West Virginia Mountaineers Face Brutal Closing Schedule

Ken RiderContributor IFebruary 27, 2017

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With his team preparing to take the court against DePaul on Saturday afternoon, West Virginia head coach Bob Huggins was feeling a bit uneasy.

"I was nervous as can be before the game," Huggins said. "This is one we had to have."

Huggins is a man known to prowl the sidelines with a gruff outward demeanor, save of course for an occasional stink-eye pointed toward a referee, so it's unusual to hear him admit any weakness, especially against a Blue Demon team that hasn't won since 2010 and is currently sporting a 0-12 conference record.

Welcome to life in the Big East.

It turns out it wasn't DePaul that made Huggins nervous, rather a remaining schedule that would send any coach with dreams of the Big Dance looking for some Rolaids.

Six games left for West Virginia, five of them against ranked teams. Combine that with their recent losses to No. 4 Pittsburgh and No. 14 Villanova, and the Mountaineers will finish their regular season with seven of nine games against top-20 teams.

In case you are wondering, since the AP poll was first introduced in 1948, West Virginia has never played a stretch this difficult.

Welcome to life in the Big East.

It begins tonight at Syracuse, a team the Mountaineers have beaten just once in their last 12 contests. Things won't get easier after that, with No. 7 Notre Dame, No. 4 Pittsburgh, No. 9 UConn and No. 15 Louisville all looming on the schedule.

Assuming West Virginia doesn't suddenly learn how to shoot better than the 43 percent they are currently firing, they are looking at at least a few losses coming down the stretch. The question then becomes: When will their standing in the field of 64 (sorry, 68) come into question?

If by some miracle the Mountaineers could go 3-3 over their final six games the drama is gone and West Virginia will be in. Anything less than that, Mountaineer Nation will be on pins and needles come Selection Sunday.

Joe Lunardi, the resident "bracketologist" at ESPN, currently has the Mountaineers in the tournament as a No. 6 seed, one of 11 Big East teams slated to make it. If that seems like a big number, it is, considering that no conference has ever sent more than eight teams to the Dance.

With eight teams separated by three games in the standings, the toughest conference in basketball is screaming towards one of the best finishes in league history, and a potentially epic conference tournament.

And if what has transpired thus far this season is any indication, West Virginia will be sweating bullets the whole way through.

Welcome to life in the Big East.