One of the critical factors involved in making the NCAA tournament field is strength of schedule.

Ohio State coach Gary Williams says that before anyone belittles his faltering team, they should also take into consideration strength of schedule.So when Ohio State, 17-14, hosts Akron, 21-7, in the first round of the National Invitation Tournament tonight at St. John Arena, Williams says you can't judge the game by recent fortunes.

Akron has won its last eight games, while Ohio State has dropped eight in a row. Six weeks ago, prior to the loss of leading scorer Jay Burson to a neck injury, the Buckeyes appeared to be a lock for the NCAA tournament; one week ago, Akron coach Bob Huggins thought his team would still get into the 64-team affair.

"Over the last eight games, four of the eight (losses) have been against Top 20 teams," Williams said. "Of course, you have to play well, no matter what the circumstances are. Everybody talks about this long losing streak, but you have also got to talk about who you play."

In other NIT games Wednesday, defending champion Connecticut is at North Carolina Charlotte, Mississippi visits St. John's, Murray State travels to Penn State, St. Peter's plays at Villanova, New Orleans is at Wisconsin, Southern Illinois goes to St. Louis and Richmond hosts Temple in a rematch of one of last year's NCAA East regional semifinals.

Ohio State has lost to ranked Big Ten Conference heavyweights such as Iowa, Michigan, Illinois and Indiana during the skid, and missed any chance of entering the NCAA tournament with a loss to Minnesota on Saturday night. The Golden Gophers made the field with a 78-70 victory over the Buckeyes.

Akron's eight victories are eight more than Ohio State has enjoyed over the past few weeks, but even the Zips' streak is misleading. It has been built on victories over Southern Utah State, Central Florida, Florida International, Wright State, Oral Roberts, Brooklyn College, Western Illinois and Weber State.

Huggins says his team has been playing well, regardless of the opposition. He also is upset over the NCAA snub.