From WVU's perspective, the final weekend of college basketball's regular season is shaping up to be a lot like the final weekend of college football's regular season: plenty of unknowns and intrigue, with WVU's fate riding both on how the Mountaineers fare and on how everyone else around them in the standings fares. And with a slew of tough games on tap for the weekend (including those that don't appear at first glance to be tough---I'm looking at you, St. John's v. Seton Hall), there is much left to be decided as we head into the Big East Tournament next week at Madison Square Garden. And because I'm such a huge fan of Big East basketball (and even bigger nerd), I've decided to break down this weekend's Big East slate and try to project where WVU could finish based on different potential outcomes.
Here are the current standings and matchups for this weekend:
Pitt (14-3) v.Villanova
Notre Dame (13-4) v. UConn
Louisville (12-5) @ WVU
Syracuse (11-6) @ DePaul
St. Johns (11-6) @ USF
WVU (10-7) v. Louisville
Cincinnati (10-7) v. Georgetown
Georgetown (10-7) @ Cincinnati
UConn (9-8) @ Notre Dame
Villanova (9-8) @ Pitt
Marquette (9-8) @ Seton Hall
Seton Hall (6-11) v. Marquette
Rutgers (5-12) v. Providence
Providence (3-14) @ Rutgers
USF (3-14) v. St. Johns
DePaul (1-16) v. Syracuse
Again, just looking at this from WVU's perspective, there is no way WVU can finish in the top 3. The best the Mountaineers can do is tie for 4th, and that would require losses by Syracuse and St. Johns to the two worst teams in the league. Not likely, but anything is possible. The worst WVU could do is finish in a 5-day tie for 7th. Right now, WVU must concern itself with Syracuse, St. Johns, Cincinnati, Georgetown, UConn, Villanova, and Marquette, who are all jockeying for position and a first-round bye in the tournament. That's a lot of jockeying. How that all shakes out depends, obviously, on tiebreakers. Let's break it down after the jump.
Two-way ties are based on head-to-head results. In WVU's case, that makes things easy because the only team it could conceivably split the season series with---Lousiville---is 2 games up in the standings, making it impossible for WVU and the Cardinals to have the same record.
Here, WVU owns the head-to-head tiebreaker over Cincinnati and Georgetown, who are both tied with WVU in the standings. WVU also owns the head-to-head over UConn, but would lose 2-team tiebreakers with Syracuse, St. Johns, Villanova, and Marquette.
First off, WVU is going to finish tied with at least either Cincinnati or Georgetown. One of those teams will win to get to 11-7 and the other will lose to fall to 10-8. If WVU wins, it will tie at 11-7 and if it loses will tie at 10-8. Fortunately, WVU holds the tiebreaker over both of them and would come out ahead as long as no other teams are tied with them.
Just looking at the standings, a 2-way tie does not seem all that far-fetched. Syracuse and St. Johns will likely beat DePaul and USF, respectively, to get to 12-6. If WVU wins, it will then tie at 11-7 with the Cincinnati-Georgetown winner and, by nature of its win over those teams, wind up as the #6 seed.
A WVU loss would drop it to 10-8 and into a tie with the Cincinnati-Georgetown loser. For a 2-way tie to happen in this scenario, UConn, Villanova, and Marquette would all have to lose as well. Probably not likely, but possible with all 3 on the road facing Notre Dame, Pitt, and a suddenly dangerous Seton Hall team. If that happens, WVU would wind up as the #7 seed and the Cincinnati-Georgetown loser would take the #8 seed.
The much more complicated and, therefore, likely scenario. Similar to football, the BE uses the mini-conference system to compare each team's winning percentage against the other teams it's tied with. If teams have the same winning percentage, the tiebreaker goes to the head-to-head winner. Without getting into the details, I'll do my best to evaluate all the scenarios, at least in a generalized fashion.
If WVU wins, it would require losses by Syracuse and/or St. Johns to force either a 4-way tie for 4th place or a 3-way tie for 5th place. Obviously the outcome would depend on which teams are tied. St. John's beat WVU, lost to Syracuse, and split with both Cincinnati and Georgetown. Syracuse beat WVU, St. Johns, and Cincinnati and split with Georgetown. Georgetown lost to WVU, split with Syracuse and split with St. Johns. Cincinnati lost to WVU and Syracuse and split with St. Johns. WVU lost to both Syracuse and St. Johns and beat both Georgetown and Cincinnati. Under any scenario, WVU would finish behind Syracuse and St. Johns and ahead of Cincinnati. It would also finish ahead of Georgetown in the case of a 3-way tie. A win and WVU is most likely the #6 seed.
The danger, however, would be in a 4-way tie involving Syracuse, St. Johns, WVU, and Georgetown. Because Georgetown split with both Syracuse and St. Johns, its mini-conference record would be 2-3 (.400), while WVU's record would be 1-2 (.333), WVU would finish last in that scenario and fall to the #7 seed.
At this point, my head is starting to hurt. Maybe it's the fact that I'd rather attempt to determine the square root of pi than look at a scenario involving a WVU loss or maybe it's the copious amount of Bud Light I drank last night after dodgeball, I'm not quite sure. Here goes nothing:
A WVU loss would drop it into a tie with the Cincinnati-Georgetown loser and whichever current 9-8 teams emerge victorious this weekend: UConn, Villanova, and Marquette. The tie would be for 7th place, and the seeding would depend on the number of teams tied.
WVU lost to Villanova and Marquette and beat Cincinnati, Georgetown, and UConn.
Cincinnati lost to Villanova, WVU, and UConn, and beat Marquette.
Georgetown lost to WVU and UConn, and beat Marquette and Villanova.
UConn lost to WVU, split with Marquette, and beat Cincinnati, Georgetown, and Villanova.
Villanova lost to Georgetown and UConn, and beat WVU, Marquette, and Cincinnati.
Marquette lost to Cincinnati, Georgetown, and Villanova, split with UConn, and beat WVU.
In this scenario, Villanova and Marquette are the dangerous teams for WVU's seeding chances. A tie involving either of them could drop WVU's mini-conference record to .500 or worse. There are actually 14 different scenarios that could emerge here: WVU + (Cincinnati-Georgetown loser) + (Any combination of UConn and/or Villanova and/or Marquette). WVU will always have a win over the Cincinnati-Georgetown loser, which is nice, but depending on who from that group of 3 makes it in, WVU could have a winning percentage of anywhere between 1.000 (in a 3-way tie involving UConn) and .333 (in a 4-way tie involving Marquette and Villanova).
I know nobody wants to read all 14 different scenarios, so I'm just going to wrap things up here. A win guarantees WVU a first-round bye. A loss puts WVU in danger of falling into 9th or 10th place and having to play on Tuesday. In that case, WVU needs to root against Marquette and Villanova to avoid falling into the bottom half of the seeding. But rooting against Villanova means rooting for Pitt, and nobody wants that. So let's just beat Louisville and let everyone else worry about the tiebreakers. That way I can be sure that my headache on Sunday morning is definitely from the beer.