Hanging In The Balance

A season that started with a reasonable expectation of an NCAA bid is now winding down in desperation mode – is there any reason to think West Virginia can somehow get the three wins it needs, at minimum, to earn consideration for that nod?

There are two schools of thought in play – both that have supporting evidence behind them. The first is that, by this point in the season, a team "is what it is". There aren't likely to be any major improvements in play as West Virginia heads down the stretch, and any observer of the Mountaineers know what the trouble areas are. Poor shooting by several team members, next to no offensive contributions from others, and an unwillingness to play with the effort required to win close games in the Big East have combined to put WVU in a must win-situation entering the final week of the regular season. So, the question resulting from this scenario is a simple one – is West Virginia good enough to defeat DePaul, USF and a first round Big East tournament foe?

The Mountaineers should be good enough to knock off DePaul on the basis of talent, but at this point making the same judgment against USF might be a difficult one at this point. And that doesn't take into account the fact that the Bulls are fighting for a spot of their own, and simply can't afford another loss until, say, the Big East semifinals. Then there's the case of West Virginia's yet to be determined tournament foe – which might be as much a question of match-up as it is of anything else. Still, based on West Virginia's performance all season, it's not as if the Mountaineers should be woefully outclassed in any of these three games. Even without any great improvement in performance, West Virginia has a chance to win its way in.

The second view is one that looks back to WVU's best performances of the season. If the Mountaineers could play well enough to beat Kansas State, Georgetown and Cincinnati, and take a number of other highly-rated teams to the wire, shouldn't it be good enough to pull it all together for a late season surge?

On the surface, again, it would seem as if the answer should be yes. After all, if freshmen and newcomers were poised enough, and understood enough, to play well against those teams, shouldn't they be able to do so against the worst team in the Big East, and another that sits behind two teams West Virginia owns wins over? Logic says yes, but the path this Mountaineer team has taken makes that nothing more than a guess at this point. Over it's last 2-7 stretch, the Mountaineers have beaten a Pitt team that mailed in a second ha;f and barely beat a Providence team that at the time resided in the league cellar. It has lost close games and blowouts, and in all of the former has failed to make the sorts of plays down the stretch that characterized its win over K-State and close losses to squads such as Baylor, Syracuse and Louisville.

The problem with this analysis? It's based, in large part, on what West Virginia has done at various points this season. WVU has been as inconsistent in its play as a gaggle of high school girls trying to decide what to wear to the movies on Friday night – so predicting the outcomes of either based on past performance is futile.

What West Virginia can control is effort – if it plays hard the entire game, it can win its next three and get an NCAA bid. However, there's not much to suggest that the Mountaineers will achieve even that task – and as a result, WVU's postseason fate is in grave doubt. We'll have more on that coming up shortly.

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