NORFOLK, VA (WTKR)- As the February college basketball frenzy takes shape, Old Dominion finds itself in the middle of the pack in the Conference USA Eastern Division. After a loss to Western Kentucky on Saturday, the Monarchs are gearing up for a big week against some stiff competition.
ODU (9-13, 4-5) hits the road to face the two team atop the East this week, visiting Florida Atlantic on Tuesday night and Middle Tennessee on Thursday. It's a chance to pick up some big victories and make moves towards climbing up the standings.
"You always want to play well against whoever you're playing," Old Dominion head coach Jeff Jones pointed out. "It adds if they're in your division and then if they're above us. They're kind of in a position in which they haven't been in recent years, Florida Atlantic, not since they've been in Conference USA."
The Owls enter Tuesday's showdown with a 14-9 mark, 7-3 in C-USA. They've won three games in a row, six of their last seven, and hold a half-game lead over Middle Tennessee at the top of the Conference USA Eastern Division.
"We've got a big challenge up," C.J. Keyser said of the next two games. "Those are the best two teams on our side so we've just got to be locked in, we've got to get better, we've got to have a good couple practices and we've got to get two road wins."
"It's big for us, obviously, looking at the standings," added guard Jaylin Hunter. "They're up there, so it's really important for us to get these two wins and just play hard and play together. I want us to just make sure we're being a good team throughout the week."
The Monarchs swept the season series against the Owls last season and have won the last four match-ups against the Blue Raiders. That's not where the challenge will end, as Western Division contender UAB visits Chartway Arena for a Super Bowl Sunday showdown, capping off a gauntlet of three tough opponents on a week.
"Having three games this week means no days off, that day off rolls into next week," Jones said. "It just changes the preparation schedule as you go, but the players probably don't mind that much, quite honestly. They'd rather play games than practice anyway."
Following a four game skid, Old Dominion has won two of its last three contests, taking lopsided victories over Charlotte and Marshall before Saturday's loss to the Hilltoppers.
Tuesday's contest at Florida Atlantic tips off at 6:00 PM.