Basketball schedule shows low risks
One thing has been a given for the UH basketball team since coach Tom Penders grabbed the reins back in 2004: The Cougars have always made it a point to play one of the tougher out-of-conference schedules in the nation.
They’ve played the high -risk, high-reward types of schools with big names such as LSU, Arizona, Kentucky and University of Nevada, Las Vegas to test their mettle, stir some upsets and keep the fans in the seats.
They’ve also played the high-risk, low-reward schools such as South Alabama, Rhode Island, Virginia Common-Wealth and St. Louis. These are some of the tougher teams in the country that don’t get the same recognition as the schools from larger conferences, thus a win over them wouldn’t have pushed UH over the edge at the end of the season.
A loss, however, could burst its tournament bubble or drop it from the Associated Press Top 25 rankings, as was the case in 2005 when the 25th ranked Cougars lost to South Alabama, a team that would eventually compile 24 wins and make the NCAA tournament, and were stripped of their ranking.
This year, they’ve taken a slightly different approach. The Cougars 2007-08 schedule reveals that most of those high risk, low reward schools have been weeded out and replaced with low-risk, low-reward schools with about three exceptions.
UH will take on VCU, a team that has established itself as an NCAA tournament contender in the last three years, for the third consecutive season in the Puerto Rico Tip Off on Nov. 15.
The Cougars are also scheduled to play Toledo (19-13 last season) on Dec. 1 at home and Massachusetts (24-9) on Jan. 2 in Boston.
Those games combined with home games against Kentucky and Arizona on Dec. 18 and Jan. 12 should provide for some competitive out of conference match ups.
The remaining seven games on the schedule look to be record boosters. Schools like Grambling State (who suffered a 30-point loss last season at Hoffheinz), Texas Southern, Arkansas-Pine Bluff and Southern will likely serve as warm-up games and confidence builders for a team looking to receive either an NCAA or National Invitational Tournament invite, after taking a post-season hiatus last season.
"We’ve pretty much got the schedule to where it’s an advantage to get the team prepared for conference play," UH associate head coach and Recruiting Director Melvin Haralson said. "Those games are games where it’s going to be good competition, but not overwhelming competition."
Rice, a Conference USA school that has had no problem competing with UH in its cross-town rivalry since getting added to C-USA in 2005, could find itself at a disadvantage this season. The Owls, who have not lost to the Cougars at Autry Court since 2001, will have to play the first of two games against UH at the Reliant Arena because of construction.
Though they will not have a home court advantage in the 2007-08 season, Haralson doesn’t expect the rivalry to suffer.
"It doesn’t matter if we’re playing at Reliant," Haralson said. "It’s two teams in a rival situation, and anything goes in those types of games.
"Whoever plays the best defense and does the little things is going to win. The juices will be flowing. It’s all about whoever executes the most."
Haralson said he felt good about the team’s composition for the upcoming season. Senior guard Robert "Fluff" McKiver took on the role as a team leader and stepped up his game at the end of the season, picking up points at the foul-line by taking it to the rim as opposed to firing away from behind the arc.
Starters Tafari Toney, Marcus Malone and sixth man Dion Dowell will also be returning. They will team up with transfers Marcus Cousin, Kelvin Lewis and a slew of recruits to form a rotation about 10 men deep.
Fifth-year senior Lanny Smith, who had been seen in a boot in the middle of August as a preventative measure after experiencing ankle pain, should be ready to go around the start of the season.
"He has the boot off, and he’s taking it one day at a time," Haralson said. "He’s coming back and taking it slow. It’s not like last year where it’s a rush to get him back on the court. He can be a huge part of the team when he gets back."