MORGANTOWN, W.Va. — Time is limited, but there’s plenty of opportunity for West Virginia to make a push into the postseason.
The Mountaineers hope to spark this push to the NCAA Tournament with a win in its clash on Saturday with Oklahoma. Tip-off is set for 8 p.m. ET and the game will be shown on ESPN2 (after starting on ESPNews.).
WVU (13-9, 2-7 Big 12) sits on the edge of the NCAA Tournament field. ESPN’s Joe Lunardi slotted the squad as one of the “last four in,” setting up a play-in game as an 11-seed.
Oklahoma (12-10, 2-7) is on the other side of that proverbial coin as one of Lunardi’s “first four out,” meaning they are on the top of the list of teams that wouldn’t make the NCAA Tournament. Given each team’s rocky start to their Big 12 schedules, they will need a strong finish for their last four games.
WVU is well aware of this, as players and coaches remind themselves daily about their standing in the prospective field.
“We have the little board in the locker room [where we put our] conference record, but wherever we’re doing film, our meeting for the day, on the whiteboard they’ll have all the standings,” said guard Erik Stevenson. “They’ll have our record, our wins, our losses, our quad 1, 2, 3, 4 games, our NET, sometimes our KenPom….If you don’t know what’s going on, you’re just not paying attention.”
Stevenson surmises that West Virginia needs five more wins to make the tournament safely. Coach Bob Huggins also believes that 18 wins would earn his team a bid, but he has a much simpler goal in mind.
“We’ve got to win,” Huggins said.
WVU has a difficult stretch ahead. Six of its final nine opponents are ranked inside the top-13 in the AP Poll, and of the remaining three, two defeated the Mountaineers earlier this season.
West Virginia gets one crack at revenge on Saturday when it hosts the Sooners. Porter Moser’s team has hit a rough stretch since its Jan. 14 win over WVU, winning just one out of its five games since the first leg. That one win was a massive upset of No. 4 Alabama, but the Sooners have not defeated a Big 12 opponent since facing WVU.
Regardless of the slump, it is difficult to beat a team twice in one season, as West Virginia found out on Tuesday. This time around, the Sooners will have to go up against a sold-out WVU Coliseum crowd.
“You hope that the building is enthusiastic, hopefully, that the fans show up, the students show up and there’s excitement in the building. That helps considerably,” Huggins said. “If [the players] don’t understand the position that they’ve put themselves in now, I’m not sure that they’ll ever understand.”
WVU and Oklahoma will square off at 8 p.m. ET, the tail-end of a hoops doubleheader with the Sooners, as the Mountaineer women’s team will face the Sooners in Norman on Saturday afternoon.