The Smoking Musket Bubble Watch: February 11, 2013

USA TODAY Sports

With 8 games left to go the Mountaineers have plenty of work left to do, and plenty of opportunities to do it.

Now that the Mountaineers are back over the .500 line at 12-11 and an even 5-5 in Big XII play (RPI: 88), some people have started throwing around the word "bubble." Now, I've watched a lot of WVU sports in my lifetime and if I know anything about the Mountaineers, it's that they have a propensity for setting you up just enough to break your heart at the end. Seriously, no matter how likely or unlikely their chances of success, our boys from Morgantown can find a way to leave you shaking your head at the end of a confounding loss. So we're a long way from thinking that the Mountaineers are suddenly an NCAA Bubble Team after 3 straight wins over bad basketball teams.

However, one of those people dropping the "B" word is Bob Huggins:

"We can still make a run. We can conceivably get ourselves on the bubble or better,"

He actually said that before the Texas Tech game a little over a week ago. And heck, by the way his troops have started to resemble a basketball team as of late, they may actually have believed him.

Okay, so there's a lot of basketball left to be played. As in 8 games and a conference tournament over the span of the next month. So let's take a look at what WVU needs to do to play its way onto the bubble come NCAA selection time. And, since we're not even included in ESPN.com's first edition of the 2013 Bubble Watch, we'll have to make our own. No, we don't have the time or the expertise to comb through the RPI, SOS, and efficiency rankings of all similarly-situated teams to see where the Mountaineers fit. And you probably don't want to hear about that anyway. If you do want to hear about that, Eamonn Brennan at ESPN does a great job. We're just going to focus on WVU. Who do we play, how good are they, and who do we need to beat to have a chance to sneak into an at-large spot?

Well, we probably need to get to 18 or 19 wins overall. That is obviously a long shot at this point, as 19 regular season wins would require us to win out. That's not happening, not even for the most optimistic among us. But say we can win a couple games in the league tournament. Not unrealistic, especially if we keep improving down the stretch. Then we need to get to 16 or 17 in the regular season. All of a sudden, that becomes doable. Still not likely, but doable. And the best part is, the games that we have left are equal parts winnable and resume-building, given that 7 of the 8 are against teams currently ranked in the top 55 of the RPI.

  • 2/13 @ Baylor 14-8 (5-4) RPI: 53 - Other than Saturday's game against Texas Tech, this might be the only "must win" game left. The Mountaineers have some momentum, and the Bears have dropped 3 of their last 4. It's time to get some quality road wins, and this might be our best chance to do that. Plus, we have to keep the momentum going.
  • 2/16 v. Texas Tech - 9-12 (2-8) RPI: 210 - No other way to cut it, this is a must win game at home against one of the league's worst teams.
  • 2/18 @ Kansas State 18-4 (7-2) RPI: 21 - Assume we beat Baylor and Texas Tech. Then this game starts to look zesty, especially given our near-miss against them in Morgantown. The Wildcats are clearly beatable, and a win in Manhattan would do wonders for the resume'.
  • 2/23 v. Oklahoma State 17-5 (7-3) RPI: 27 - The Cowboys pounded us in Stillwater, cruising to a 14 point win. By this time, things are getting down to the nitty gritty, with opportunities for quality wins dwindling. Maybe coming off a home contest with Kansas, who beat Okie State by 5 in Lawrence, this could be a letdown game for the Cowboys as they travel to Morgantown? Let's hope so.
  • 2/27 v. Baylor 14-8 (5-4) RPI: 53 - The return game from two weeks prior, you have to wonder if the Bears could be jet-lagged after back to back trips to Oklahoma and Morgantown. To get into the tournament, we have to hold serve at home or else upset wins in Manhattan, Norman, and---gulp---Lawrence become must-gets.
  • 3/2 @ Kansas 19-4 (7-3) RPI: 10 - Yes, the Jayhawks have come back to earth a bit in the last week or two. Yes, we had a chance to knock them off on Big Monday before they dropped 3 in a row to unranked teams. But, yes, they're still the class of the Big XII and especially good at home in Lawrence. A win here would do wonders for the resume', but I just don't think it's likely.
  • 3/6 @ Oklahoma 15-7 (6-4) RPI: 19 - This will be the third meeting this season between the Mountaineers and Sooners, with the bad guys taking both previous contests. Everyone says it's hard to beat a team three times in one year, right? Let's hope that's the case and the Mountaineers can come out with a key road win in the last week of the season.
  • 3/9 v. Iowa State 16-7 (6-4) RPI: 37 - Probably the second most important game out of the last 8, you simply don't want to drop the last game of the season at home. It likely won't be a bid-clincher, but a loss might knock us off the bubble entirely. Maybe the refs allow Deniz Kilicli an extra foul on senior day.
A 6-2 record in these games would put the Mountaineers at 18-13 overall, 11-7 in league play, 8-2 in their last 10, and RPI probably somewhere in the high 50's. There are bad losses to Davidson, Duquesne and Purdue (all road/neutral), a few potential quality wins if we can get to K-State, Baylor, Oklahoma State and Oklahoma, and a couple games left in the conference tournament to seal a bid.

Of course, any bubble resume' is always relative to the other bubble teams. There are 68 spots, and all 68 are getting filled one way or another. We will try to update this regularly (weekly? twice a week?) so be sure to check back as the picture comes into focus. We definitely have to root for mid-majors to be single-bid leagues this year, and for other bubble-dwellers to falter down the stretch. But maybe, just maybe, a hot finish will be enough to propel the Mountaineers into the discussion. Then again, we've been letdown before.

[RPI and stats via ESPN.com.]
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