MORGANTOWN, W.Va. — There’s a fine line between troubled and doomed, and West Virginia finds itself on the correct side of that border even in the midst of its ugly finish to February.
There is an understandable amount of handwringing going around the WVU fan base right now, and it is entirely warranted following back-to-back road losses against a pair of teams the Mountaineers blew off the floor by a combined 70 points just one month prior.
But it’s also important to keep at least a sliver of perspective regarding West Virginia’s postseason future, which is in no way doomed even if the Mountaineers fail to win another game in the regular season.
Monday’s loss to Texas dropped West Virginia into a three-way tie for fourth place, raising the possibility that the Mountaineers could plummet all the way down to the No. 7 seed in the Big 12 tournament. Bob Huggins has already talked about how vital it is for West Virginia to maintain a top-6 seed so it doesn’t have to play four games in four days.
“Getting a bye in a conference tournament is important,” Huggins said last week. “Four games in four days is tough.”
That path is extremely unlikely to happen.
It is true that West Virginia is only a game up on the current seventh-seed, TCU. But the Horned Frogs finish with Baylor, Kansas and Oklahoma. TCU will not be favored to win any of those games, and probably only has a chance against the Sooners at home.
In the event TCU beats Oklahoma and West Virginia loses out, the sixth-seed would be determined by a tiebreaker of best conference road win. Improbably, WVU’s win over Oklahoma State would trump TCU’s win over Kansas State.
Then there’s the matter of the NCAA tournament.
Despite its recent struggles, West Virginia remains 16th in the NCAA’s NET rankings — mostly because the numbers don’t judge teams as harshly for road losses.
And though losses to No. 49 Oklahoma and No. 80 Iowa State would do some damage, the fact that No. 2 Baylor is in the mix controls how far WVU would plummet. With No. 21 Texas Tech looming as the probable first-round Big 12 tourney opponent if the Mountaineers lose their next three, it is inconceivable that West Virginia would fall out of the NCAA field.
Based on resumes of other schools fighting to reach this year’s tournament, it is incredibly unlikely that West Virginia would even be considered as a bubble team. A 10-seed is probably the worst-case scenario facing the Mountaineers.
West Virginia’s current tailspin is equally frustrating and vexing. Right now the only comfort fans can take is knowing that two of the final three games are at home, and outside of the final six minutes against No. 1 Kansas, the Mountaineers have not resembled the team they are on the road when playing at WVU Coliseum.
But even if this team truly is down for the count, it has already put in enough work to safely continue its season in the NCAA tournament — no matter how awkwardly it arrives there.