Old Dominion wants, in the long view, to win a conference championship.
William and Mary wants, for starters, to win a tournament game.
The two teams that met in last year's Colonial Athletic Association championship game enter this weekend's CAA tournament with drastically different expectations.
The Monarchs (24-6, 14-4), the defending champion and the No. 2 seed behind George Mason (25-5, 16-2), take on the winner of Friday's Delaware-Northeastern game in Saturday's quarterfinals. ODU is likely assured of its second consecutive NCAA tournament berth.
The Tribe (9-21, 4-14), the 11th seed and a season removed from 22 wins and an NIT trip, play sixth-seeded James Madison (21-10, 10-8) on Friday with a simple objective in mind.
"We want to win that first game," William and Mary coach Tony Shaver said. "That's our only goal right now."
This marks the third straight tournament meeting between William and Mary and JMU. Last season, the Tribe, which had a first-round bye, won 70-65. In 2009, William and Mary's season ended with a 70-48 first-round loss to the Dukes.
Shaver, whose team split two games with the Dukes this season, respects JMU's offense, led by bruising big man Denzel Bowles, averaging 18.2 points and nine rebounds. To counter, the Tribe will need a strong game from senior center Marcus Kitts and a solid performance from junior guard and leading scorer Quinn McDowell, who's been battling a knee injury the last month of the season.
William and Mary will also need its two freshmen guards, Brandon Britt and Julian Boater, to play up to their considerable potential and not get rattled.
"I think the success they've had in league play has to give them confidence going into this environment," Shaver said. "The one thing I'll caution them on, as we do all our players, is not try to do too much. … I think our young guys will handle it, but I think our success will be dictated by our upperclassmen."
ODU's upperclassmen are formidable and the reason the Monarchs, winners of six straight, haven't lost back-to-back games all season. Senior forward Frank Hassell averages 14.2 points and 9.8 rebounds, and junior guard Kent Bazemore leads the league with 2.4 steals per game, while seniors Ben Finney and Keyon Carter create mismatches in the post and on the wings.
The Monarchs, who split two games with Delaware and beat Northeastern in the teams' only meeting, also have the experience of last year's CAA title and a first-round NCAA victory against Notre Dame to draw upon. At times, though, ODU has had to fight the expectations that experience spawns.
"The success we've had in the past has never really bothered us," ODU coach Blaine Taylor said. "It's always fueled us. But this year, in some respects, there was a little more than normal, I think maybe from NCAA tournament success. We had to kind of put that in its place."
Taylor said the team doesn't talk very much about NCAA bids, though that doesn't mean the subject isn't in the Monarchs' thoughts.
"With us, there's a lot unspoken that's on the back of our minds," Taylor said. "We have an expectation that we're going to be competitive. We have an expectation that the trail leads us somewhere. If you sit there and worry about the end, you're not going to go down the road as steadily.
"I'm hopeful that we've got something good waiting for us down the line, but right now, the old coach's cliché is to focus on what's in front of you, and I think our kids are as excited as anybody about the possibility of going up to the tournament and just taking it a step at a time and seeing where those steps take us."Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun