Thursday, November 24, 2011

ODU-Alabama: We smell a victory

Old Dominion (0-4) vs. Alabama (3-1), 1 p.m. 

Maybe it's wishful thinking, because let's face it, Old Dominion hasn't exactly roared out of the gate in 2011-12. But they're still undefeated outside of the 50 states, and somehow, someway, we think it'll stay that way for at least another 24 hours. In other words, we think the Lady Monarchs will beat Alabama in today's opener of the Paradise Jam in the Virgin Islands.

Now stay with us on this. First of all, we're thinking a healthy Jackie Cook could make a big difference. We kept hearing about what a strong preseason Cook was having, but the junior played just four minutes in ODU's season opener before going down with an ankle injury. She missed the next two games, and after having just one practice, appeared tentative in her return Sunday against Richmond. Now Cook has had a few days to regain her rhythm and her wind. We look for her to regain her preseason form today.

Assuming she does, the Lady Monarchs could potentially have a fairly potent starting five. Skeptical? Well, throw out the games against Georgia Tech and Stanford - games in which this ODU team was in well over its head - and focus solely on the more manageable matchups with Virginia Tech and Richmond. In those two games, Ashley Betz-White is averaging 20 points and Tia Lewis 17. If Cook fulfills her potential of becoming a double-figures scorer, that's a pretty nice scoring threesome. In addition, Mairi Buchan can be dangerous as well, and we haven't given up on the idea that Jo Guilford has much more to offer offensively than she's shown so far. Like we said, potentially a fairly potent starting five.

Of course, it won't matter if the Lady Monarchs can't stop anyone, and it's on defense where this team has really fallen short. Again, throw out the Georgia Tech and Stanford games. Virginia Tech and Richmond combined to average 77.5 points, shot a shade under 47 percent from the field and made 50 percent of their 3-pointers. The Lady Monarchs really did take anything away from either team - for the most part, the players Tech and Richmond needed to get theirs got theirs.

What we like about today's matchup for ODU is that Alabama appears to play the kind of uptempo, pressure style Karen Barefoot is trying to install with the Lady Monarchs. So we figure ODU's players have been working on running and defending this kind of attack in practices for weeks. Not saying they'll defend like vintage Rutgers today. But we do expect them to have their best defensive showing of the season today.

It should help that Alabama is still trying to figure things out, too. Over the summer, the Crimson Tide saw their best player (Kaneisha Horn) go down with a season-ending ACL injury. And the team has re-stocked itself with junior-college players who, while talented, are still adjusting to Division I play.

Now, we're not prepared to bet the mortgage on this pick, and we'll admit the case we lay out here requires one to take a lot of this stuff on faith. But we were impressed with how the Lady Monarchs kept battling to the bitter end of Sunday's loss to Richmond and left the court with their heads high. Despite their record, the players still seem to believe they're on the verge of something good. That ought to count for something - maybe even a victory today. ODU 70, Alabama 65

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