AMES, Iowa - While West Virginia's men were here in cold, cold Iowa - and trust me, Iowa cold is a unique kind of windy cold - attempting to salvage what remains of its postseason hopes, the school's women's team was back in Morgantown attempting to do something that might be even more difficult, at least if history is any indication.Now, before we go any further, let's get something clear here. Mike Carey's women's team is in a far, far better place than are Bob Huggins' men. In roughly 2 1/2 weeks, when the NCAA announces tournament pairings for both men and women, the chances WVU's women will find themselves in the field is a rock solid, lead-pipe cinch.The men? If even an NIT berth is available it might be seen as a victory after Wednesday's 83-66 loss to Iowa State left them at 15-13.OK, so why in the wide, wide world of bracketology is the women's task even more arduous than that of the men? Well, it's all about history. And West Virginia's history in the NCAA tournament is frustrating, to say the least.
No, it's not that the Mountaineers have failed to make the field or failed to win. They've actually done both pretty consistently under Carey, especially of late. Since 2007, WVU has been in the tournament field six of seven years, including the last four without fail. And in five of those six seasons they've won a game, although never more than one.Still, reaching the tournament and advancing is something roughly 300 Division I teams can't manage each year, so there's that.The problem West Virginia has always faced is one of seeding. Well, seeding and the draw, actually, because even when the Mountaineers are seeded well it seems they still wind up behind the 8 ball.That's what Carey's bunch is playing for right now - the best seed possible. And then they have to hope the draw goes better than it has in the past."We have a lot to play for,'' Carey said a couple of weeks ago, right about the time it became obvious that no matter what happened over the course of the rest of the season the Mountaineers would be in the NCAA field. "The ultimate goal is to try to get as high a seed as you can get. So these games are important.''For the record, following Wednesday night's 69-37 rout of Big 12 bottom-feeder Texas Tech, the Mountaineers, now 25-3, have a huge road game at No. 6 Baylor Sunday and then the regular-season finale at home against Kansas two days later. Obviously a win at Baylor would go a long way toward a great seed for the Mountaineers, perhaps as high as a 2 or a 3. But even without that win this is a team that, with no more losses than fingers on one hand, will likely be in the top quarter of a 16-team regional bracket.
That's where West Virginia's problems have come, both seed and location. Consider:A year ago, the Mountaineers were a No. 11 seed and were placed in Newark, Del. Why were there NCAA games in Newark, Del., you ask? Because Delaware and its superstar, Elena Delle Donne, were expected to make the tournament. West Virginia drew the sixth-seeded Blue Hens and lost on Delaware's home court.In each of the previous two seasons, West Virginia wound up in the first-round 8-9 game. Despite having to travel to Fresno, Calif., and Dallas to play, the Mountaineers won opening games, but an 8-9 winner is in a pretty lousy predicament because the next game is always against a No. 1 seed. WVU lost to Stanford in Fresno and to Baylor in Dallas.In West Virginia's previous two appearances in the tournament, 2010 and 2008, the Mountaineers got much better seeds, both in the top five. But even as a No. 3 seed the Mountaineers were sent to Austin, Texas, and put in a bracket with Texas. As a No. 5 seed they were sent to Albuquerque, N.M., and paired in the first round with New Mexico.
OK, in those cases the location didn't seem to hurt WVU. West Virginia won that game against New Mexico and ended up not having to face Texas when the Longhorns were upset. But it was still the kind of draw you have to look at and say, uh oh.
Oh, incidentally, another of the draws for Carey's team was no picnic, either. His first tournament team in 2004 was sent to play Ohio State in ... wait for it ... Columbus.For the record, the first-round sites this season for the women are here in Ames; Baton Rouge, La.; Chapel Hill, N.C.; College Park, Md.; College Station, Texas; Durham, N.C.; Iowa City, Iowa; Knoxville, Tenn.; Lexington, Ky.; Los Angeles;, Seattle; Storrs, Conn.; Toledo, Ohio; University Park, Pa.; Waco, Texas; and West Lafayette, Ind. The four regional sites are at Nebraska, Louisville, Notre Dame and Stanford.There's no guarantee that West Virginia's women will get any kind of break as far as seed or site are concerned. But the hope is that the better the Mountaineers finish, the better the chances of a break.Reach Dave Hickman at 304-348-1734 or firstname.lastname@example.org
or follow him at Twitter.com/dphickman1.