WVU will still make the tournament
Published: Thursday, February 17, 2011
Updated: Thursday, February 17, 2011 00:02
It was only a couple of weeks ago that the West Virginia men's basketball team was considered to be practically a lock in the NCAA Tournament.
Now, as it prepares for the final two weeks of the regular season, it is still in need of a couple more wins if it wants to ensure its spot in the dance.
Many have said that 17 wins could be enough to punch the Mountaineers' ticket to the tournament, considering how strong the Big East has been this season.
While in some regards, this is true, only one more win throughout the final five regular season games would not be good enough to secure them an at-large bid. Going 1-4 through this upcoming stretch would give the Mountaineers an 8-10 record in the Big East Conference and, more than likely, would place them near 10th in the league standings.
Finishing that low heading into the Big East Tournament would mean that West Virginia would probably have to win two games at Madison Square Garden in order to save its spot in the NCAA Tournament.
And, if there's one thing that can be learned from years past, you don't want your fate to be decided by the NCAA Selection Committee when it comes time for the brackets to come out on Selection Sunday.
It will all start on Saturday, when the Mountaineers take on No. 8 Notre Dame at the Coliseum. A win against a team that is playing as well as the Irish right now, will set the tone for this stretch run for WVU.
Of the five remaining games on the schedule, three will be played at the Coliseum. All three of them are against top-25 teams.
It's important for them to come away with at least one win out of those three, but considering how well the Mountaineers have played at home this year, it's very realistic that they can win two or even all three of them.
They match up well with Notre Dame and could take that one, since the Irish don't have the personnel to be able to hurt West Virginia inside and WVU was almost able to come away with a win on the road against Louisville, who it plays on March 5, so that one should be a good chance to get a win.
The game that will give West Virginia fits at the Coliseum will be against Connecticut. Not only will the Mountaineers be faced with the task of slowing down Kemba Walker, but the Huskies have started to get more contributions from players like Jeremy Lamb, and more importantly, Alex Oriakhi as the year has gone on.
If UConn can get good play from its frontcourt in that game, they could leave the Coliseum as the winners.
As for the other two games on the schedule, West Virginia heads on the road next Thursday to take on No. 4 Pittsburgh before heading to New Jersey to square off with Rutgers the following Sunday.
It will be very tough for the Mountaineers to come away with the win on the road against Pittsburgh, but if WVU can find a way to upset the Panthers, that should wrap things up to seal an at-large bid for WVU.
Strangely, the game that could be the most important for West Virginia, the rest of the way, is the one at Rutgers. If it can't beat the teams that it's supposed to beat – especially one that is a perennial bottom-feeder in the Big East – down the stretch, maybe it doesn't deserve a bid at all.
Chances are, you'll see this team finish 3-2 over the next five games to finish with 19 wins. Then you should be able to add on one, maybe two wins in the Big East Tournament if the Mountaineers get a good enough draw, and they should be able to get into the NCAA Tournament with no problem as a No. 6 seed.