Bubblicious

While nothing in college basketball is ever a sure thing, a win over Pitt tomorrow night would certainly boost the chances of West Virginia's first invite to the Big Dance since 1998.

How can you not love this time of year? All over the country, the word on every college basketball fan's mind is "bubble." Pitt is all but a lock for the NCAA tournament, but the Mountaineers still have some work to do to state their case. Perhaps a road win over the Panthers tomorrow night is just what the selection committee is looking for. You can't dispute the fact that a win tomorrow night at the Peterson Events Center would certainly put the Mountaineers, who would improve to 17-8, in good shape to be on the bubble come Selection Sunday.

Forgive me if I'm stressing one game just a bit too much. Of the three games left on the regular season schedule though, tomorrow night's tilt with Pitt is certainly the most important, not just because it's the next game on the schedule, but because it could ultimately decide whether West Virginia is in or out as far as the tournament goes. Unfortunately a loss would probably force the Mountaineers to win their remaining two regular season games, as well as two games in the Big East Tournament to have a shot. Realistically, the Big East is in play for seven bids, with the Mountaineers on the outside looking in as the eighth team.

Of the two scenarios – beat Pitt, or lose and then have to win four straight – the easier, and certainly most gratifying, of the two would be to take out the Panthers tomorrow night. That's easier said than done, considering Pitt is very, very difficult to beat at home. Who can forget though that the Mountaineers already own one win over the Panthers this season.

For the Mountaineers to be the seventh team in from the Big East, they will have to show the committee that they are better than either Georgetown or Notre Dame.

The Irish currently hold a 16-8 record, just like WVU, but soundly defeated the Mountaineers in their only meeting this season. Mike Brey's squad has an RPI of 39, or 25 spots ahead of WVU's 64. Left on the schedule for the Irish are home games with UCLA, Rutgers, and Pittsburgh. It's always tough to get a win in South Bend, so the worst realistic scenario here is probably 2-1 for the Irish, making them 18-9, with marquee wins over Connecticut and Boston College. It will be very, very tough for the committee to turn away Notre Dame, making them almost a lock.

Then there's Georgetown. The Hoyas weren't expected to do a whole lot this year, but enter the final two weeks of the season at 16-8, with marquee wins at Pitt, and at Villanova. They beat the Mountaineers 67-60 a week and a half ago, but don't have any non-conference wins against teams that are anywhere near the bubble. On top of the that, their RPI of 50 isn't insurmountable for the Blue and Gold, and with games left on their schedule against Villanova, Connecticut, and Providence, it's not unrealistic that the Hoyas could finish 1-2, or even 0-3.

I'm not saying that winning all three regular season games makes the Mountaineers a lock for the NCAA tournament. Nobody knows what will happen in the conference tournaments, and if a team like Indiana were to get hot and win the Big 10 tournament, that could take a bid away from the Big East. Everything will shake out in the next two weeks.

A Mountaineer win tomorrow night puts the Mountaineers and Hoyas in a dog fight for that seventh spot, in my opinion. If the Mountaineers don't win tomorrow night, then it's not all over. Saturday's game against Rutgers, as well as next Saturday's game at Seton Hall are certainly winnable contests, but aren't going to do much for the Eer's in the eyes of the committee. The answer for the Blue and Gold is simple: Beat Pitt, and control your own destiny. It's easier said than done, obviously, but with so much at stake, you can bet that this team knows that Wednesday night is truly a must-win game if they are to fulfill the NCAA tournament dreams that looked so real after a 10-0 start.


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