This year's Final Four is a cautionary tale for teams from power conferences. George Mason's presence as an 11-seed from the Colonial Athletic Association says loudly and clearly that the days of overlooking the mid-majors are gone. The Patriots have been the proverbial giant-killers knocking off big-timers Michigan State, North Carolina, and Connecticut. Their success has commanded the attention of the entire college basketball world, and for Michigan headman Tommy Amaker, that's a good thing. The job of convincing his team that they'll have a dogfight on their hands when they face Old Dominion tonight has been a pretty easy one.
"I don't have to mention that to our guys, they know it," Amaker said. "For Old Dominion to advance to the semifinals is a significant accomplishment in itself. We have a great deal of respect for their team and the job they've done to get to this point. They've done something that we haven't done yet, which is go outside of their home arena to advance. They have done an outstanding job and I'm sure they will do an outstanding job [Tuesday] night."
"We know that their (Old Dominion's) conference hasn't gotten a lot of respect," said Michigan senior guard Daniel Horton. "I think the theme of their conference is to prove people wrong. I think George Mason is doing that right now in the NCAA Tournament. I'm pretty sure that Old Dominion has the same focus coming into this tournament. They want to knock off some bigger name schools and you have to respect that. We have to be ready to play because they're going to come out and play hard."
A Versatile Bunch
The Monarchs not only knocked off George Mason during the regular season, they also defeated Hofstra (a team that swept both George Mason and ODU during the regular season) their last time out. The key to their success this year has been a balanced scoring attack led by seniors Isaiah Hunter and Alex Loughton.
"They have an experienced inside-outside combination with Loughton and Hunter," Amaker said. "They have some explosive guys who are tough and experienced. They have shown that they can win anywhere at anytime. They have some juniors and seniors who play very prominent roles. Blaine Taylor has done a tremendous job with their program. They're very disciplined. They can play a couple different styles. We certainly feel that they're a capable ball club."
Hunter is an athletic shooting guard that excels at getting into the lane, but can also stroke it from deep. The 6-2, 170-pound senior is averaging 21.7 points per game in three NIT games, including a career high 29-point effort in the win over Hofstra. His versatility is particularly worrisome for Amaker.
"He's an outstanding scorer and shooter," said Amaker. "He scares me to death right now. He's explosive and can shoot it from anywhere. He gives that team a lot of confidence and the team seems to rally from his spirit and confidence."
Injury Could Limit the Monarchs
Hunter may have to shoulder a greater portion of the scoring load if Alex Loughton is limited by an ankle sprain he suffered the victory over Hofstra last Thursday. The 6-9, 240-pound forward was named the Colonial Athletic Association's Player of the Year last season after averaging 14.1 points and 8.2 rebounds and leading the Monarchs to a conference title and NCAA Tournament birth. His averages are slightly down this year (13.8 points and 7.7 rebounds) but he's still the same load in the
Loughton wore a compression boot on his ankle over the weekend to try to limit swelling and it will continue to receive attention all of the way up to game time.
“There will be a lot of dialogue right up to the tip concerning his status,” said Taylor to the Virginian Pilot. “Scott Johnson, our trainer, is working diligently in treating him. We’ll prepare for the game with all of our players. If he’s there, he’s there. If he’s not, he’s not. I’d like to think he’ll be available to us in some way, shape or form.”
Another player that will be counted on to step up is the Monarch's third leading scorer, junior forward Arnaud Dahi. The 6-7 230-pounder is a face-up post player with range out past the three point line (where he is shooting 37.7%).
Old Dominon: 65