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WVU Bracketology: Huggins looking ahead, hoping to keep NCAA Tournament hopes alive

After losing to No. 6 Kansas 71-58 on Saturday, West Virginia knows where they stand, but they are starting to run out of time if they want to make it back to the NCAA Tournament.

Currently, West Virginia stands firmly outside of the bubble for the NCAA Tournament field. The Mountaineers, losers of 10 of their last 11 are currently 14-12, and are 3-10 in conference play. West Virginia is also 1-7 away from the WVU Coliseum, and is currently 2-11 in Quad 1 games, while having six guaranteed games left to play.

A team that sits just two games above .500 usually does not have a chance at the tournament just 10 days before March, but due to how deep the Big 12 is this season, with five regular season games and one conference tournament game remaining, the window of opportunity for West Virginia is anything but shut.

“If win these five or even four out of these five, there’s a real good shot we get into the tournament and that’s our goal. We’re not trying to settle for anything, the goal is to win all five, if we can get four, I think four is the magic number, that’s kind of what we talked about down there. So, we’re still not out of it,” Sean McNeil said after the loss to Kansas.

“There’s pros and cons to this league, this year, everybody’s really good so that plays into our favor. Oklahoma is 14-13 right now, and they’re considered to be in the NCAA Tournament. We’re struggling but we’re not out,” McNeil added.

To McNeil’s credit, Oklahoma who sits just one game ahead of the Mountaineers in the Big 12 standings lost by 21 to Iowa State on Saturday, and as of Saturday night, the Sooners are considered an 11 seed in the NCAA Tournament by ESPN’s Joe Lunardi.

McNeil also stated how West Virginia’s ‘magic number’ sits at four or five wins. If the Mountaineers get for more victories, they will have 18 wins. Getting to 18 wins gives West Virginia a 98.9% chance to get into the NCAA Tournament according to TeamRankings.com. If West Virginia wins three more games, the Mountaineers will be sitting at a 89.3% chance to be playing in March.

“Contrary to popular belief, we’re not out of it,” West Virginia head coach Bob Huggins said. “Oklahoma’s 14-13, and they’re still in the NCAA Tournament according to the prognosticators. If they can be in, we sure ought to be in.”

Currently, nine of the ten teams in the Big 12 are eligible for the NCAA Tournament and as of Saturday night only two of those nine are not projected to be in the field according to Lunardi (West Virginia and Kansas State).

West Virginia continues a stretch of four games in eight days as they travel to face TCU on Monday. The Horned Frogs (16-8, 5-7 Big 12) are coming off 10-point loss to Baylor on Saturday and are currently a No. 10 seed in the tournament according to Lunardi.

No matter who West Virginia faces from here on out, the time is now for the Mountaineers and they know if they don’t start winning this week, they can kiss any tournament hopes goodbye.

“We have to go take care of business. If we go and play three games in a week, and if we lose two of the three, we’re probably done,” Huggins said. There’s still opportunity there. As long as there’s opportunity, there’s a chance to keep fighting. We’re going to keep fighting.”

Photo by Dale Sparks, All Pro Photography

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