The Register-Herald, Beckley, West Virginia

February 12, 2014

Is WVU an NCAA Tournament team?

By Cam Huffman
Sports Editor

BECKLEY — The question I’ve heard the most this week— other than when is this nasty weather finally going to end — is what West Virginia needs to do to make the NCAA basketball tournament.

I can’t answer the question about the snow — although I can promise you I won’t shed a tear when it’s time for flip-flops and sunglasses — but I have plenty of thoughts on the second one.

For starters, WVU is clearly a tournament-worthy team. Throw out the RPI, the BPI the FBI and everything else. Let’s just use the eye test.

West Virginia has played seven ranked teams this season and beaten two of them. Three of the five losses to ranked teams came by single digits, and the most recent meeting against a ranked foe was a 102-77 blowout of Iowa State, ranked No. 11 in the nation.

In what most agree is the strongest basketball conference in America, WVU has won five of its last seven games, the only losses competitive ones on the road against No. 11 Oklahoma State and No. 8 Kansas.

Those results show a team that’s ready to compete with anybody in the country. To me, that’s the definition of a team that deserves to be in “The Big Dance.”

Nothing in the NCAA, though, is based on common sense. When the selection committee gets together, it has to have numbers, metrics and precedents to consider. With that in mind, the Mountaineers still have some work to do. They’re currently 64th in the RPI and 46th in the BPI, numbers that need to improve a little to give WVU a legitimate shot. But with games against the likes of No. 19 Texas, No. 11 Iowa State and No. 7 Kansas — not to mention Baylor and Oklahoma — there’s more than ample opportunity to climb that ladder.

In my eyes, the magic number is 19. WVU, currently 15-10 overall with six regular season games left to play, needs to get to 19 wins to get into the tournament.

One of those victories needs to come on the road. WVU’s biggest win away from the Coliseum this season was a 66-64 decision at Baylor on Jan. 28. The Bears have been in a tailspin lately, so that one won’t do much in the eyes of the selection committee.

But the three road games left all would add to the resume.

WVU is at No. 19 Texas on Saturday, at No. 11 Iowa State on Feb. 26 and at Oklahoma, just outside the Top 25, on March 5. A win in one of those would be critical to the Mountaineers’ tournament chances

WVU can also help its chances of getting a ticket to the dance with some success in the Big 12 Tournament. That magic 19th victory could come in Kansas City, although I think at least 18 need to come in the regular season. Seventeen regular season wins and two in the Big 12 Tournament might not be enough.

Will it happen? With what I’ve seen from this team in recent weeks, I wouldn’t bet against it.

Speaking of bets, whose money was on the NCAA Tournament when the Mountaineers were 10-8 and 2-3 in the Big 12 on Jan. 18?

— E-mail: chuffman@register-herald.com and follow on Twitter @CamHuffmanRH