ODU basketball opens season on Friday against James Madison

NORFOLK (WAVY) – Jeff Jones made very clear the difference between “expectations” and “goals.” His Old Dominion men’s basketball team finished last season with a 25-13 overall record, 12-6 in  Conference USA, but finished painfully short of a tournament championship and an automatic trip to the NCAA Tournament.

“We missed it by two points, 2.9 seconds off a defensive rebound we didn’t get,” said Brandan Stith, now a junior, who averaged nearly a double-double last season. “Coming so close last year, I feel that that should be the goal and nothing else.”

Again, notice Stith used the word “goal,” and that is the way coach Jones wants it. “Expectations can crush a team,” said Jones, who’s heading into his fourth season as the Monarchs’ head man. “You can’t worry about the fans’ expectations. We don’t want to have expectations that are unrealistic, but what you’ve got to focus on is having that goal and working each day towards that goal.”

To accomplish that goal will present a challenge, considering Jones will have to replace both Aaron Bacote and Trey Freeman, his two leading scorers from a season ago. “We go from being a very experienced team a year ago to being very inexperienced,” he said.

Jones has placed the gift and burden of leadership on seniors Denzell Taylor and Jordan Baker. “It’s not just one guy or two guys (who can score points),” said Baker. “Everybody can fill a void, and fill up those 36 points we lost.”

They’re hoping to find out sooner rather than later who can put the ball in the basket, considering an old Colonial Athletic Association rival will visit the Ted Constant Center to open the season. The Dukes finished 21-11 a year ago and will return seven seniors from last year’s team.

Jones is aware of the challenge and is hoping for a packed home court. “I can’t imagine there’s a whole lot of folks out there who scheduled (an opener) as tough as this one is,” said Jones. “They are an outstanding basketball team, and we want to challenge ourselves. We know we’re in for a dog fight.”

As will be the case for the remainder of the season.