Fortunately, that wasn't the case. Beilein and the upperclassmen have been able to keep the newcomers and light-on-experience sophomores on the one-step-at-a-time trail, and the results have obviously been outstanding. Even so, I just can't resist looking ahead to see what the future could hold in terms of a possible NCAA bid.
In doing so, I'm not going to predict wins and losses. Sure, WVU will be underdogs against teams such as UCLA and Pitt, and figures to be favored when it hosts Seton Hall and Cincinnati. But as we see every day, collegiate competition can be wildly unpredictable. Over time, of course, the favorites win their fair share. But upsets are often the order of the day. So trying to say, ‘West Virginia will defeat such and such to get to X number of wins,' is something of a fool's errand. However, it might not be too much to look at, say seven games and predict, ‘West Virginia could go X-X over that stretch.' Strangely enough, that's the exact number of regular season games the Mountaineers have left.
So, instead of running down the schedule, this look-ahead will cover some key items that will determine whether or not West Virginia will make the Big Dance in a year when almost no one expected it to do so.
While this number certainly isn't the be-all and end-all of making the tourney, that magic number of 20 does hold a certain cachet, especially for teams from power conferences. WVU is just two wins away from that mark, but as one of those victories came against Division II Slippery Rock, it doesn't count for RPI purposes and holds much less weight in the eyes of the selection committee. So, while the Mountaineers have 18 wins, it's really, for NCAA purposes, 17.
With a less than average non-conference schedule (more on this in a moment), 20 wins (including the SR game) might not be all that WVU needs to get into the dance. Twenty-one total would put West Virginia on much safer ground, while 22 would pretty much lock things up. So, are there three or four more wins out there in WVU's final seven regular season games and one (hopefully more) Big East tournament games? I think so. Two home wins out of the final four and one road win isn't a stretch, and a 4-3 closing mark, as well as at least one win in New York, are certainly attainable goals as well.
Despite earlier gloom and doom predictions from some West Virginia beat writers, this is looking pretty good overall. The Mountaineers are #40 right now, and shouldn't suffer hugely even if it does drop two games this week (and no, I'm not predicting that). Georgetown, Providence and the return match with Pitt also could help boost that rating, especially if the Mountaineers could win two or three of those five contests.
Strength of Schedule
This is where it gets dicey. WVU's overall SOS is currently 128, and of the 39 teams above the Mountaineers, only Butler's (137) is worse. The out of conference SOS is not attractive at 296, but with Notre Dame at 291 and Washington State at 298, WVU can point to some peers with a similar blemish as justification to get in. It does help that the Mountaineers have no "bad losses" to date, having gone 6-1 against teams ranked lower than 200th. The Cincinnati loss is the only one to a team outside the top 100, which while not a positive, isn't a killer, either. However, if several teams with nearly identical resumes end up competing for the final few spots in the tournament, this factor could be one which determines WVU's fate, especially if it has only 20 or 21 total wins.
Last 10 Games
One factor that often gets overlooked is a team's performance in its last ten games. That's something the committee also takes into account, and although its not widely discussed, can have a profound impact on a team's chances.
It's also a bit unfair, as teams don't control who they play late in the season. In West Virginia's case it could work against it, as the Mountaineer schedule is certainly back loaded. Hopefully that will be taken into account when the selectors discuss WVU, as the three consecutive games against Pitt, UCLA and Georgetown, in the span of six days, will be very difficult. West Virginia could play very well over its closing ten games, go something on the order of 5-5, and perhaps not get as much credit as it deserves.
Summing It Up
Although there certainly are some factors working against WVU's NCAA candidacy, at this point it seems more likely than not that the Mountaineers can get into the field. Four wins over the last seven games plus the Big East tournament, as noted above, is surely not out of the question. A 22-win Big East team is going to the dance, no matter what. One less win puts WVU on a bit of a bubble, but still in the mix. Anything less, and it's probably the NIT.