Bubble, Bubble

West Virginia's baseball team is the very definition of "on the bubble" in terms of an NCAA tournament bid.

The Mountaineers, coming off another crushing 4-3 extra innings loss to Texas Tech on Thursday, must get additional wins in order to secure an at-large bid to the NCAA tournament. While the Mountaineers were "in" according to projections made over the previous week, it must be remembered that those were made based on the season ending at that time -- or if WVU continued to win at the rate that it had over the course of the season. That's an important distinguishing factor that many watchers fail to make, leading to confusion as the season winds down and results change.

We've seen this happen in the more visible NCAA basketball tournament selection process, where teams adjudged to be "in" suffer a losing streak over the final games of the season, or get nipped at the tape by teams that pile up late winning streaks. Unfortunately, WVU is in that position right now after suffering its fifth consecutive loss on Thursday.

With a 9-12 league record, and just two Big 12 regular season games remaining, WVU can't get back to the .500 mark in conference play. (Missing the chance to play a third conference game against Baylor because of the ridiculous sharing of Appalachian Power Park in Charleston with Marshall on the same weekend also contributed.) It also can't reach the 30-win mark in the regular season, although next week's Big 12 Baseball Championships in Oklahoma City will give it the chance to attain that mark.

While neither of thos win landmarks is an automatic qualifier for an at-large bid, coming up short of both will hurt West Virginia's chances.

Also, as pointed out previously, only one team earned an at-large bid with fewer than 32 wins a year ago. That team, Florida, had 29, but also had a low RPI of 48. West Virginia, currently sitting with an RPI of 28, easily trumps the Gators' mark, but whether or not WVU's relatively low win total will obliterate that advantage remains to be seen.

To get in, WVU probably needs to win at least one of it's remaining two games at Texas Tech, and win at least one game in the Big 12 Conference Championships. That would put the Mountaineers at 29 wins, and with a significantly higher RPI than some 14 schools who received at-large bids a season ago, while also giving them enough wins to be compared favorably with other teams on the bubble.

One of those, Arizona State, is in a similar situation. The Sun Devils are 27-21 on the year, but have an RPI of 32, and most projections (again, remember that we're talking achievements to date here) have ASU in the field.

The key question now is, can WVU break out of its current skid? The Mountaineers did so earlier this year, following a seven-game losing string with a 9-2 run, so the precedent is there. Winning at Tech isn't easy, but if West Virginia can find a way to win just a couple more games over the next week, it should hear its name called when selections are made in the final week of May.

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