic Colonial Athletic Association that no longer exists. Then they watched their team and their coach, Blaine Taylor go into a tailspin of a 5-25 season right after a 22 win season.
In comes Jeff Jones, a bit of a maligned legend in Virginia but a guy that had made American into a respectable program.
One of the first things that Jones did was pry away local point guard Trey Freeman from Campbell University. Freeman returned home, sat out a year, and returned last year as arguably the conference's best point guard and heavy favorite for preseason player of the year. Freeman not only had a flare for the dramatic but he also averaged 16.9 points, 4.3 rebounds, and 3.6 assists per game all while making everyone around him better.
ODU is a contender this year for a Conference USA title and an NCAA Tournament birth solely because of Freeman, but Jones has plenty of other talent on his roster. Freeman's runningmate is combo guard Aaron Bacote who saw his numbers drop last year but still is a talented scorer averaging nearly 10 points per game. Ambrose Mosley is also a nice threat off the bench and can spell either Freeman or Bacote. Last year Mosley average over 7 points and 2 rebounds per game.
The frontcourt may not seem as solid for the Monarchs with Jonathan Arledge and Richard Ross moving on but Jones has some tricks up his sleeve. Jordan Baker and Denzell Taylor are both back and primed to take the next steps when it comes to production in the post. The two will have to compete with ECU transfer Brandan Stith who averaged 4.6 points and 6.4 rebounds as a freshman for the Pirates. Stith's dad is former UVa legend and NBA player Bryant Stith who is an assistant for the Monarchs. Stith's brother, BJ, also transferred to ODU from UVa and will be eligible next season.
Jones also has some depth in the frontcourt with Nik Biberaj, Peyton Pervier, and Zoran Talley. None of these guys are expected to be stars but all will play a pivotal role in the forward rotation for the Monarchs. Talley has the biggest upside after redshirting and could make some noise down the road.
I think it's fair to say that it's NCAA Tournament or bust for the Monarchs with Bacote and Freeman both in their senior seasons. Anything else would be a bit of a disappointment after making the NIT Semifinals a year ago. Expect this team to peak this year and likely sustain their success with some big time transfers and recruits coming in next season.