Friday, November 16, 2001

UC's chance to prove point


Lack of ranking bugs Bearcats as season opens

By Michael Perry
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        STILLWATER, Okla. — It's only natural that the University of Cincinnati players would take a hard look at the preseason rankings and notice they were not in the Top 25 of The Associated Press or USA Today/ESPN coaches' polls.

        Also not surprisingly, that didn't sit well the Bearcats, who had been ranked in the preseason eight of the previous nine years, including three straight.

        “It kind of leaves a bitter taste in my mouth,” is how senior guard Steve Logan put it.

        “I think we're just getting overlooked,” senior forward Jamaal Davis added.

        That can all change tonight.

        UC plays at No.18 Oklahoma State, the highest-ranked season-opening opponent in 101 years of Bearcat basketball.

        This is just the third time since 1980 that Cincinnati has opened on the road. And it isn't just any away game; it's at Gallagher-Iba Arena, where the Cowboys are 166-20 (.892) over the past 13 years, against a veteran team with a veteran coach (Eddie Sutton).

        “That's one of the main reasons why guys like myself and the rest of the guys on the team come to Cincinnati, to play in big games,” Davis said. “It sure is going to be very exciting and a lot of fun. Plus, we're going to go out there and prove people wrong, that we should've been in the Top 25.”

        The Bearcats have opened two other times against ranked teams. They defeated No.20 Minnesota in the first game at Shoemaker Center, which also happened to be Bob Huggins' first game as UC's coach (Nov.25, 1989). They also beat No.25 Rhode Island to start the 1998-99 season.

        A victory tonight, before a sellout crowd and a national TV audience on ESPN, could boost the Bearcats into the Top 25. UC received the 26th-most votes in the preseason AP poll and the 28th-most in the coaches' poll.

        A 21-game winning streak in season openers is also on the line.

        “It's a challenge,” said Logan, who has been watching film of Oklahoma State for three weeks. “This is what you live for, games like this. It's not play time; it's strictly business. This is a top-notch program with great coaching. Me personally, I've got to be ready to go. I'm going to do what it takes to be focused and ready and help get my teammates focused and ready.”

        Huggins' concerns are the same that he has had throughout the preseason: depth and rebounding.

        He is not comfortable with more than the top six players — the starters and freshman Jason Maxiell. Anything the Bearcats get tonight from anyone else would have to be considered a bonus.

        As for rebounding, it continues to be a weakness. Division II Kentucky Wesleyan outrebounded the Bearcats 34-31 in their second exhibition game.

        By contrast, Oklahoma State sophomore Ivan McFarlin averaged 13.5 rebounds by himself in the Cowboys' two exhibition games.
       Oklahoma State's experience — all five starters are back — also worries Huggins.

        “They could do any number of things to us,” he said. “I've got five guys I can make adjustments with; he's got 11 of them. They're all guys who have been in the program and know what he wants done.

        “I worry that our new guys don't understand how hard you have to play for so long, and that the minute you relax somebody's going to take advantage of you.”

       



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