The Mountaineers head into this week's Big 12 Conference tournament stuck on the NCAA tournament bubble in the wake of a seven-game losing streak to end the regular season. Still, even after finishing the way it did, West Virginia has as good a chance as anybody to earn an at-large bid this season.
But if it is going to do that, WVU will have to be able to do something that not many teams have done in the last decade.
With a record of 27-24, and a 9-14 mark against Big 12 opponents, the Mountaineers are hoping to become just the fifth team since 2004 to earn an at-large bid after winning less than 30 games in the regular season – joining Florida (2013), Baylor (2011 and 2009) and Cal (2010) to do so.
As it stands right now, aside from the fact that WVU is sitting at No. 28 in the RPI, there aren't many reasons to be incredibly optimistic about the Mountaineers' chances at making into the Field of 64. Only that 2009 Baylor team was able to find a way to get a bid after finishing as poorly as WVU did against conference opponents, finishing 10-16 in league play.
But like the Mountaineers will have to do, those Bears got in the tournament after a strong showing in Oklahoma City at the Big 12 tournament.
Right now, things can't be going much worse for this West Virginia team. In addition to its current seven-game losing streak (the second one it has had this season), the Mountaineers have lost seven of their last eight conference games and 12 out of its last 15 true road games. Not many NCAA tournament teams end a season like that.
There's no doubting what West Virginia has. Its starting pitching is arguably as good as any staff in the country, consistently giving WVU quality starts and a chance to win. The Mountaineers have some of the best hitters in the Big 12 and can get production all throughout the batting order. The bullpen that struggled mightily most of the season has shown signs of life at times.
If WVU wants to get back to the NCAA tournament for the first time since 1996, it's going to have to find a way to get everything clicking at the same time. It was a beautiful seeing it start to do that against teams like Texas – a series that feels like it was forever ago, even though it has only been a few weeks. The problem has been that the Mountaineers haven't been able to get that working all at the same time with much consistency.
Some things are going to play in their favor though. The Mountaineers seem to step up and do that at the times when it matters the most. When the lights come on, this team has shown that it knows what to do in order to get the job done.
It's something Randy Mazey has said over and over again, but it seems like when the odds are stacked against them this team knows how to respond to that adversity. And that's how you can tell a bubble team from a team that deserves to be in the NCAA tournament. The stage is set for the WVU program to make another big leap in its rise to relevancy on a national stage.
Now they just have to show and answer the call.