After loss, should WVU women be in?
Published: Monday, March 11, 2013
Updated: Monday, March 11, 2013 01:03
Are they in or are they out? The West Virginia women’s basketball team (17-13, 9-9) may have just blown a 22-point lead to third-seeded Oklahoma in the Big 12 conference tournament, but the Mountaineers’ postseason aspirations are still alive.
Just how alive, exactly? Well, we won’t know until Selection Monday (a week from today), when the NCAA women’s tournament selection committee announces the field of 64.
For the past three seasons, the Mountaineers safely watched the committee’s announcements, knowing their ultimate destination was the big bracket. Finding out who they’d play and what region they’d be in was the prime reason to tune in.
This season, the Mountaineers are squarely on the bubble. Though it may be nerve-wracking for head coach Mike Carey, redshirt senior center Ayana Dunning, the rest of the team and fans everywhere, I think it’s a lot of fun.
Seriously, there’s no telling what will happen, and that’s more exciting – though also potentially more disheartening – than knowing you’re solidly in.
Uncertainty, risk and potential for great triumph or disappointment – this is what March is all about.
So how did the Mountaineers get into this predicament?
Leading by 19 at halftime during Saturday’s Big 12 conference tournament game against Oklahoma, I couldn’t help but think WVU was putting itself on track for an impressive postseason run.
An NCAA tournament bid felt all but locked up, and a potential rematch with No. 1 Baylor in the Big 12 conference championship game seemed like it might not be a blowout if West Virginia could play the way it did the first 20 minutes against the Sooners.
Then the second half happened. Yikes.
The Mountaineers led by as many as 22 points, but the Sooners surged in the second half, stunning the West Virginia faithful and placing the team squarely where no team wants to be at this time of the year – on the bubble.
Fortunately, that bubble hasn’t popped yet, and West Virginia still has some basketball left to play – whether it’s in the NCAA tournament or in the NIT.
Last season, No. 6 seeded Kansas entered the Big 12 conference tournament with a similar record and was bounced in the first round by No. 3 seed Texas A&M (now a member of the SEC).
The Jayhawks (19-12, 8-10) were able to scrape together a solid enough resume to impress the selection committee and receive a No. 11 seed in the NCAA tournament, which it then parlayed into a Sweet 16 appearance. Could West Virginia do the same thing?
The Mountaineers could also follow the same trajectory Oklahoma State did last season. The Cowgirls (16-12, 8-10) were also bounced from the first-round of the Big 12 conference tournament, but unlike the Jayhawks, they didn’t receive an invitation to the NCAA tournament.
Instead, Oklahoma State played in the women’s NIT and rattled off five consecutive victories to be crowned WNIT champions.
Both scenarios show teams with similar records to WVU finding postseason success – albeit in different tournaments.
The Mountaineers beat every team in the Big 12 not named Baylor or Texas Tech (which could have happened, but West Virginia let the Red Raiders slip away from Morgantown with a four-point win).
Winning on the road against ranked opponents Iowa State and Oklahoma State didn’t come easily, and the selection committee will recognize that. The Mountaineers also fell just short in road upset bids against Kansas (1 point) and Oklahoma (3 points).
West Virginia’s .500 record in Big 12 play looks nice, especially since the Big 12 is regarded by several measures as the country’s premier conference for women’s basketball.
However, the Mountaineers’ 13 losses are an eyesore – particularly the 8-point loss to Duquesne (though the Dukes are 23-7 this season, so it’s not too bad).
That loss, Saturday’s loss to Oklahoma and any other loss the Mountaineers suffered this season is not insurmountable in West Virginia’s quest for a fourth-consecutive NCAA tournament bid.
Despite losing junior forward and all-Big 12 defensive team member Jess Harlee to a season-ending knee injury, West Virginia looked great at times Saturday.
I feel pretty confident predicting the Mountaineers will hear their name called next Monday; perhaps as a lower seed than they had hoped for, but they’ll still be dancing. Their resume, key wins, road performance and conference all point to an at-large bid.
But what do I know?
I’m just a guy who’s here for the madness and looking for a good story; the Mountaineers could just as easily be going to the WNIT. I guess that’s why you’ll have to tune in to Selection Monday to find out for sure.
I promise it will be worth the watch and more exciting than last year.