MORGANTOWN, W.Va. — Qualifying for the NCAA Tournament is a bit of an inexact science. It takes putting together a schedule that is challenging enough in the offseason, and then taking care of business on the court against that schedule once the season gets underway.
Depending on the conference a team plays in, a benchmark number of wins is necessary to have a chance at earning an at-large bid. In other conferences, it largely comes down to what a team does in the league tournament. Specifically, a team likely must win its conference tournament in order to participate in March Madness.
Dawn Plitzuweit has been on that side of the college basketball spectrum as a head coach. This year, she’s getting her first taste of being on the other side – where a berth to the national tournament doesn’t come down to whether or not her team wins the conference tournament in March.
“It’s a complete flip. It’s totally different,” Plitzuweit said when asked about the subject.
For the past six years, Plitzuweit coached at South Dakota in the Summitt League. It’s a conference that produced no more than two bids to the NCAA Division I women’s basketball tournament in any of the six years she coached in it.
Plitzuweit coached South Dakota to the big dance each of her last four years there, including in 2020 when the Coyotes won the Summitt League title prior to the rest of the season being canceled by the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic.
After taking the job at West Virginia (15-8, 6-6 Big 12), she entered a Big 12 Conference that hasn’t produced fewer than four NCAA Tournament teams in any season since the Mountaineers joined the league.
“That’s the fun part about playing in the Big 12, honestly, is that you’re playing against great teams, and you have a chance to not only improve your team, but you know, to make something happen and let people know that we can play a little bit, too,” Plitzuweit said.
With less than one month left in the regular season, Coach P’s crew bolstered its postseason résumé Saturday with a win over No. 21 Iowa State. It marked West Virginia’s second win over a nationally-ranked team this season, and improved the program’s NCAA Net ranking eight spots, up to 66.
“That’s what I told our coaches going into this game is, we have a great opportunity,” WVU’s first-year head coach stated.
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When asked about what the win over ISU does for her team, she added, “Regardless of what the outcome of the game was, and the certainly the outcome is favorable and it’s great for our team, for our program, but the reality is we needed to adjust some things and be a gritty team defensively.”
WVU is 10-2 at home, 3-1 at a neutral site, and 2-5 in true road games. Three of those road losses have come against nationally ranked teams. The Mountaineers are 2-5 against ranked teams, and are likely to have at least two more contests against ranked opponents.
Plitzuweit is tasked with returning the Mountaineers to the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 2021. WVU has played in the national tournament just once over the last five years, and missed out on the postseason in two of the last three years.
The Mountaineers are currently tied for sixth place in the Big 12 Conference standings, and are just one game back of fourth place.
West Virginia was not featured in ESPN’s latest NCAA Tournament projections.