Men's Basketball, WVU Sports

WVU’s quest for NCAA tournament comes down to winning out at home, reaching 18 wins

MORGANTOWN — Erik Stevenson’s college hoops career has spanned 147 games over five seasons and four schools, yet he’s never played in the NCAA tournament.

“I’ll be crushed if I don’t get there once,” the WVU guard said Friday.

The closest he’s been to a Final Four is the NIT’s version during his freshman year at Wichita State.


The closest he’s been to a NCAA-tournament bracket are the one’s he’s filled out, he said, since he was 10 years old.

The topic of what the Mountaineers (13-9, 2-7 Big 12) need to accomplish down the stretch to reach the 2023 NCAAs, Stevenson said, was recently discussed among the players.

“We were talking (Thursday), trying to calculate how many wins we need to get a certain seed or just to be safely in the tournament,” Stevenson said.

The consensus?

“In my opinion, I’d say 18 wins to be sure is safe,” Stevenson said. “Especially with our strength of schedule. I’d say 18 is the number to get in safely, 19 probably gets us an eight seed and 20 would give us a six-seed or better. It’s doable. We’ve got nine games left, none of them will be easy.”

There is a plan, though, at least in the eyes of the WVU players. It doesn’t call for wild scenarios like going on the road and beating Kansas or Baylor, although that wouldn’t hurt.

“We take care of business at home, we’ll be in for sure,” is the way Stevenson laid it out.

WVU’s got five home games remaining in the regular season, beginning with today’s 8 p.m. against Oklahoma (12-10, 2-7) inside the Coliseum.

The matchup would appear to be more favorable compared to what lies ahead in the Big 12 gauntlet for WVU.

Yet there is no smooth sailing in Big 12 play. West Virginia hasn’t beaten the Sooners since the 2019 Big 12 tournament and the Sooners held off WVU 77-76 last month in what was a game filled with bizarre stats and questionable plays at the end.

It certainly presents a must-win situation for the Mountaineers, who are trying to come back after a poor performance on Tuesday against TCU.

“We’ve got to win,” WVU head coach Bob Huggins said. “It’s going to be that way the rest of the way out. We need to win. There’s no sense in lying to them.

“You would think 18 would get us in, in that we’re playing in the hardest league in the country and we played pretty well in the nonconference.”

WVU’s defense had a letdown against TCU and in the first meeting against the Sooners.

TCU scored 48 points in the paint off a collection of lay-ups and transition points.

“We gave up way too many easy points (against TCU),” Stevenson said. “I think they had 18 lay-ups. You’re not going to win that way. We have to tighten up defensively. We’ve done it, but we’ve got to do it more consistently.”

In the first meeting against Oklahoma, the Sooners were held without a basket for the final 6:12 of the game, yet the Sooners still shot 55.6% from the field and made nine 3-pointers.

Stevenson forced up a tough 3-pointer coming out of a timeout late in the game that didn’t have a chance and WVU was just 8 of 16 at the foul line in a one-point loss.

It was one game in a long line of seven-straight defeats against the Sooners, something Huggins said he’d rather not think about.

“I honestly don’t remember seven of them. It’s unusual for me not to recall pretty much what happens,” he said. “I guess I’ve blocked it out.”

NOTE: The WVU-Oklahoma telecast will begin on ESPNews at 8 p.m. and will then switch to ESPN2.

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WHEN: 8 p.m., Saturday
WHERE: WVU Coliseum
TV: ESPN2 (Comcast 36, HD 851; DirecTV 209; DISH 143)