Column - Now is make or break time for WVU men
Published: Monday, February 13, 2012
Updated: Monday, February 13, 2012 23:02
You learn the most about a team when its back is against the wall.
So, prepare to find out just how good this West Virginia men's basketball team is during the last few weeks of the season.
After its fifth loss in six games, West Virginia finds itself in a position that it hasn't been in for quite some time. The Mountaineers are now fighting for an NCAA tournament bid.
Not only is it rare territory for the WVU basketball program, but it's even more rare for head coach Bob Huggins.
Teams he coaches don't miss the NCAA tournament often; that's just the way it's been.
In the last 20 years, his teams have only missed the tournament twice, and he's found ways to get teams that don't have a lot of talent into the field of 68.
With five games left, this West Virginia team has a lot of questions to answer before it can find its way into the tournament.
The biggest of those questions comes down to which team shows up each night when the Mountaineers play.
You know what you're going to get from senior forward Kevin Jones just about every night out.
Even when he's not that great, he's been one of the best in the country this year. He's been the heart and soul of this WVU team all season, and with him on the floor, the Mountaineers will at least have a chance to win the game.
From there things get a little harder to figure out.
In the first 20 games, the Mountaineers had one of the Big East's best one-two punches of Jones and fellow senior Truck Bryant.
Bryant was the perfect complement to Jones. The two were playing well off of each other, and as a result, the Mountaineers were having a lot of success.
Not many Mountaineers have struggled as much as Truck during this six-game stretch though.
In the last six games, Bryant's still averaging 14.5 points per game, but he's been
shooting just 27 percent from the field.
It looks like junior forward Deniz Kilicli is back to where he was at the beginning of the season – maybe even a little better – as far as scoring goes, and if Kilicli and Jones can get Bryant to be more consistent throughout this final stretch, the Mountaineers could be heading down the right path toward continuing WVU's streak of four-straight NCAA tournament appearances.
However, it won't be as simple as just getting better production from their "Big Three." The Mountaineers will likely need to win three of the final five games of the regular season.
Two of those games are road games against Pitt and Notre Dame teams that are always hard to beat on their home floor, followed by a home game against an underrated Marquette team at the Coliseum.
If it can win at least one of those three, West Virginia will have a good shot at winning the final two against DePaul and South Florida.
A team that deserves an at-large bid will find a way to win three of those last five games.
We'll see if WVU fits that description starting Thursday night in Pittsburgh.