MORGANTOWN, W.Va. — Sitting courtside before his team’s Friday practice, Bob Huggins was asked if West Virginia’s  chances of earning an NCAA at-large bid were over.

“I wouldn’t say ‘over’ but we need to win, there isn’t any doubt,” Huggins said. “We’ve kind of been in this situation before — it just hasn’t been maybe as dire as this one is.”

With an RPI of 91, WVU (12-12, 5-6) is coming off an 80-60 loss at Baylor and desperately needs a win Saturday against Texas Tech (9-13, 2-9) to restore its equilibrium. Today’s tipoff is scheduled for 4 p.m. at the WVU Coliseum, where the Mountaineers are 2-3 in Big 12 play. Here’s the five-key primer:

1. The last meeting …
A mere two weeks have elapsed since WVU ripped the Red Raiders 77-61 in Lubbock, just a few miles from the Buddy Holly Museum (which probably attracted a larger crowd that day than did United Spirit Arena). The Mountaineers never trailed that afternoon, bolting out to a 16-4 lead that Huggins said “really could have been 30-2 if we don’t throw the ball away.”

Ah, the 18 turnovers — those were the only blight for WVU, which benefitted from Texas Tech committing 22. The Red Raiders were especially error-prone during a late-game stretch in which they turned it over four straight times after pulling to within 59-55.

Eron Harris poured in 18 points and WVU made 10-of-18 from 3-point range thanks to the long-range shooting of Gary Browne (3-for-3) and Terry Henderson (3-of-4). The Mountaineers shot a season-high 55 percent overall — not a surprise considering Tech ranks 300th nationally in field-goal percentage defense.

2. Since the last meeting …
Texas Tech is mired in a five-game slide overall and, since the WVU encounter, has lost at home to Kansas State (68-59), then at Texas (73-57) before Wednesday’s home flameout against Oklahoma State (91-67).

Point guard Josh Gray categorized the OSU blowout as “very crushing” after Tech fell behind 55-34 at the half. “After our student body and university came out and showed their support, they didn’t deserve a performance like that,” Gray said.

3. Should Tech keep Chris Walker?
At least one local sportswriter thinks so. Nick Kosmider, who covers the Red Raiders for the Lubbock Avalanche-Journal, wrote in a Valentine’s Day column that Tech should drop Walker’s interim tag and sign him to a permanent deal because Walker has the AAU connections to upgrade recruiting and the pedigree — he previously coached at Villanova and New Mexico — to develop signees.

Walker earned some kudos with a home upset of Iowa State on Jan. 23, though five subsequent defeats by an average margin of 22 points diminished some of the goodwill. The coach’s future could hinge upon Texas Tech being more competitive during the final seven regular-season games and it’s sure-to-be-brief stay at the Big 12 tournament.

And even if that occurs, Walker’s fate could depend on whether athletic director Kirby Hocutt can lure a more qualified outsider to Lubbock.

4. Murray becoming foul magnet
At TCU, Aaric Murray picked up two fouls in his first 27 seconds of action. Four nights later at Baylor, Murray was whistled for two fouls in his first 2:55, and upon re-entering before the half, Murray picked up No. 3 within a minute.

Murray finished with seven points and six rebounds at TCU in 13 minutes (including some crucial plays in the second half). But he managed just four points, three boards and three turnovers in 12 minutes at Baylor, and was visibly perturbed by the calls. On two occasions, an official warned Murray to contain his reactions.

Huggins, asked about Murray’s proclivity for foul trouble, prefaced his comment with “let me see how I can answer this without getting into trouble,” and then answered, “I think (Baylor) was a very tightly officiated game.”

As for Murray becoming frustrated with the whistles?

“When you go in and you get two fouls as quickly as he got two fouls, I think that has a tendency to back off your aggression,” Huggins said. “And the third one that he got rebounding the ball was, uh … questionable.”

5. Tough closing stretch
Saturday figures to be the final regular-season game in which WVU is favored. After facing Texas Tech, the Mountaineers close with rematches against Kansas (No. 6 RPI), Oklahoma (No. 20), K-State (No. 22), Oklahoma State (No. 27), Baylor (No. 46) and Iowa State (No. 54).

