West Virginia University’s Basketball Team was perhaps on the verge of seeing its fine season come off the tracks on Sunday. An improbable 87-84 overtime win over Providence ended a three game losing streak. It was the first three game losing streak since Coach Bob Huggins arrived at WVU in 2007. A loss to Providence, the last place team in the Big East, could have had a devastating effect on the outcome of the season.
That fourth loss loomed large for most of the game too. Providence was running rings around the Mountaineers in the early going and jumped to a 15-point lead. West Virginia worked its way back into the game and trailed by just six points at halftime.
A Providence spurt at the beginning of the second half sent the Mountaineers down by double digits again, but the Mountaineers clawed their way back into the game again. A Truck Bryant three-point basket with four seconds left in overtime provided the margin of victory in the comeback win.
To say a loss Sunday would cost the Mountaineers a spot in the NCAA tournament would be premature, because there are still seven regular games left to play. A loss, however, would have done serious damage to those hopes. WVU would have been left with a 15-9 record overall and 5-6 in the Big East. The real issue then would become how West Virginia could regroup to win four of seven games and get into the tournament?
Even with the win, WVU still has work to do to make the field; just how much work they have to do is the question. Monday’s RPI has WVU 24th with a schedule strength of sixth. Most of the time a team with a decent strength of schedule will figure on 20 as the magic number of wins needed for inclusion. Sometimes a team’s resume will be strong enough for a team to get consideration with 19, and possibly even18 wins.
West Virginia would seem to be in a position where 19 wins will get them strong consideration for a berth in the tournament, but to feel comfortable on selection Sunday, they want at least 20. Two weeks ago 20 wins looked like a lock. Looking at the schedule going to St. John’s, at Syracuse, home with Pitt and at Providence even a pessimist would have had WVU going 2-2 in those games while 3-1 seemed likely. Well, they went 1-3 and now all kinds of possibilities have emerged.
After watching this team in those four games, including a stinker at home against Pitt, only the game at home against co-cellar dweller DePaul looks like a game where WVU will be a solid favorite. Five of the seven remaining games are against teams ahead of WVU in the Big East standings and one is at surging Pitt. West Virginia has an excellent chance to get back on the fast track with a pair of home games this week, but they won’t be easy.
Notre Dame, Wednesday at 9 p.m., and Louisville, Saturday at noon, will visit the Coliseum this week and it would be huge if WVU can somehow win those two games. WVU then returns games at Pitt and Notre Dame. Marquette and DePaul will visit Morgantown before WVU finishes the regular season at South Florida against the surprising Bulls.
The remaining schedule can be viewed as a great opportunity, because a successful run through that gauntlet will elevate the WVU seeding to a high level. One thing seems certain and that is West Virginia will need to be improved from the team that we’ve seen the last two weeks.