MORGANTOWN - Bob Huggins has spent most of West Virginia's recent slide reiterating a point that he felt needed to be made.Specifically, he has said time after time that despite three straight losses, then four in five games, that the Mountaineers were still in good shape as far as an NCAA tournament berth was concerned.And through it all he was right. To a point, he still is. Through Saturday's games, West Virginia was No. 40 in the RPI. The Mountaineers have nine wins against Top 100 teams. Their strength of schedule is No. 7 in the country.But with all of those numbers, he was also careful to point out that the season was not over."We just need to win games,'' Huggins said on more than one occasion. "We're like everyone else right now in that we need to win some games.''The longer West Virginia's current slide lasts, however, those chances to win games are slipping away. And while the mantra remains the same - win some games - even Huggins knows that things are slipping away.His players know it, too."Coach keeps telling us we have to get 10 wins in order to have a chance,'' Kevin Jones said after WVU's woes reached five losses in six games with Saturday's 77-74 home loss to Louisville. "We have to find a way to get them. Games are winding down. We have to find a way.''
Indeed, if there is a magic number regarding wins to get into the NCAA tournament, it's not 20 overall. But if a team has a solid non-conference resume - as West Virginia does - then 10 wins in Big East play is a pretty good goal and one that will more often than not result in an NCAA bid. A 10-8 record or better in one of the country's best leagues isn't an automatic qualifier, but it's close.Back when the Mountaineers were 15-5 overall and 5-2 in the Big East, that appeared likely. WVU was, back then, a Top 15 team in the RPI and on the verge of breaking into the Top 25 in the polls.Now, though, the Mountaineers are a far more pedestrian 16-10, and Saturday's loss dropped that Big East mark to 6-7 with five games to play. Getting to 10 wins, then, means going at least 4-1 the rest of the way against a schedule that includes road games against two teams (Pitt on Thursday and Notre Dame a week from Wednesday) that have already won at the Coliseum, home games against No. 18 Marquette and DePaul, and a season finale at South Florida, which is just 15-10 overall but 12-1 at home.It's a scenario that is enough to make the Mountaineers a bit fearful of their chances of extending their NCAA tournament streak to five seasons. But perhaps fear isn't a bad thing."Fear is a good thing. It always is,'' said Deniz Kilicli. "In wars, people are scared for their lives. That's why they do whatever they can do, because they don't want to die. You have to care.''Kilicli isn't comparing West Virginia's circumstances to war, but his point is well taken. Fear can be a great motivator."Fear is good for us right now,'' said Jones. "Fear will hopefully make us play better and come together as a team. If that's what it takes, then fear can be a good thing.''
Reach Dave Hickman at 304-348-1734 or firstname.lastname@example.org
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