VCU topped Old Dominion 68-64 last season in Norfolk.

VCU topped Old Dominion 68-64 last season in Norfolk.

RICHMOND, Va. – Let’s not sugarcoat it. Old Dominion Basketball is navigating some choppy waters these days.

Tuesday’s 80-53 loss to Richmond, the Monarchs’ worst defeat in the 11-year history of the Ted Constant Convocation Center, was the most recent and painful blow to a season that has opened with a resounding thud. ODU, which won the Colonial Athletic Association title as recently as 2010, is 1-7, including home losses to UT-San Antonio, Holy Cross and VMI. The Monarchs have lost six straight.

VCU Coach Shaka Smart has seen the film of ODU’s struggling offense and uncharacteristically porous defense. None of it has walked him back from what he knows to be true: the Monarchs are dangerous. On Friday, the Rams (5-3) will walk into the den of a wounded animal. The Monarchs will be angry, hungry and will have a packed house behind them.

“It’s VCU-ODU, so if our guys think the game is going to come easily, then they’re not in the right frame of mind,” Smart said. “I think our guys have a lot of respect for Old Dominion, particularly the older guys that have been around.”

Smart is referring to players like seniors Troy Daniels, David Hinton and Darius Theus, who likely haven’t forgotten the sting of losing the 2010 CAA Championship Game to Old Dominion or the 68-64 barnburner the Rams won last season at the Constant Center.

Also consider that neither school has won more than two straight in this bitter rivalry since 2005, and that the Monarchs are currently looking to end a two-game slide to the Rams. Did we mention that this is VCU-ODU, knockdown, drag-out rivalry that has spanned 44 years and 87 games; one that has decided conference titles, NCAA fates and I-64 bragging rights for decades?

“For us, that record doesn’t mean a thing,” said Theus, who averaged 14.5 points in two games with ODU last year. “They’re a great team. We can’t take their record for granted because we’ve been talking like, ODU-VCU, rivalry game. They’re going to wake up ready to play that night, so we can’t look at their record. We know they’re a great team no matter what their record says.”

In addition to Old Dominion’s disastrous start, there’s also realization that these schools, which once opposed each other in the Sun Belt and later in the CAA, are no longer conference foes. The Rams departed the CAA for the Atlantic 10 over the summer, and the Monarchs, while still members of the CAA this year, are Conference USA-bound in 2013-14.

Five times during this series (VCU leads 45-42) these schools have met with a conference championship on the line. Countless others, VCU-ODU games heated up a league race or jostled conference tournament seeding. It undeniably added juice to the rivalry.

Portsmouth, Va. native Darius Theus stresses that VCU won't underestimate ODU Friday.

Portsmouth, Va. native Darius Theus stresses that VCU won’t underestimate ODU Friday.

But VCU players brushed off the notion that conference affiliation and fewer meetings could diminish what has been one of college basketball’s best rivalries.

“It’s great. This is going to be my third year being a part of it. I’m enjoying it. It’s great for college basketball,” junior Rob Brandenberg said. “We’re fortunate this rivalry is still going on since we moved to the A-10. It’s a privilege to be in this rivalry no matter the records, it doesn’t matter.”

Despite their early-season woes, there are traces of the rugged, blue-collar Monarchs of recent years under Coach Blaine Taylor. ODU still rebounds the ball extremely well and has N.C. State transfer DeShawn Painter (9.0 ppg, 7.4 rpg) roaming the lane. The Monarchs also have skilled sophomore guard Dimitri Batten (9.5 ppg), who is looking to regain his shooting touch from last season.

Smart knows Painter, Batten, senior forward Nick Wright and a few other pieces are plenty for Taylor to mold into a winner. In the last eight years, Taylor has led the Monarchs to a 20-win season seven times.

“I watched them go down to Murray State and play extremely well and come within an eyelash of winning there,” Smart said. “They’ve got guys on their team that have had success against us in the past. Blaine Taylor has won as much as any coach in CAA history.

“What the guy’s done there is phenomenal, and he’s got some really good young players and he’s got a relatively young team. Like a lot of people that are young, they’re figuring things out. And they will be a better team in January and February than they are now. I’m sure they’ll give us a really good game on Friday.”

Series record: VCU leads 45-42
First meeting: Feb. 5, 1969 (ODU won 101-69 in Norfolk)
Last meeting: Feb. 11, 2012 (VCU won 68-64 in Norfolk)
VCU at ODU: 17-22
Longest streak: VCU, W10 (Feb. 24, 2001-Jan. 29, 2005)