Back on January 21 West Virginia University beat Cincinnati 77-74 in overtime in the WVU Coliseum. At the time, the win over the Bearcats appeared to be a key conference win. The Mountaineers were looking good with a 15-5 record overall and a solid 5-2 mark in the Big East conference. The question was not if West Virginia would make it into the NCAA tournament, but how high they would be seeded.
Fast-forward to last Friday when WVU, coming off a 27-point loss at Notre Dame, lost a one-point decision to 10th ranked Marquette in the Coliseum. All of a sudden WVU is 17-12 and facing the increasing probability of missing the NCAA tournament.
Since the Cincinnati game WVU has gone just 2-7. Worse, during that stretch, WVU is an unfathomable 0-4 in what used to be the friendly confines of the WVU Coliseum. What appeared to be one of Coach Bob Huggins’ best coaching jobs in the making, has turned very sour. In Friday’s post game comments, where Huggins could not hide his frustration, the future Hall of Fame coach referred to a couple players as cowards. It was a hard listen.
So it sounds like the coach isn’t happy with some of his players and rumors of possible transfers are rampant. With the name calling by the coach, combined with the body language of some of the players, one wonders if the season can be salvaged. If success means making the NCAA tournament, and that was considered a good goal for this young team when the season started, the chances are slipping away.
Last night WVU hosted DePaul. If WVU lost, you can say hello NIT. If West Virginia won, their chances remain good, but that means having to beat upstart South Florida in Tampa Saturday afternoon. Two wins this week will give WVU 19 wins. That is the number of wins that has been projected WVU will need for inclusion into the NCAA field of 68. While the strength of schedule and RPI data supports that theory, there are human factors, like the NCAA selection committee, that may not look kindly on the late season collapse.
With that in mind, West Virginia would do well to pick up a win or two in the Big East Tournament next week in New York. Especially since grabbing a win at South Florida will not be easy. As far as the Big East tournament is concerned, the Mountaineers are virtually locked out of finishing in the top eight, even if they win two games this week. That means WVU will be playing in Tuesday’s opening round which pairs teams nine through 16.