TAMPA, Fla. - Mark Twain wrote of "lies, damned lies and statistics,'' the not-so-subtle meaning of which is that statistics are often vastly overrated and so easy to manipulate as to render them useless.West Virginia's performance Saturday at the Tampa Bay Times Forum is a case in point.After all, didn't the Mountaineers, at least statistically, do almost everything wrong during a pressure-packed 50-44 win over South Florida?The fact is, WVU pretty much duplicated most of the same flaws that have plagued it the past two months and should have been, by all rights, forced to toss this one onto the scrap heap of lost opportunities.
The Mountaineers shot 28.8 percent. Not since beating Virginia Tech while shooting 28.1 percent has a WVU team shot that poorly and won. That was in 1957.West Virginia made 15 shots. The Mountaineers recently beat Maryland with only 12 field goals. That is, if you consider 1951 to be recent.WVU shot 25 percent in the second half and allowed USF to shoot 52.9 percent. The Mountaineers had six second-half field goals, none in the final seven minutes.Truck Bryant missed his first eight shots and finished 2-for-11. He and Kevin Jones combined to shoot 27 percent.Deniz Kilicli's hook, well, hooked. He was 2-for-9.Oh, and Jabarie Hinds missed all four of his shots and made four turnovers, and Dominique Rutledge played lights out for about 30 seconds, then picked up his third and fourth fouls and retired for the day.
Yet somehow, some way, there was Jones afterward sounding for all the world like Bill Pullman in Independence Day: "We will not go quietly into the night! We will not vanish without a fight!''"We're not going to give up. I won't allow this team to give up,'' Jones said. "Truck won't allow this team to give up. Deniz won't allow this team to give up. We will not. If we go down, we go down fighting no matter who we play against.''OK, so maybe it's not all just effort and resolve. On Saturday there might have been a little bit of good fortune involved, too, like when Bryant managed to make his only two field goals in a 40-second span on an off-balance prayer in the lane and then an absolute blind heave on a drive to the basket."That's hard work and dedication in the gym,'' he tried to deadpan later without much success.No matter what you call it, though, it all added up to a win that West Virginia might not have desperately needed, but one they rightfully embraced.
"It feels like a little bit of the weight has been lifted,'' Jones said of the Mountaineers' hopes of making a fifth straight NCAA tournament. "You felt a bit more urgency than we have in the past [at this stage of the season] and we needed to play every minute as hard as we could."I don't know if it insured our spot, but I feel a lot better about it than I did.''The fact is, West Virginia can, as Jones went on to say, "breathe easier'' heading into the Big East tournament. One hates to use those statistics again, but in this case the Mountaineers can probably trust in a few pertinent ones."What is this, our 21st game against the top 100?'' Bob Huggins asked afterward, missing the Saturday number (it changes every day) by just two. "That's way more than anybody in the country. They [the NCAA tournament selection committee] say play a good schedule. We played a good schedule. This is another top-50 game."When you look at the reality, we've done what they say to do. We go on the road. We don't play every game at home. We've done it all.''And that includes winning enough. Of those 19 games against top-100 competition, the Mountaineers have now won nine, five of them against top-50 teams. It would be 10 wins had Villanova not just dropped out of the top 100 (as did Kent State).
Why can West Virginia feel better than, say, USF or Cincinnati, two other Big East teams considered to be on the fence? Well, South Florida (like WVU 19-12) has played 15 of those top-100 teams and won six, only two against the top 50. Cincinnati (22-9) has played only 13 against the top 100 and won seven.By that measure, West Virginia has a better resume than both - more games and more wins against better teams. All three could wind up in the tournament, but you have to think West Virginia has more reason to feel good about itself than the other two a week before the selections are made.Then again, those are all statistics. And at least on Saturday the Mountaineers proved once again that those don't mean much.Reach Dave Hickman at 304-348-1734 or email@example.com
or follow him at Twitter.com/dphickman1.