The Mountaineers couldn’t come up with their first NCAA tournament resume-quality road win against the No. 19 Longhorns in a 88-71 loss, and that places WVU outside the field of 68 for the time being by just about every “expert.”
What does West Virginia need to do to get into the NCAA tournament? It’s so hard to tell, really. Even if the Mountaineers finish the regular season on a positive note, they would likely still need two wins or so in the Big 12 Conference tournament to feel good on Selection Sunday.
You hate to say “what if,” but the Mountaineers will really regret not pulling off a win or two against those NCAA tournament-type teams they played in the non-conference portion of their schedule.
A victory over Wisconsin or Gonzaga would put the Mountaineers in a much better situation right now. A 15-11 record heading into the final three weeks of the season forces near perfection from West Virginia, a tough task for a relatively young bunch.
Right now, the Mountaineers sit in sixth place in the Big 12 Conference and have an RPI in the 70s. WVU has been helped by playing in a tough conference and heating up at the right time, yet it still seems like it’s not enough at this point.
If you want to see WVU play in the NCAA tournament, there’s a lot of work to be done.
The Mountaineers probably need a win on the road against Iowa State or at home against Kansas to compete with fellow bubble teams.
The positive thing about playing in the best conference in the country is that West Virginia has a big number of opportunities to improve its resume. Whereas WVU is looking at two or three more big-time opportunities for victories over solid NCAA tournament teams, fellow bubble teams like Arkansas and Clemson may only have one more chance for one of those resume-building wins.
It’s boom or bust for West Virginia, that’s for sure.
Last week, sophomore guard Eron Harris said WVU needs an RPI better than 60 to make it to the NCAA tournament, and statistically that seems about right. No team with an RPI of less than 67 has ever received an at-large bid to March Madness – that came in 2011 when USC was chosen as part of a pretty weak bubble field.
No team with less than 17 wins has ever received an at-large bid (Alabama in 2006), and no team with more than 14 losses made it as an at-large (Arizona in 2008 and five teams in 2011).
The worst-ever record to make it into the field as an at-large team is 18-14 (Arizona in 2008 and Michigan State in 2011).
You’d expect West Virginia’s RPI to only improve as the year progresses based on its remaining schedule. That 18-14 mark is one to keep an eye on. On paper alone, you’d expect the Mountaineers to finish below that mark, though paper doesn’t mean much in late February.
It really all depends on the field of bubble teams, though, and it doesn’t seem as weak as that group in 2011 but it seems less strong than last year’s that saw a 20-13 Villanova team sneak into the NCAA tournament as the at-large team with the worst overall record.
Really, West Virginia just needs to win as many games as it can down the stretch. More than two losses in the final five games of the regular season will put the Mountaineers in the NIT almost certainly unless they can pull off a Big 12 tournament-winning performance.
That being said, regardless of what WVU does in its next five games, it still gets an opportunity to end any questions of its post-season fate with a Big 12 title.
Based on how the Big 12 looks, it’s anyone’s title. Kansas has been proven beatable. Texas, while not necessarily against West Virginia, has obviously met its match a few times, as well. Everyone else – outside of TCU – is capable of beating just about everyone in the conference.
Regardless of how WVU plays the next three weeks, it’s going to have meaningful games in mid-March. That’s something you couldn’t necessarily say in December or even early January.
This team has come a long, long way since then. Everyone should remember that. Still, any negative progression over the next month is going to erase the positive movement this program has made lately.
It’s going to be a wild ride. Buckle up.
One thing we all know is that we will all be able to watch the remainder of WVU's games, so we'll know the Mountaineers' fate regardless of the Longhorn Network.