COACH: Jeff Jones (First season at ODU; 22nd season overall, 358-286).
OPENER: Nov. 8 vs. Missouri State.
5 GAMES TO WATCH: Dec. 8 at VCU. Blood rivalry figures to be lopsided, but it's still fun.
Dec. 18 vs. College of Charleston. Newest CAA team visits former CAA power. Weird.
Jan. 11 at East Carolina. C-USA opener against a local rival on its way out the conference door. Don't ask.
Jan. 16 at Florida International. The Monarchs do the snowbird gig, a winter weekend shuffle to south Fla.
Feb. 22 vs. Louisiana Tech. A visit from a C-USA fave, also in its first year in the league.
STRENGTH: Perimeter. Soph point guard Keenan Palmore (8.2 ppg, 88 assists) is a solid ballhandler and distributor, and a sneaky-effective rebounder. Junior Dimitri Batten (10.3 ppg, .382 FG pct) is the top returning scorer and capable of big games, witness his 23-point game versus Virginia and 25 against Northeastern. He averaged 15.7 ppg in the final eight games. Soph Aaron Bacote (7.8 ppg) was more comfortable at the end of last season and benefits from a year's experience. Transfer Trey Freeman would have helped immensely, but the NCAA denied his request for immediate eligibility.
WEAKNESS: Where to start? Size, experience, depth. The Monarchs are likely to field one of the smallest front lines in college hoops. Their tallest player, 7-foot senior Anton Larsen, has been a bit player throughout his career and isn't a post presence. Richard Ross (7.3 ppg, 5.7 rpg) is a spectacular athlete, but isn't a big body. Freshman Denzell Taylor will be pressed into service early, and probably often out of position. The Monarchs added 6-7 junior college transfer Joe Ebondo late to bolster the front line. ODU is so thin up front that D-3 Christopher Newport transfer Nik Biberaj would get significant minutes if he didn't have to sit out a year.
PREDICTION: It's hard to see anything but a repeat of last season, at least on the ledger. Last year's 5-25 train wreck included the mid-season dismissal of Blaine Taylor and a brief rally around interim coach Jim Corrigan in the final weeks. New coach Jeff Jones provides stability, a proven track record and unquestioned bench chops. He simply doesn't have the bodies. Factor in the transition into Conference USA — say hello to Murfreesboro, Tenn., and Tulsa, Okla., and welcome to UTEP and Rice — and wins figure to be precious and rare. The faithful will be more interested in non-conference games against VCU, Richmond, George Mason and William and Mary, as they await the C-USA tournament in, ahem, El Paso, Texas.Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun