Joe Sadlek/All-Pro Photography

Gary Browne and walk-on Tyrone Hughes celebrated West Virginia’s stunningly easy 102-77 win over No. 11 Iowa State on Monday night.


MORGANTOWN, W.Va. — Welcome to the bubble, West Virginia.

Or maybe the bubble atop the bubble.

Though the exact proximity remains difficult to gauge, suffice to say the Mountaineers—with regard to their once farfetched NCAA tournament hopes—have at least played themselves into position to get into position.

If that sounds confusing, well, it should—because this team shapes up to be an intriguing test case for the selection committee. What matters more? The fact West Virginia accomplished virtually nothing in the nonconference schedule, or that it could finish with a winning record in America’s toughest conference?

After a 102-77 demolition of No. 11 Iowa State on Monday night, West Virginia’s RPI climbed six spots to No. 66, putting in on the peripheral of bubble.

MORE: What Jerry Palm thinks of West Virginia’s at-large chances.

Coach Bob Huggins pondered whether WVU’s resurgence in the Big 12 should override the nonleague losses to Wisconsin, Gonzaga, Missouri, Purdue (yuck) and Virginia Tech (double-yuck).

“I bet we could take a poll here and most people would say we wouldn’t lose those now,” Huggins said.

While there are no do-overs for the first-semester foibles, Huggins’ squad is quantifiably better now than it was then. Better to the point that it has beaten three teams who as of Tuesday sported RPIs of 27 (Kansas State), 21 (Oklahoma) and 13 (Iowa State). Better to the point that by splitting its final six Big 12 games, West Virginia would wind up 10-8, and likely in the upper half, of the nation’s top-RPI conference.

Of course three more regular-season wins are anything but a cinch, considering the closing stretch that faces the Mountaineers (15-10, 7-5):

Feb. 15:    at Texas (18-5, 9-2)          RPI: 26
Feb. 22:    vs. Baylor (14-9, 2-8)        RPI: 55
Feb. 26:    at Iowa State (18-5, 6-5)   RPI: 13
March 1:   vs. TCU (9-13, 0-10)         RPI: 196
March 5:   at Oklahoma (18-6, 7-4)    RPI: 21
March 8:   vs. Kansas (18-6, 9-2)       RPI: 1

And even though three wins would guarantee West Virginia a winning league record, that might not be tantamount to an NCAA invite. Each season brings its own benchmark for at-large selections.

In contrast to coaches who are reluctant to publicly focus on the RPI, Huggins has encouraged his players plot a mathematical road map to the tourney.

“I don’t lie to them,” he said. “There are people who say, ‘Well, aren’t you putting pressure on them?’ But if I was them, I’d want to know what you’ve got to do, what our RPI is, what the RPI of the people we’re playing is.

“I’d want to know what we need to do to get our RPI in a range where we’re talked about as an NCAA team.”

According to bracketology numbers cruncher Jerry Palm, the lowest-RPI teams to receive an at-large bid were No. 67 USC and No. 64 Marquette in 2011, No. 63 Stanford in 2007 and No. 63 N.C. State in 2005.

What’s the magic RPI number for West Virginia?

“Anything lower than 60 and I think we can get in,” guessed guard Eron Harris.

“We have to be below 50 or maybe 50ish,” surmised Gary Browne.

Which goes to show that life on the bubble is slippery and debatable, and the Mountaineers—based on where they stood a month ago—are mighty thankful just to be privy to the conversation.

Peter Casey-USA TODAY Sports

Erron Harris and West Virginia are trying to make up ground from nonconference losses—none more damaging than the Nov. 2 collapse at Virginia Tech.
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  • Oh Did Ya?

    Joey Brackets has the Eers in the tournament after the win against ISU!

  • WVAtty

    For all you Huggy Haters,
    read and weep ...

    Check out this article from USA TODAY:

    Bubble Tracker: WVU's emergence highlights Big 12 depth

  • J

    Amazing picture. It captures the atmosphere perfectly.

  • Aaron

    I read where Arric Murray is listed as one of the most underrated players in the nation at Texas Southern. After going to rehab, he is now averaging 23.8 points per game, 8.2 rebounds and 2.3 blocked shots per game.

    While he has rehabilitated his image, his team is 9-13 so he's not improved that part of his game. It's too bad that it took Coach Huggins dismissing him from WVU for him to get his act together.

  • mad hatter

    we have no bigs,,,,,we have big shoe size,,,,,,that it,,,,,dibo cn not keep up and nate just had his best game,,,,,he can not repeat that any time soon,,,,,going to be hard,,,,,nit maybe but not if we go back to way we played before,,,,,

  • JAke

    Everthing is bigger in texas ... Even being petty about their longhorn network... Eat CA CA texas.. I can sure listen on the radio

  • Leroy j gibbs

    So will we be able to watch this game or not, ?

  • Mountain Navy

    They need to get to at least 19 wins and win a few games in the big 12 tourney.

  • Jake

    Just heard on radio that the texas game will not be televised because it will only be carried on texas espn network which is not broadcasted in wv.that sucks in so many ways... Espn just lost a loyal viewer . I can always find a ballgame to watch on another network ...

  • MountainMover

    These guys have come a long way, they are definitely improved and they'll continue to improve. They shot the lights out the other night and that's just not going to happen all that often. But they got ahead and stayed ahead. They kept their foot on the gas the whole time which was fun to watch. They have an outside shot and if they get in they'll be one of those teams no one will want to play.

  • tw eagle

    unless the Mountaineers fall back into their lackluster 'me first' style of play , they will undoubtedly play in the NIT tournament . . .
    which , with the Mounties growing proficiency at team play , I'd think they would be sure favorite to win this postseason play. . .

    I liken these Mounties to a 'wagon wheel' . . . stuck in a rut for a time . . . and now freed to roll ,they are gaining momentum, speed, and proficiency by the day . . .

    every Mountaineers game has grown . . .proving that a well balanced 'whole' is more effective than a group with a few outstanding talents . . .

    Staten has grown from a high energy, high scoring dynamo into the 'hub' for this Mountaineer team . . . managing and distributing the ball on offense till one of the Mounties has a good open look . . .

    with the guard from OSU having derailed his XII honors by exhibiting some ugly childish behaviors , I'd think Staten is in line for some positive recognition from the XII . . .

    even with the daunting schedule looming , I would not count out these Mounties from attaining an at-large spot in the BIG dance . . .

    Let's Gooo Mountaineeerrrsss ! ! !

  • Mitch

    @Jay zoom and Sasquatch,
    So how would WVRC get the Longhorn Network to share the broadcast? Texas wouldn't do that for WVRC, IMG or Dr. Naismith for that matter. Get a clue.

    • tw eagle

      heard a rumor that WVU vs texas will be delayed till 9pm eastern so that it can be broadcast after K St vs Baylor match . . . hold up is buyout price of game already scheduled in that slot . . .

  • Hookemhorns

    The party's over eeers. You're leaving Austin with another loss. The bubble will burst.

    • tw eagle

      the longhorns were lucky to hit TDcity before the Mounties 'hit their stride' . . . the only way texas beats the Mounties in Austin is with a giant helping whistle from the XII officiating crew . . . if officiating form holds true to the Mounties prior western swing , the refs will hamstring our forwards with early foul trouble . . .opening the lane for easy points by the horns . . .

  • Country Roads

    Question ?? Would anyone know or be able to say if Texas has the last say who televise their games ? I have checked everything that I can see and they are not going to be on regular TV. HELP METRO NEWS?