Friday, January 8, 2016

Old Dominion building slowly...again

A lot of words accurately sum up Old Dominion's performance in Thursday's 18-point loss to Louisiana Tech. "Surprising" isn't one of them.

At least not to those familiar with the team's recent history of struggling at home during the first week of Conference USA play, - specifically in Game No. 2 of its league slate - throughout its brief C-USA stay. Consider what's gone down at the Constant Center in ODU's second conference game in each of its three C-USA seasons:

Jan. 11, 2014 - Tulane 92, Old Dominion 62

Jan. 8, 2015 - Marshall 69, Old Dominion 37

Jan. 7, 2016 - Louisiana Tech 69, Old Dominion 51

At this rate, kicking off conference play with a blowout loss at home will become as much an ODU tradition as "Ice Cream and Cake."

We're not exactly sure why the Lady Monarchs keep stumbling so badly out of the conference gate. But we do know that ODU has had three different starters from the previous season in each of these games, including three different point guards. Instead of building off the momentum of the previous year, Coach Karen Barefoot is annually reconstructing a rotation and guiding a host of different players into new/expanded roles.

Careful non-conference scheduling can mask some of the growing pains, to a degree. But conference play has exposed all.

The good news for Lady Monarchs fans is that in the past two years, ODU has eventually found its groove. The 2013-14 Lady Monarchs closed the regular season on a five-game winning streak, then topped UTSA in the conference tournament before bowing to RPI Top 40 Southern Miss. ODU went on to evict Navy from the WNIT before being dismissed themselves in the second round at Auburn.

The same thing happened last year, as the Lady Monarchs went 6-2 from Feb. 22 through the conference tournament, with the only two losses coming to nationally ranked Western Kentucky. ODU then eliminated Virginia from the WNIT before suffering a second-round loss at Villanova.

Given this year's roster turnover, we weren't expecting these Lady Monarchs to play in November the way those Lady Monarchs performed in March. But we were hoping it wouldn't take until February to find consistent winning form against teams in the top half of the 344-team Division I field.

Thursday's result aside, there's still time.

The Lady Monarchs (5-9, 1-1 C-USA) will return to action Saturday at 4 p.m. against Southern Miss (8-5, 1-1) at the Constant Center. The Golden Eagles are coming off a butt-whipping of their own, an 80-59 loss at Charlotte. The result left Southern Miss 1-5 in road/neutral site games.

Old Dominion is 2-3 at the Constant Center this season.

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