Before we begin, we should note that there aren't any absolutes in this process, just as there aren't in the actual playing of games. For example, when the Big East tournament expanded to five days just a few seasons ago, many people said that no team would ever be able to win five games in five days to win the league title. UConn, of course, brushed those erroneous statements aside last night as it capped its five-day run to the championship with a win over Louisville. So, with that in mind, let's take our best shots.
As of now, the best estimate looks to put WVU as a number six seed. The Mountaineers likely needed at least one, and maybe two, wins in the Big East tournament to move up a line. As always, remember that it's not just what an individual team does, but also what other teams do, that will affect RPI and the seeding process, so this isn't an absolute. It wouldn't be a total shock to see West Virginia earn a #5.
As of Sunday morning, West Virginia's RPI was at a solid #20, and its strength of schedule a three. The Mountaineers were 7-9 in road/neutral games, and did not have a loss outside the RPI Top 100. Getting down to those nitty-gritty details is akin to splitting hairs in determining seeds, and there can be differences of opinion on the NCAA Selection Committee as to which factors carry the most weight.
One other factor to keep in mind here is that a team can be moved up or down one seed in order to follow bracketing rules and prevent match-ups between teams from the same conference from occurring in the early rounds. With the Big East expected to land 11 teams in the tournament this year, the potential for that is magnified, so it would not be a surprise to see one or more teams moved from their "true" seed position. Of course, we won't know if this occurred, as "true seeds" aren't announced by the NCAA, but it's something to keep in mind. Even if we think West Virginia is a solid six, it could wind up as a five or a seven due to such a move.
There are some very interesting match-ups that could come about in WVU's initial game. As a six seed, the Mountaineers would face a #11 in its opener. Among the 12 or so teams in that seeding range are Michigan, Virginia Tech and Penn State, any of which would make a game with some emotional overtones for Mountaineer fans.
A game with Michigan, against former head coach John Beilein and featuring a total clash of styles, might have the most national interest, but a game against Tech, which refuses to play West Virginia in football or basketball, would certainly cause a gut reaction for Mountaineer fans. And for those with longstanding WVU roots, the chance to play a Penn State team would also rouse some long-standing feelings.
In addition to those games, there are several "name" teams that figure to find their way into the 10-12 seed range. Among those, Michigan State, Memphis, Gonzaga and Tennessee would make for some buzz as well.
While it's true that the the Selection Committee tries to place teams in subregional sites that are as close to campus as possible, that becomes exponentially more difficult as you move down the seed lines. Certainly, top seeds will get that consideration, and it's typically possible for three or four more to get the same treatment, but simple geography, plus the need to preserve seedings and avoid rematches makes it a near impossible exercise as you move down the lines.
What does that mean for West Virginia? In terms of location, it puts them on the bubble. WVU could well end up Charlotte, Cleveland or Washington, D.C., but it might also have to travel all the way to Tucson. The preponderance of eastern teams in the tournament means that some eastern schools will have to travel to Tulsa or Tucson, and there's simply no way to predict locations once you get past the first couple of seeds.
This process is made even more difficult by the fact that bracketing, which includes placing the teams into the sub-regional locations, is the last task for the Committee, and is done under the gun of the 6:00 p.m. deadline for the announcement of the brackets. It has to take into account as many bracketing rules as possible (preventing early conference match-ups, keeping teams from playing on their home courts in the first rounds, keeping BYU from a Friday-Sunday subregional, etc.), and it has to be done quickly, taking into account the results of Sunday's tournament finals as well. That said, picking a location out of a hat might yield results just as accurate as any guesses we can offer.
THE 5-12 UPSET
This game has been a traditional favorite spot for upsets, so maybe it won't be a bad thing if West Virginia sticks in the #6 spot. Six seeds actually have a better winning percentage in their first games than #5s. For some reason, #12s have had great success against #5s over the past few years, winning four of the eight games in the last two seasons.