Head basketball coach Roberto Huggins doesn’t play games when it comes to updating his team on its chances to reach the NCAA tournament. He lets them know right down to the decimals of the RPI what each game means.
Some coaches don’t want their players to feel pressure so they speak in generalities. Not Huggs. In his view, knowledge is power and it probably doesn’t hurt his team’s motivation and focus.
Earlier this week, I chatted with Jerry Palm. He’s well respected in the wonderful world of Bracketology. He doesn’t have a sweet nickname like ESPN’s Joe Lunardi, aka Joey Brackets, but he’s right there in foretelling the tournament pairings.
In Palm’s view, the Mountaineers need a minimum of 19 wins before Selection Sunday. That means to feel really comfortable, WVU needs to win four of its last six regular season games before heading to Kansas City for the Big 12 tournament. Anything less and we’re going to KC walking a tightrope.
I buy what the Palm reader is selling. If you do the math, anything less than winning four of the last six will leave the Mountaineers with 13 to 14 losses and that likely will be too many for the committee. That’s because WVU failed to get any significant non-conference wins. Yes, the schedule was very challenging; WVU didn’t run away from good competition, but, as Huggs will often say, you just can’t play good teams, you have to beat some of them.
It’s been great to watch this team grow from its knock-kneed meltdown in Blacksburg to the surgical dissection of nationally ranked Iowa State, but you still have to deal with the consequences of your past.
If the Mountaineers were not playing in the best conference in the country - not my opinion but my impartial expert buddy Jerry Palm - we probably wouldn’t be having this conversation. WVU has something many other bubble teams don’t, and that’s multiple chances still remaining on its schedule to significantly improve its resume.
Will it be hard? Absolutely. But that’s okay. These are the kind of challenges that WVU basketball has faced and overcome before. The 2005 Mountaineers were clinging to the bubble after losing their regular season finale to Seton Hall. They endured travel obstacles getting to the Big East tournament that bordered on a sequel to Planes, Trains, and Automobiles.
Their 16-hour journey got them to their hotel past midnight and they played the next afternoon at 2 p.m. West Virginia proceeded to pound Providence, regular season champion Boston College and then edged nationally ranked Villanova at the finish line to reach the title game for the first time in school history. We’ll save the rest of the magical March run for another time.
But you get the point, the Big 12, like the wonderful old Big East, presents you with opportunities, and that’s really all you could ever want.