Less than two weeks away from Selection Monday, the West Virginia University men’s soccer team is in prime position to make their first NCAA Tournament since 2011.
WVU earned the two-seed in the Big East Tournament in 2011, their final season as a member of the Big East Conference, but lost in the quarterfinals to St. John’s.
Despite losing early in the Big East Tournament, WVU was still chosen for the NCAA Tournament as an at-large bid because of their impressive 10-6-1 regular season record.
The Mountaineers advanced to the second round of the NCAA Tournament before a loss to Maryland knocked them out.
It was the fourth NCAA Tournament appearance for WVU since 2006, but the Mountaineers have not made another appearance since they switched conferences.
Now in the Mid-American Conference (MAC), West Virginia clinched their first regular-season MAC championship Friday night with a win over Bowling Green and will receive the top seed in the MAC Tournament once the regular season is over. Also, the Mountaineers are ranked 16th in the United Soccer Coaches Poll.
As regular season champions, West Virginia will host the MAC Tournament at Dick Dlesk Soccer Stadium on Nov. 9 and 11.
If the Mountaineers are to win the MAC Tournament, they will automatically qualify for the NCAA Tournament and not have to worry about being one of the 24 at-large bids selected.
Before the MAC Tournament begins, though, WVU (12-5, 4-0 MAC) has to face its final opponent of the regular season Saturday night at Northern Illinois.
The Huskies (8-7-1, 1-3) are currently in the last place in the MAC with only three points and have lost five of their last seven matches. They also have six freshmen with at least 13 starts this season.
Although Northern Illinois has struggled lately, their Rating Percentage Index (RPI), the ranking system used to select and seed teams for the NCAA Tournament, has not.
They continue to hold a strong RPI of 42nd, much of which can be credited to the league they play in. The MAC is the third-ranked RPI conference behind only the ACC and PAC-12.
The Huskies are led in points, goals and shots by freshman forward Nick Markanich with eight, 16 and 53, respectively, and senior midfielder Kevin Rodriguez paces the team with eight assists.
A win for WVU over Northern Illinois could greatly improve the Mountaineers’ RPI of 22nd and could secure them a place in the NCAA Tournament even if they do not win the MAC Tournament.
And if West Virginia has already sealed an NCAA Tournament berth, a win Saturday night could further help their seeding in the tournament.
WVU faces Northern Illinois Saturday night at 8 p.m. and will be looking for their 13th win of the season, which would be their most in a season since 2007.