by Jim Buzzerd
It appears the West Virginia University men’s basketball team has punched its ticket to the NCAA’s Big Dance with Saturday’s 89-81 win over Kansas State. The Mountaineers are the eight seed in this week’s Big 12 Tournament in Kansas City and will play the tournament’s opening game against nine seed Texas Tech Wednesday night at 7:00 on ESPNU. The winner advances to Thursday’s 2:00 PM game against top seeded Kansas.
The Mountaineers close the regular season with an 18-13 record overall and 7-11 in the Big 12. While neither are impressive at first glance, a look at some of the metrics used by the selection committee and various bracketologists, can explain why WVU is getting respect. The Mountaineers are ranked 24th nationally in the NET rankings.
The NET rankings (NCAA Evaluation Tool) are used to look at a team’s record and résumé and replaced the somewhat unpopular RPI (Ratings Power Index) used for years as an evaluating measuring stick by the selection committee. Additionally, the Mountaineers strength of schedule is rated sixth nationally. In NET strength of schedule ratings, the Mountaineers are rated with the toughest schedule in the country.
Saturday’s win was special for three seniors on Senior Day. Erik Stevenson had 27 points, five assists and two steals. Kedrian Johnson had a career high 23 points, six assists and was a stud at the foul line going 14-15. Emmitt Matthews has played very well lately, and Saturday may have been his best overall performance, which is saying something because his effort last Monday at Iowa State was very good.
Matthews, who left WVU and spent last season at Washington, came back to Morgantown for his senior season and finished in style with 20 points, six rebounds, two blocks and four steals while playing all 40 minutes. In addition to the three seniors above, Jimmy Bell, Tre Mitchell and Joe Toussaint also walked with the seniors on Saturday, but the latter three have the option to return next season.
Indications are the Mountaineers have found something they were missing at times this season. They finished winning three of four games with the only loss being a two-point decision at Kansas.
“You go through this league, you better get better,” West Virginia head coach Bob Huggins said. “We’ve gotten a lot better, and our older guys have really stepped up. It’s new and different for everybody. You can get guys out of the portal and go get junior college guys like we went and got Jimmy Bell, you can take transfers and you can take freshmen and put all of those guys together. I wanted to take at least a freshman that could grow with us and he has. It’s just different. It’s a whole lot different than what any of us have been used to.”
I’ll keep an eye on this, but I was reading a discussion on the NET rankings discussed above and one of the parties suggested that West Virginia could become the highest rated 13 loss team in D1 history.