Columns/Opinion, Men's Basketball, Opinion, WVU Sports

COLUMN: Believe it or not, WVU’s NCAA bid has a lot to do with Pitt’s unexpected success

MORGANTOWN — It’s been one wild, weird and remarkable journey that only needs an ending.

All the other boxes have already been checked off in the story that is this WVU men’s basketball team.

At different times throughout this season, this group of Mountaineers have filled both ends of the spectrum, from heroes to being left for dead.

As far as the end of this journey, a nice bow could be tied at 2 p.m. Saturday, when WVU (17-13, 6-11 Big 12) hosts 11th-ranked Kansas State, in a game that suddenly holds a ton of meaning.

We’ll begin there, with the facts, as they say, as a victory against the Wildcats coupled with a Texas Tech win over Oklahoma State would mean WVU will finish seventh in the Big 12.

The Mountaineers were picked ninth back in October, the beginning of their journey that’s been anything unlike what one would expect from a team with such low expectations from its peers.

It’s now March, and instead of rolling over and playing dead, WVU is now on the cusp of a bid to the 2023 NCAA tournament just one season after missing out on the postseason altogether.

And this is where weird sets in, because when all of this is said and done, WVU needs to send one hell of a gift basket to ….


Yes, the hated Panthers and their surprising run to the top of the ACC standings and a No. 25 national ranking are the No. 1 reason the Mountaineers are still in position to play in the NCAA tournament.

It seems like ages ago when the Mountaineers traveled to the Petersen Events Center and handed Pitt a 25-point whooping.

How long ago was it? Shane Lyons was still WVU’s athletic director. Larry Harrison was still a trusted assistant on the men’s basketball team. Both have since been let go.

At that time, it was a ho-hum victory to everyone else outside of West Virginia.

Pitt’s national reputation was probably a few steps below Marshall back then, but obviously no more.

Pitt now represents one of the Mountaineers’ five Quad 1 victories in the latest NCAA NET rankings, used to determine the field of 68 for the NCAA tournament.

WVU has played 17 Quad 1 games in all, behind only Baylor (18) and Kansas (20), and it’s that strength of schedule that is the backbone to the Mountaineers’ inclusion to the NCAA tournament.

There are other arguments to be made, including two quality wins against Iowa State and two others against TCU and Auburn, both ranked No. 15 in the nation at the time.

But, let’s get real for a moment. Iowa State is slipping. TCU will likely finish .500 in Big 12 play. Auburn has won just three basically meaningless games since losing to WVU and has fallen off the map.

There’s Walmart quality and then there’s Saks Fifth Avenue quality, and WVU’s best wins are somewhere in between.

Except for Pitt, which according to the NET, is ranked below every Big 12 school minus Oklahoma and Texas Tech. At No. 52, the Panthers are 16 spots behind previously mentioned Auburn.

Yet, if you were a member of the NCAA selection committee, what would sound more impressive: A win over the first-place team from the ACC or a victory against the sixth- or seventh-best team from the SEC?

WVU’s NET ranking on Tuesday, by the way, is No. 23, sixth among Big 12 schools.

A win against K-State on Saturday would seemingly be enough to put the Mountaineers in the no-brainer category for the NCAA tourney.

If WVU gets there, the Mountaineers will have earned it, definitely, but a thankful nod should also go to their rivals up I-79.

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