West Virginia will play in the school’s eighth Big 12 tournament Thursday night when the sixth-seeded Mountaineers open play against third-seed Oklahoma.
A question to ponder as the No. 22-ranked Mountaineers (21-10, 9-9 Big 12) prepare for their eighth Big 12 tournament: Does it matter?
Obviously, a Big 12 tournament championship would be a great trophy to bring back to Morgantown. WVU has fallen short of its championship aspirations in its first seven appearances. West Virginia hasn’t won a conference tournament championship since winning the Big East tournament title in 2010.
But in terms of their standing for the NCAA Tournament next week, does what the Mountaineers do in Kansas City really matter?
Recent history says no.
Since joining the Big 12 Conference beginning with the 2012-13 season, the West Virginia Men’s Basketball team has earned a spot in the NCAA Tournament four times – 2015, 2016, 2017 and 2018.
In each of those seasons, it appears that the Mountaineers performance in Kansas City had little bearing on where the selection committee seeded West Virginia.
To attempt to determine how the Mountaineers conference tournament performance affected (or didn’t affect) their NCAA Tournament seeding, we used WVU’s final regular-season projection on the bracketology site the Bracket Matrix https://www.bracketmatrix.com/ and compared it with where West Virginia was actually seeded in the NCAA Tournament. We used the Bracket Matrix because it is a conglomeration of about 100 different forecasts. “Wisdom of the Crowd” https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Wisdom_of_Crowds and all that.
In the four previous seasons WVU earned NCAA Tournament bids as a member of the Big 12, there were two different – and widely varied – results. Three times (2016, 2017 and 2018) the Mountaineers advanced to the tournament finals before losing. The other (2015) they lost in their first game (Baylor, 80-70).
In 2016, the Bracket Matrix projected WVU as a No. 2 seed. After a strong run to the Big 12 tournament finals, the Mountaineers were below the projections as a No. 3 seed in the NCAA Tournament.
In 2017, the Bracket Matrix projected WVU as a No. 4 seed. After a strong run to the Big 12 tournament finals, the Mountaineers were a No. 4 seed in the NCAA Tournament, in line with the pre-tournament projection.
In 2018, the Bracket Matrix projected WVU as a No. 4 seed. After a strong run to the Big 12 tournament finals, the Mountaineers were down a line as a No. 5 seed.
A strong effort in the Big 12 tournament hasn’t appeared to pay off for WVU in regards to NCAA Tournament seeding.
But what about a weak conference tournament performance?
In 2015, the Bracket Matrix projected WVU as a No. 5 seed. After a one-and-done in the Big 12 tournament, the Mountaineers were a No. 5 seed in the NCAA Tournament. No drop off.
Let’s look at the last time WVU took home the big prize in the conference tournament.
In 2010, the Bracket Matrix projected WVU as a No. 2 seed. After winning the Big East Conference tournament in Madison Square Garden, the Mountaineers were a No. 2 seed in the NCAA Tournament.
Even winning the title didn’t sway the committee to upgrade WVU.
Entrance to and seeding in the NCAA Tournament is a long game. The committee has shown in the past decade plus that it values what a team does over the long haul, home and away, rather than what happens in a condensed three- or four-day format on a neutral court.
West Virginia will be in the Big Dance this year. Where they go dancing – and against whom – likely won’t change based on what the Mountaineers do this week.