The West Virginia men’s basketball team was already facing a tall order in regards to its NCAA tournament chances this season, but the Mountaineers’ loss to Baylor Saturday afternoon has turned this already uphill battle into a virtual K2 ascent.
Three Big 12 teams (West Virginia, Baylor, Oklahoma State) went into the weekend on the NCAA bubble, and everyone but the Mountaineers came away with a win. In fact, Baylor has now run off four straight victories (after losing 8 out of 10 from Jan. 7-Feb. 8), including a win on the home floor of the Mountaineers, and Oklahoma State (who already swept the season series against WVU) just got back one of the most talented players in the conference in Marcus Smart and snapped a recent losing streak.
West Virginia, on the other hand, has lost two straight games and could possibly be without one its most volatile scorers heading forward if sophomore guard Terry Henderson does indeed have mono. If that’s actually the case and it’s severe enough to force Henderson to miss extended time, the Mountaineers’ chances of making the tournament become basically nonexistent.
WVU simply doesn’t have enough consistent production and scoring elsewhere to make up the difference, as we clearly saw over the weekend. In fact, more than half of the Mountaineers’ Big 12 losses this year have occurred when Henderson has scored 10 points or less. They’ll need the talented scorer back immediately to have any chance at all.
If Henderson just has a cold or the flu and is able to return by Wednesday, the Mountaineers will still have to be nearly perfect down the stretch to make their resume appealing enough to warrant a selection.
With four regular season contests remaining, WVU would likely have to at least beat both Iowa State and Oklahoma on their home floors, or get one of those wins and then find a way to topple No. 8 Kansas at the WVU Coliseum in the last regular season game of the year.
A loss to TCU, who is still winless in the Big 12, at home Saturday would almost certainly kill the Mountaineers’ chances outright, regardless of what happens in the other games. Basically, they need to find a way to get three wins out of their last four games some way or another.
On top of that, West Virginia would more than likely still need at least two more wins in the upcoming Big 12 tournament. All together that would get the Mountaineers to 20 wins on the season and would make them a pretty viable candidate for an NCAA selection.
But even though it’s an accomplishable feat, it’s also why the Mountaineers are basically on the brink of elimination now. They’ll almost surely need to win five more games, which would mean five of their next six.
The only time this entire season WVU has won five out of six games was the very beginning of the year when, to be blunt, it beat five bad non-conference opponents that included the likes of Georgia Southern (12-17), Presbyterian (6-23) and Mount St. Mary’s (11-15).
To make the NCAA tournament, they’ll have to replicate that mark against the top three teams in the Big 12’s current standings – Kansas (21-6), Iowa State (21-5) and Oklahoma (20-7) – and then, of course, whomever they would face in Kansas City.