ODU women: Three thoughts from USC-Upstate

Three thoughts from ODU's 77-46 win over South Carolina-Upstate, a victory that improved the Lady Monarchs to 2-0 this season.
Jackie Cook is a different player – Karen Barefoot raved all offseason about the dedication Cook was showing in the weight room and how her fitness has changed. Sometimes these things are coach-speak, or a coach looking to find something positive to discuss. Admittedly, I wondered if this was the case. In Cook’s case, Barefoot was dead-on accurate. Cook has always been an excellent shooter and that hasn’t changed. She led ODU with 17 points and 9 rebounds in her first game, then led the Lady Monarchs with 24 points and five steals in Game 2. But she is also stronger, slimmer and quicker as evidenced by her five steals. She made the right pass after breaking down a defender on a pair of plays, passing up points to set up an easy bucket for a teammate. After Galaisha Goodhope was called for being too aggressive on defense, Cook’s arm was around her instantly. She even looked like basketball mattered more to her than it has during the past two years. You could almost feel it. She’ll be the leader of the Lady Monarchs, and she’ll be a good one. If I had my preseason predictions to do over again, she’d certainly be an All-CAA preseason player, maybe a first-teamer.
Old Dominion is better – After two games I think we can officially say that the Lady Monarchs are headed in a much better direction than last year. Virginia Tech might be the worst team in the ACC, so while it’s nice to say ODU got a win over an ACC team, and while ODU will tout this all year long, it only kind-of counts. South Carolina-Upstate is probably one of the worst teams in Division I basketball, so we have to take the 31-point win in stride, even if it was the biggest margin for the Lady Monarchs since 2009. I mention that not to be overly-critical of the schedule, which is fine for a program that went into the offseason in a rebuilding phase, but to maintain perspective on last night’s success. Virginia Commonwealth was a two-player team last year and lost the two players, Courtney Hurt and Andrea Barbour. The Rams started the season with a 16-point loss to Elon. Maryland Eastern Shore beat ODU last year when the Lady Monarchs were looking ahead to Christmas break. Want to guess how badly the Lady Monarchs will be ready for that game? How much actual improvement the Lady Monarchs have made since last season is a question that will be answered another day. For now we can say with certainty that Old Dominion is a better team than they were last year and are much more enjoyable to watch.
Forcing turnovers is the key to the season – When it got shots off, USC-Upstate converted at a decent clip, making 42.9 percent, many off pick-and-roll plays that ODU did not defend particularly well. The Lady Monarchs, who lack size and depth in their front-court, were out-rebounded by 33-29 against a team that had a number of players that didn’t look Division-I worthy and lacked size. A big question, though, is how many rebounds were the result of a team pressing and playing aggressive defense away from the glass. High-percentage field goal chances happen when a press defense gets beat. ODU will be outnumbered on the glass in those situations and will surrender some offensive rebounds. There’s a trade-off involved. The Lady Monarchs forced 34 turnovers and converted them into 21 extra shots. Getting more shots off turnovers than opponents get from offensive rebounds will be a key all season, and ODU’s most interesting tests will be teams with experienced, physically gifted guards that are less prone to turnovers (Drexel, James Madison) and ones with significant inside presences (Hofstra).

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