Over the next seven weeks, WVU will play 26 of its next 30 games at home. It starts off with five games this week at Monongalia County Ballpark, continues with a neutral site game against Marshall in Charleston, then strings nine more games at home through April 19th. After an intervening three-game road trip to Oklahoma, the Mountaineers again settle in at home for another 12 games before hitting the road for its final four contests of the regular season.
Currently standing at 12-8 overall and 2-3 in the Big 12, West Virginia is 53rd in the RPI according to WarrenNolan.com. That's a respectable number, but if WVU wants to have a chance at an at-large bid (assuming it doesn't win the Big 12), it must take advantage of the favorable home schedule. As in basketball, there are several keys to RPI success, and two of those are beating other good teams and avoiding bad losses.
For WVU, there are some chances for the former. Oklahoma State (17th), Pitt (28th) and Texas Tech (48th) currently sit ahead of the Mountaineers in the rankings, and it won't be a surprise to see another Big 12 team or two elevate themselves higher in the rankings. West Virginia has to take advantaged of these chances, though, and likely needs to win the three-game series with the Cowboys and Red Raiders, and at least split with the Panthers, in order to gain some ground. The Mountaineers do have a couple of good wins already, having taken two of three from Old Dominion (31st) but missed on three chances against TCU (19th).
On the flip side – bad losses – WVU is o.k., if not great, at the moment. The Mountaineers have a pair of losses to #219 Hawaii and another to #178 Charleston Southern, but those aren't killers – yet. West Virginia needs to convert, if not sweep, series against teams in the lower half of the Big 12, but also need to make hay in the midweek games. It can't afford losses to teams such as Canisius, Furman, or Youngstown State, and needs to win the majority of the remainder of those non-weekend contests.
One of the big factors for the Mountaineers, as well as for most teams, is starting pitching in those midweek games. In Chad Donato, Ross Vance and B.J. Myers, head coach Randy Mazey can send out a very good trio of weekend starters. They are going to give WVU a chance in most every weekend contest. The key, then, remains with the mid-week starters. Can they give West Virginia enough innings to put them in a position to roll during the mid-week? And will the bullpen, which has been o.k. but can use some more consistency, be able to hold the fort for 2-3 innings to get to closers? There's no doubt that the Big 12 conference games are important, as they determine the results for conference championship seedings, but it's the play in mid-week games that could be the make-or-break factor this year. Freshman Tanner Campbell has gotten all of the mid-week starts to date, but WVU will need another pitcher to take the ball when it has two games between weekend series.
Of course, the RPI is a constantly shifting metric, so by the time West Virginia is playing Oklahoma, Baylor and Texas, their RPIs could be drastically different than what they are now. So too could the ratings of teams the Mountaineers have already played, which makes tracking of not only future, but past opponents, important. A look ahead, though, shows some interesting predictions. Warren Nolan runs an RPI prediction page that makes a call on what each team's record and RPI will be at the end of the season. This is based on performance to date, so it's certainly not going to be spot-on down the line, but it is interesting to note that it predicts WVU with a 36-18 final record and an RPI of 42.
Would that be enough to earn an at-large bid? That pick would put WVU fourth in the Big 12 RPI rankings, but more importantly, would put it inside the Top 45 overall, which is something of a dividing line for consideration. There are many other factors (teams as high as #52 have been picked over the past five years), but this one is big. Wins, record away from home and Top 50 or Top 100 wins are also criteria that are considered, but if West Virginia can reach those numbers, it has a good chance of reaching NCAA play.