The common belief is that perception always trumps reality.
John Beilein wishes this were true.
The perception around the country is that because Beilein's West Virginia team is ranked just outside both polls, owns a victory over No. 2 UCLA, and has already amassed 20 wins despite playing in one of the toughest conferences in America, they are a shoe-in for an at-large bid to the NCAA Tournament and are probably in line for a respectable seed.
The reality is that the Mountaineers are in extreme jeopardy of not hearing their name called on Selection Sunday.
But how is this possible? In 27 years of Big East basketball, 107 of the 109 teams that have won at least 20 games have gone on to play in the NCAA Tournament. If that weren't enough, NO Big East team has ever won 21 games (a feat the Mountaineers will have three shots at accomplishing) and not gone dancing.
So why is WVU on the verge of making history?
For starters, their schedule sucks. The Mountaineers have the 107th ranked schedule in the country which has led to their rather low RPI of 58.
Now some of this isn't there fault. According to the Big East Basketball Report, West Virginia has the second easiest schedule in the conference, mostly because they are the only team in the league who didn't have to play two teams in the top half of the league (Syracuse and Louisville were the two teams left off their schedule this year), and two of the three teams they doubled up with this year (Seton Hall and Cincinnati) aren't even going to make it to New York.
Right now West Virginia is putting a lot of stock in the hope that the Committee will overlook the fact that their win over UCLA came in a game that was played at 10 a.m. Pacific Time and that Bruin point guard Darren Collisson was out with an injury. I don't think that the powers that be will turn a blind eye to this, and I think they'll use it as a great excuse to keep the number of Big East teams in the dance down as much as possible, especially considering that it now looks like they're not going to be able to keep Syracuse out.
I said two weeks ago that WVU had to, but wouldn't, beat Providence to better their situation. The Friars took out the Mounties 71-67, and now with the Orange's big win last night, it's looking like tonight's game against Pitt is officially in the proverbial "must-win" category.
A loss tonight means it's likely going to take a run to the Big East championship game (a manageable feat from the six slot the Mountaineers are likely to end up in) to get John Beilein's boys back to the dance. A loss would also mean Louisville would clinch the two seed with a win on Sunday, so go for it kids.
It's make-or-break time for Mountain Mama.