Big East Slate Holds Key to Postseason

With a 7-3 record entering conference play, West Virginia's men's basketball team will likely have to record at least a nine-win Big East season to secure an at-large bid in the NCAA tournament.

Of course, thoughts of NCAA or NIT bids are far from the minds of head coach John Beilein and his staff as they prepare for their Big East lidlifter at Notre Dame on Wednesday. However, since we, like most fans, are an impatient bunch, a look ahead at the second half of the schedule is in order before the Mountaineers embark on their conference slate.

WVU has 17 regular season games left - 16 in conference and the annual clash with Marshall in Charleston. WVU will have to go at least 10-7 in those games, and win at least one additional game in the Big East Tournament, to have any chance of making the NCAA tournament. Assuming WVU went 1-1 in the tourney, the Mountaineers would have an 18-11 record, which, coupled with a respectable RPI, might be enough to squeeze into one of the final spots in the field.

Assuming WVU wins their remaining out of conference game (and that's a big assumption, as one of WVU's biggest assets, Greg White, is gone from the Herd), that would leave a 9-7 mark in the Big East as their goal. Finishing above .500 is an important factor in the race for at-large bids, as the following statistics show.

Of the last 23 Big East teams to go .500 in the conference, only two have earned NCAA bids. However, teams that increase that record by just two games are almost assured of getting a bid, provided that they didn't stumble during out of conference play. WVU's losses to Northeastern and George Washington could end up being RPI killers, but their win over Maryland, coupled with an upset or two in the league, could be enough to offset those defeats.

West Virginia will also have to avoid a "one and done" in New York for the conference tournament, but such a scenario is often set up by the place a team finishes in the conference. Should the Mountaineers manage to record nine conference wins, they figure to have a decent matchup at Madison Square Garden.

All this, of course, is very premature. WVU has Notre Dame, Providence, Villanova (twice) UConn, Syracuse and Pitt on the schedule, and those are games where the Mountaineers will be definite underdogs. There will be little room for upsets or stumbles on the part of the Gold and Blue as they battle for a spot in the postseason. However, after last year's gutty performance, we'll be the last people to sell the Mountaineers short.

Can West Virginia manage ten wins in their remaining regular season games? WVU is fortuante to have two struggling teams in Virginia Tech and St. John's on the schedule twice this year, so that, while not exactly easy, is better than facing Pitt or UConn for an additional games. WVU also has some good home matchups with teams they can compete with, like Goergetown, Boston College and Seton Hall, so the schedule helps a bit in that manner has well.

As noted above, however, there's little wiggle room left on the WVU slate. If WVU drops a game or two against a bottom tier Big East squad, they'll have to make it up against a narional heavyweight, which might be too much too expect. No matter what happens, however, it should be an interesting ride.

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