What to expect: another lackadaisical game against ODU won’t cut it

The Rams scored more points than ODU in Norfolk last season, but the game was one of VCU’s worst during the 2013 campaign.

  • What: VCU (7-2, 0-0) vs. ODU (4-4, 0-0)
  • Where: Stuart C. Siegel Center
  • When: Sunday, December 8th at 1:30 PM
  • Watch: Comcast SportsNet
  • Listen: Rams Radio

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Virginia Commonwealth University hosts rival Old Dominion University on Sunday at 1:30 PM. The Rams scored more points than ODU in Norfolk last season, but the game was one of VCU’s worst during the 2013 campaign.

The Rundown

If someone had fallen asleep in March 2011 and then woken up in December 2013, not that much would be different. iPhones are a little faster and they look a little different, Breaking Bad ended, and Disney is making new Star Wars films.

The thing that would startle that person coming out of a coma is how much has changed at ODU: no more Blaine Taylor, no more 2-3 zone, no more CAA, no more 27-7 seasons that only the national runner-up Butler could end with a game winning buzzer-beater, no more 22-14 seasons that feel like disappointments, and no more imposing size.

Last year’s season wasn’t what ODU expected and last year’s VCU-ODU game wasn’t what VCU expected. Blaine Taylor knew a thing or two about giving VCU problems, but last year’s frustrating victory looked like a problem with effort. The Rams led by more than 20-points at times, but it was probably VCU’s most lackadaisical performance last season.

The Rams allowed 70 points to a team that couldn’t score and the 13-point victory required eight 3-pointers by Troy Daniels. The Rams’ casual defense reached a frustrating climax when Coach Smart grabbed the jerseys of Briante Weber and Rob Brandenberg before having an assertive conversation with them.

The Rams are 7-2, but they are in need of a momentum-building domination after intense battles with Belmont and Eastern Kentucky. Sunday is a perfect opportunity, but the Rams can’t let down their intensity for one second.

The Team

It didn’t seem possible, but the Monarch’s offense is worse than last season. Their offensive rebounding is gone and go-to scorer DeShawn Painter graduated. They simply don’t have shooters. They rank 241st in 3-point shooting percentage, 229th in 2-point shooting percentage, and they shoot 56.1% from the charity stripe.

The Monarchs are better this season almost entirely because of improvement on the defensive end. They have a dearth of front-court size, but they are punishing rebounders, they defend the paint, and they block shots. The 3-point line is their achilles heel, but overall their defensive efficiency has improved from 288th in 2013 to 117th in 2014.

The Star: #1 Aaron Bacote

34.9 MPG, 19.4 PPG, 4.4 RPG, 4 APG, 3.6 TOPG

In his second season, Aaron Bacote is becoming a player around who coach Jeff Jones can build a team. He will remind many of Kent Bazemore because of his ability to do a little bit of everything while also doing a ton of scoring. His shooting was a work in progress last season, but he’s made huge improvements. Lately he’s had the turnover bug which is good news for VCU. He’s coughed up the ball 14 times in the Monarch’s last two games and Sunday shouldn’t be any easier.

Supporting Cast

#3 Keenan Palmore (PG, Sophomore) · Palmore gets a lot of help distributing from Aaron Bacote, but he’s still a solid point guard. He turned the ball over three times in 21 minutes against VCU last season.

#4 Dimitri Batten (SG, Junior) · As a freshman, Dimitri Batten looked like a shooter who would give the CAA trouble for years. He’s regressed every year since then and his inconsistency is bad news for a team that struggles to shoot. He hit five 3-pointers and scored 23 points in ODU’s bizarre upset of Virginia. On Tuesday against NCC, he scored an efficient 25 points and grabbed 8 rebounds. Inconsistent players that can go off in rivalry games are scary. Batten is one of those guys and he’s from an era when this rivalry had more fire.

#21 Denzell Taylor (F, Freshman) · Taylor’s early contribution is so important because of ODU’s lack of size. He’s a solid offensive and defensive rebounder and he’s a huge part of the Monarch’s improvement on defense.

#23 Richard Ross (F, Junior) · At 6-foot-7, 225 pounds, Ross is the Monarch’s only player who can match up with VCU’s front-court. He’s a great shot blocker and defender. After barely touching the ball against EKU’s 2-3 zone, expect Juvonte Reddic to be on a mission on Sunday.

#0 Jordan Baker (G, Freshman) · Freshmen Baker and Mosley give ODU reasons to be optimistic about the future. Baker can shoot 3-pointers and he is one of the team’s better perimeter defenders.

#22 Ambrose Mosley (G, Freshman) · Mosley can also shoot 3-pointers but he is much more of a work in progress on offense than Baker.

The Prediction

ODU is having a better season than last year (which isn’t difficult), they have some talent, and it is a rivalry, but VCU is going to be too on edge after last season. The Rams should win on the scoreboard, but it’s more important that they get a big emotional victory. KenPom picks VCU to win 80-63 with a 94% chance of victory.

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ODU Profile

  • Location: Norfolk, VA
  • Enrollment: 24,125
  • Conference: C-USA
  • All time series: VCU leads 46-42
  • Last meeting: 12/7/13. VCU won 83-70.

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Aaron Williams

Aaron Williams loves music, basketball (follow @rvaramnews!), family, learning, and barbecue sauce.

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