“We’ve got an opportunity now, with playing teams with a lot higher RPIs, to increase our RPI,” Huggins said. “Our strength of schedule is going to be fine, but we’ve just got to get our RPI up to where it’s in the ballpark” of the NCAA at-large bubble.

“The good thing about playing in a good league is you have more opportunities, so we do have opportunities.”

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  • big tom

    there is much to cheer for this year.. you must love mediocrity.

  • Wemakerain

    How right you are Tom...about 1 thing, we will lose 3. It's called graduation, something I would venture to guess you care little about. The ones you complain about will be gone, but Huggins will probably die on the WVU pay roll, and life will go on. This team will be completely different next year, but there is still much to cheer for this year.

  • big tom

    this too will pass, oliver will get his fill of huggins and we get a new coach without a lifetime contract who really cares to win.
    no we aren't making it to the nit either.
    we have not gotten any better since gonzaga, if fact, a case could be made that we are worse.
    we have not been coached up. someone needs fired on the sidelines.
    huggie, how many will you run off after this season, i bet at least three.

  • Hoffy

    I'm not going to kid myself about the prospects of this team making it to the NCAA's or the NIT. What I would like to see is how they respond to that debacle in Waco, starting with this game.
    Lots of work to be done, for sure, but I'm going to continue supporting my Mountaineers as I've done for many years.
    I remember what it was like in the Joedy Gardner days (PU!) and some of Catlett's years (Ack!). Was hard to watch, like it is now. But I'm going to keep rooting for WVU, and leave it to the powers-that-be to deal with coaching issues.
    Let's get one this afternoon, Mountaineers!

  • cutty77

    If we can't beat this Team,we don't belong in YMCA league.I just hope we can get invited to the NIT,only way we get the NCAA is with a Ticket. LOL

  • shawn

    LET'S GO EERS!!!

    Finish strong and build for next year!

  • big tom

    if he can re learn who to recruit,and get some stability to the program , it would help.
    seriously folks, who really believes we will even make it tothe NIT. we have seven games left, i see one victory, today.
    Oliver gave him that contract because huggie can get big donors to chip in.
    look at the wasted practice facility..what a waste.
    Time is not on his side, and i don't think he will get his bonus for attendance that he is trying to talk up.. people aren't drinking the kool-aid, Bob..
    since beilein's boys have left , or record has tumbled reflecting recruiting and coaching.
    next year won't be any better. Murray and staten just haven't produced. team chemistry is terrible..the program is in a shambles. This huge lifetime contract is going to eat or lunch.. wait till only 3-4000 show up for games,, \
    we face the same mediocrity in FB. Oliver is new to the game of AD, i think maybe he is having some regrets with both bobby and dana.

  • Derek

    Larry while some of your points may have some validity, respect the man. I bet you loved 2010 and the final 4. I'm alao willing to bet you're not complaining when they're winning. You are what's wrong with the majority of the WVU fan base

  • matt

    What fickle fans we have. Your comments are ridiculous! Please go root for Pitt they would love to have you.

  • wvtomd

    me too.
    he has lost his edge but being a fan i have to stick with what we got. he may be able to cobble together a decent team of thugs every now and then.

  • Larry

    Going to the NCAA Tournament is foolish idle talk and Bob Huggins knows it. Huggins talks out of both sides of his mouth constantly. One minute his players are “no good”. The next minute he talks about getting better and making the tournament.

    He judges all his by his players as being “Not Smart” but it’s his own inept ability to coach these kids is what the real problem is. As someone said earlier this week…”They’re tired of Him and He is tired of them”.

    “We’ve got an opportunity now, with playing teams with a lot higher RPIs, to increase our RPI,” Huggins said.

    Some people will buy anything if it gets said in these sports columns…especially the Huggins trolls.

    Mediocre basketball is all WVU fans can expect as long as Huggins remains head coach. After 700 wins and a lifetime contract making $10,000 dollars a day, the great one has no longer any incentive to win.

    Outward appearance usually reflects what going on inside. His weight has ballooned to the point he can no longer wear regular pants. Those sweat pants he was wearing during the Baylor game were so big it was disgraceful. It’s not about winning…it’s about eating Barbecue after the game.

    The fans, players, sports writers, school administration have all now accepted mediocrity and continue to praise & support the overweight but loveable coach Huggins. Exclude me from the list…