Entering his 10th season at Old Dominion, Blaine Taylor sounds a little like a satisfied king surveying his expanding territory.
Given that his Monarchs have won 146 games in his last six seasons - best among Virginia's Division I schools – and made six straight postseason trips, the coach is entitled to a little entitlement.
"We've built it from the ground up," Taylor said of a program that emphasizes recruiting and redshirting. "… It's a pretty solid operation."
ODU returns five of its six biggest contributors from last year's 27-9 team. The second-most victories in school history included both the Colonial Athletic Association regular-season and tournament titles and a first-round NCAA victory against Notre Dame. Seniors Ben Finney (swing), Frank Hassell (forward), Keyon Carter (forward) and Darius James (guard) join junior forward Kent Bazemore to form an experienced core that will have to replace CAA tournament MVP Gerald Lee in the middle.
"We have ambition, and we have belief that we can compete with most anybody," Taylor said.
Coach: Blaine Taylor (188-103 in 10 years at ODU; 330-168 in 16 years overall)
Last year: 27-9, 15-3 CAA, lost to Baylor in the second round of the NCAA tournament.
The opener: Nov. 12 vs. Georgetown
What is the team's greatest strength?
Unity. The Monarchs return five players who played significant minutes and five of their top six scorers. While none of those players averaged double digits or was picked preseason first-team all-conference, they've played together for a long time and know how to share the ball. They're after team wins, not individual glory.
What is the team's greatest weakness?
Manning the middle. ODU's lone loss from last year's starting lineup is a huge one: CAA tournament MVP Gerald Lee, who averaged 14.4 points per game and served as the conduit for ODU's offense. Senior Frank Hassell will graduate from supporting player to a leading role and will need help from his castmates.
What's the team's conference outlook? Pretty darn good. The Monarchs are picked to repeat their CAA regular-season title. An early test will come Jan. 8 when ODU takes on George Mason, picked to finish second. VCU is always a threat, and James Madison, talented but young last year, should be much improved.
What's the best-case scenario? A repeat of last year, when the Monarchs swept the CAA regular-season and tournament championships and knocked off Notre Dame in the NCAA tourney. That will require peaking at the right time – again like last year, when ODU took sole possession of first place in the CAA on Feb. 23.
What's more likely to happen? Best-case could become reality, if the Monarchs stay healthy and get stronger through a tough early schedule that includes Georgetown, Clemson (in the Paradise Jam in the Virgin Islands) and Missouri. A little luck never hurt, either, for a team that has become used to playing deep into March.Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun