West Virginia may or may not have to play in the NCAA Tournament play-in game in Dayton, Ohio, in a little more than two weeks.
But it’s quite possible that the Mountaineers (19-10, 7-9 Big 12) game at Iowa State on Tuesday will serve as a de facto NCAA Tournament play-in game.
At least for them.
It’s unthinkable that we’re having this discussion. On Feb. 8, the NCAA Tournament Selection Committee had the Mountaineers as a No. 2 seed in its early reveal release. On March 1, West Virginia is staring into the abyss that is the NIT.
West Virginia is 1-6 since that early reveal. It’s nearly impossible for a team to play itself from a No. 2 seed into a bubble team in less than a month.
Yet here we are.
How unprecedented is this slide? If the Mountaineers don’t make the tournament, they will be the only one of the 64 teams to earn a spot on the early reveal to miss out completely. And they will have done it as one of the best eight teams in the country at the time.
Before Saturday’s 73-62 home loss to Oklahoma, ESPN’s Joe Lunardi had West Virginia as a No. 7 seed. A home loss to a bubble team (Lunardi had the Sooners as one of his “last four in”) likely drops WVU a seed or two. WVU will likely go into the Iowa State game as a projected No. 8-10 seed, depending on the prognostication.
A loss to a terrible Iowa State team will plummet those projections further.
The lowest seeded at-large teams are usually seeded 11th. Lower than that, hello NIT.
After Iowa State, WVU closes the season hosting No. 2 Baylor, a team that beat the Mountaineers, 70-59, in Waco, Texas, on Feb. 15. The game wasn’t as close as the score suggests.
Any realistic hope for a win there?
That leaves Iowa State as the game the Mountaineers have the best chance of winning.
If WVU loses to both Iowa State and Baylor, the Mountaineers will be a No. 7 seed in the Big 12 Tournament and will not get a bye. Even if they beat Iowa State and lose to Baylor, they would need TCU to lose one of its remaining games – at Kansas and at home against Oklahoma – just to get a Big 12 Tournament bye.
A team that a little more than three weeks ago the official NCAA Tournament Selection Committee deemed to be one of the best eight in the country faces a likely do-for-die game against a 12-17 team that’s in next to last place in its conference.
In a season filled with inexplicable turns, this might be the most unfathomable of all.