By Bob Hertzel
Times West Virginian
While the deck is stacked against West Virginia being able to find a way to make it to the NCAA Tournament, Coach Bob Huggins and his team are hoping to make one final stretch run even though they face the top teams in the Big 12 Conference.
First, though, they catch something of a break at home, facing Texas Tech at home at 4 p.m. today.
The Mountaineers crushed the Red Raiders in Lubbock, Texas, two weeks ago, winning by 16 points, 77-61.
That would make them favorites to sweep the season series, but after that it’s a battle down to the wire going to Kansas State, playing at home against Oklahoma State and Baylor, going to Kansas and then finishing up at home against Iowa State.
They may have to win as many as six of the last seven to qualify for NCAA play.
“I wouldn’t say it’s over,” Huggins said when asked about his teams chances. “I’ll be the first to tell you we have to win four or five conference games. They all count. But we have an opportunity playing teams with high RPIs to increase our RPI.”
The NCAA selection committee pays a lot of attention to RPI and WVU is buried down at 93.
“Our strength of schedule is fine,” Huggins said. “We have to get our RPI up to where it is in the ballpark. We have opportunities to do that against teams with high RPIs.”
His team is aware of the situation.
“We have to be ready every night to play,” guard Jabarie Hines said. “We have some tough games against good teams. We have to stay focused.”
Huggins understands just what is needed.
“We’ve been in this situation before, maybe not this dire, but where we needed to beat people when they came in here … Notre Dame comes to mind a couple of years ago and we played pretty well,” he said. “The good thing about playing in a good league is you have more opportunities.”
Two years ago the Mountaineers had lost two of three games before facing Notre Dame and pulling out a 72-58 victory. That was a game in which they were having shooting problems just as this team does until Truck Bryant hit a 3 that got them unwound.
Now it is more of the same after Texas Tech, but that is the immediate business at hand.
In the first meeting, Eron Harris scored 18 points and the Mountaineers shot a season high 55.6 percent.
“We turned the ball over on them,” Huggins said, crediting hard-nosed defense with creating the shot opportunities. “We turned them over early and then we turned them over late. It was 12-2 or 14-2 or something like that and a lot of that was off turnovers.”
And when you are creating turnovers they often lead to fast-break baskets that are usually made at a high percentage.
Texas Tech is having a tough time of it in the Big 12, with only two victories in 11 games. The Red Raiders are 9-13 overall and has won only one of five road games.
Huggins has beaten the Red Raiders twice in his career while losing once to them while the Mountaineers biggest game against them came on Mach 24, 2005, when Bobby Knight was coaching at Texas Tech.
They met in the Sweet 16 round of the NCAAs and WVU under John Beilein and pulled out a 65-60 victory before losing to Louisville two days later in overtime in the Elite Eight. Kevin Pittsnogle was the Mountaineers’ leading scorer in the Texas Tech game with 22 points.
Email Bob Hertzel at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow on Twitter @bhertzel.