Sunday, January 4, 2004

Maligned schedule suits UC


Playing easier foes early boosted team's confidence

By Bill Koch
The Cincinnati Enquirer

Their record is perfect and their confidence is sky-high as they prepare to begin Conference USA play on Wednesday at Tulane, but the University of Cincinnati Bearcats know there are plenty of skeptics who claim their No. 12 ranking and 9-0 record are the byproducts of a soft nonconference schedule.

But don't expect the Bearcats to apologize for that schedule, which is 134th-toughest in the nation, according to the CollegeRPI.com.

Quite the contrary. Dan Peters, the UC associate head coach who puts together the schedule in conjunction with head coach Bob Huggins and with the approval of athletic director Bob Goin, says this schedule has done exactly what it was intended to do.

"I don't worry about the criticism," Peters said Saturday. "I've been here five years and I've always listened to criticism about this schedule, and yet every year this schedule has served us well. Last year our schedule probably got us into the tournament."

Heading into Saturday's games, UC was ranked No. 19 in the RPI despite a schedule that includes only three teams with winning records against Division I opponents, no opponents ranked in the RPI top 50 and three ranked in the top 100.

Its only game against a Top 25 opponent was a 29-point win over Dayton, which was No. 24 at the time but quickly fell out of the rankings.

UC's nine opponents have a 41-46 record against Division I opponents.

Peters said the nonconference schedule was put together with several objectives in mind. The Bearcats, who finished 17-12 last season, had lost some of their swagger, he said, and needed to get it back with some early wins.

"That translates into how you practice," Peters said. "When you start winning a little bit, you can build some confidence. Guys listen a little better. They buy in."

And with five new players on UC's roster, the coaches wanted to make sure they had time to adjust.

"We wanted to make sure that they had success from the very beginning," Peters said.

Much of the criticism of the Bearcats' schedule has to do with the lack of marquee home games. Peters says UC would love to play Duke, Indiana, Kentucky or Ohio State, but none is willing to play on a home-and-home basis, and UC is not willing to do a two-games-for-one deal to get them on its schedule.

Next season, Peters said, the schedule will be tougher. The Bearcats will play Wake Forest at home, Purdue in the Wooden Tradition in Indianapolis, and at least one major opponent in a Las Vegas tournament. Negotiations are under way to have UC play an ESPN game against a major opponent.

Peters concedes this season's Bearcats won't know how good they are until they play quality teams in conference play. They also play at No. 6 Wake Forest on Feb. 15.

"How good are we? We're going to find out, because we have enough games on our schedule to test us," Peters said. "I think the schedule has done exactly what we wanted it to do for us. We have chemistry right now. Do you think if we were losing we'd have that?"

How UC's opponents stack up

Records against Division I teams and RPI rankings of UC's nine opponents (through Friday's games):

TeamRecordRPI
Akron6-272
Oakland4-6129
Coppin State3-9310
Valparaiso2-6227
Clemson7-455
Middle Tennessee State4-5223
Dayton10-257
Miami3-5146
Elon2-7213
---

E-mail bkoch@enquirer.com




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