The Mountaineers' non-conference slate will likely come under scrutiny leading up to Selection Sunday
As the regular season comes to an end West Virginia currently sits in a three-way for third place in the Big 12 with two games remaining. The two-game gap between the Mountaineers and Kansas means WVU still has a shot a share of the Big 12 regular season title. At 22-7 overall, the Mountaineers are guaranteed to hear their name called on Selection Sunday. However, most projections, including USA Today, still have the Mountaineers as a No. 6 seed. The question is why?
Although the Mountaineers sit at 10-6 in arguably the toughest basketball conference in the nation, their RPI is still 22. The problem WVU is facing now is not something it can fix, at least not this season. WVU currently has a non-conference strength of schedule ranking of 227. It should be noted that its non-conference RPI is 9. Unfortunately, there are teams the Mountaineers have played that have not helped the cause in the least and I think everyone knows where I am going with this.
After the Marshall game, WVU coach Bob Huggins expressed his feelings regarding the yearly series with the in-state rival. He stated that it was not beneficial to play them and it looks as though he was correct. Marshall currently boasts an RPI of 299, making the Thundering Herd the worst team WVU has played this season. While many felt Huggins’ rant was solely in response to Marshall head coach Dan D'Antoni, it is now obvious his statements regarding the series are valid no matter the reasoning. Huggins did go on to say that he would like his team’s non-conference schedule to consist of teams that were ranked in the RPI’s top 100.
WVU still has the opportunity to improve its seeding moving forward with games against the aforementioned Jayhawks and Oklahoma State remaining before the Big 12 Tournament. However, some early non-conference games have hurt the Mountaineers. Don't get me wrong, the Wofford and NC State wins are big resume builders as NC State is looking like an NCAA Tournament team and Wofford finished the season at 25-6 and is favored to get the Southern Conference’s automatic bid by winning its tournament. However, there’s still reason for the Mountaineers to be somewhat concerned based on these earlier non-conference matchups and the current RPI of those teams:
Marshall (W 69-66) RPI 292
Northern Kentucky (W 67-42) RPI 267
College of Charleston (W 86-57) RPI 295
Monmouth (W 64-54) RPI 189
Looking at the overall body of work, WVU has a very impressive resume with five wins over teams that appear poised to make the NCAA Tournament. However, it is now clear that Huggins had a valid point regarding the Mountaineers’ non-conference schedule. The Mountaineers are also just 4-7 against the RPI top 50 this season. The only team with a higher RPI and a worse record against the RPI top 50 is North Carolina at 3-8.However, the Tar Heels have the second-toughest schedule in the nation, while the Mountaineers’ strength of schedule sits at 40.
— Written by Jeremy Simon, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network and editor-in-chief of BlueGoldSports.com, a must visit for any and all West Virginia Mountaineer fans. Follow BlueGoldSports.com on Twitter @Blue_GoldSports.