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Minium: Big Games for ODU Men and Women as Conference USA Regular-Season Basketball Comes to a Close

Keith Lucas

By Harry Minium

There are a ton of essentially meaningless college basketball games this week, the final week of the regular season for most Division I schools, but that's not the case for both the Old Dominion men's and women's basketball teams.

Both men and women conclude the regular season with two games each against Western Kentucky, and a lot is on the line, especially for the men's program.

If the Monarchs sweep the Hilltoppers Friday and Saturday nights in Bowling Green, Kentucky, a tall task given WKU's 10-1 record this season at E.A. Diddle Arena, the men will claim the Conference USA East Division title and top seeding in one bracket of next week's conference tournament in Frisco, Texas

Even if they don't sweep, the Monarchs (14-6 overall, 10-4 Conference USA) can still finish second in the East and claim a much-coveted bye by beating WKU (17-5, 10-2) in one of the two games.

Any combination of one ODU victory or one loss by third-place Marshall (13-6, 7-5) would sew up second place and the first-round bye. Marshall hosts Charlotte for two games this weekend.

The ODU women (8-10 overall, 5-9) are last in the 7-team East Division. However, if the Monarchs sweep Western Kentucky when they host the Hilltoppers Thursday and Friday nights, they will have a chance to move up to fifth and avoid the C-USA tournament play-in game, which will be held on Tuesday, March 9.

Playing on March 9 would mean an ODU team depleted of depth by injuries and other issues would have to win five games in five days to claim a Conference USA title.

WKU (7-13, 6-8) and Marshall (7-9, 6-8) are tied for fifth. Marshall is at East Division leader Middle Tennessee.

The ODU women split two games at Middle Tennessee last weekend, winning convincingly against the Blue Raiders, 74-57, on Feb. 26. That comes after a frustrating stretch in which the Monarchs lost five of six games, including three in overtime.

Coach Delisha Milton-Jones said the blowout victory over Middle Tennessee gives ODU fresh hope in the conference tournament.

The men will have standout point guard Malik Curry available for the WKU series. He was listed as questionable after a collision in last Saturday's 73-60 victory over Middle Tennessee. However, he cleared the concussion protocol and traveled with the team to Bowling Green Thursday morning.

Both men's games will be televised by the CBS Sports Network on Facebook.

Stream Link for Friday – Click Here

Stream Link for Saturday – Click Here

ODU has gained momentum the second half of the season, winning three in a row and five of its last six games.

"Our guys are feeling good about themselves and rightly so," coach Jeff Jones said. "We're confident, but without being cocky. They understand that they have to get better. We have to be more consistent."

WKU has become ODU's biggest C-USA rival and the Hilltoppers will have a home-court advantage that's been rare this college basketball season. WKU is allowed by the Commonwealth of Kentucky to put 1,400 people in its arena. ODU has been limited to 250 fans, and most C-USA schools have had similar limits.

"It's probably going to feel like our last series at UAB," sophomore guard Jaylin Hunter said. "They had their band and cheerleaders there.

"It was something we hadn't heard this year. We're looking forward to it. It was a good experience."

ODU split a pair of games two weeks ago at UAB.

Hunter said the Monarchs will have no problem getting emotionally ready for the WKU series, and that's without considering the opportunity to win a championship and claim a bye.

"We're much more focused on Western Kentucky than the bye or anything else," he said. "It's a good chance to see where we are.

"It will be a fun weekend."

The Monarchs will return to Norfolk Sunday, then depart for Frisco next Tuesday. Jones said that's a quick turnaround and that he considered flying from Nashville, Tennessee, the closest major airport to Bowling Green, directly to the Dallas area on Sunday.

Jones said the Conference USA is forming a "bubble" in Frisco, meaning that players will be restricted to their hotel rooms when not practicing.

"Just how long do you want your players sitting in a hotel room?" he asked rhetorically.

Texas recently ended its state mandate for wearing face masks, but C-USA announced Thursday that fans, players and coaches will continue to wear masks and that crowds will be limited.

"It won't change anything we do," Jones said. "We will wear masks and we will be isolated.

"The governor's announcement doesn't mean anything for us."

Now, he said, is not time to let down your guard, especially with the NCAA tournament set to begin in a little over two weeks.

"If we have a positive test now, I think we're done," he said. He said the pressure to be careful and avoid getting infected "has been there for a long time.

"I just think it's heightened now because we're heading into the tournament."

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