If you peeked at the latest NCAA tournament bracket projections on Thursday, you’d have seen ESPN’s Joe Lunardi had West Virginia University’s basketball team slotted as a No. 4 seed.
If you flipped over to CBS’ Jerry Palm, you’d have seen the Mountaineers resting as a No. 3 seed.
Yet while WVU jockeys for positioning at that level, there’s no disagreement about where Texas sits: squarely on the proverbial bubble for a berth.
ESPN: last four in. CBS: last four in.
That’s why Mountaineer coach Bob Huggins didn’t hesitate Thursday when asked how his team would prepare for Saturday’s noon game against Texas in Austin. The question centered on Longhorns big man and potential top-five NBA draft pick Mo Bamba, who missed the Kansas game with a toe injury.
“He’s going to play,” Huggins said via teleconference. “They’re saying this is their play-in game to the NCAA tournament. I would be the most shocked guy in the world if he doesn’t play.”
That’s because 6-foot-11 Bamba, who was considered the nation’s No. 2 prospect coming out of high school, now sits as Texas’ No. 2 scorer with guard Andrew Jones out battling leukemia. Bamba is averaging 13 points, second on the team only to junior forward Dylan Osetkowski at 13.7, while averaging 10.6 rebounds. Bamba also has 107 blocked shots.
Anyway, Huggins said his 22-8 team certainly knows the situation.
“Generally speaking, they know exactly what it is,” said the WVU coach. “It’s up on the board in the theater room. They go look at it every day. They want to know where they are, what their potential seed is and what the team we’re playing’s RPI is.
“I try to make it an educational process. Let them understand how bad it hurts to lose to a team with a bad RPI. I think it’s done nothing but help.
“If they come [into a game] not ready to play, I’ll be in the huddle and say, ‘That’s OK. You’re just going to drop 18 spots in the RPI because you let a team that’s not supposed to come close to beating you beat you.’ I use it more as a motivational thing than a detriment.”
When asked what he’s been working on with the Mountaineers, Huggins said zip.
“I’m serious,” he said. “We gave them [Wednesday] off. We came in and shot the ball and kind of watched some film on Texas. I wanted to give them some time off. We’re going to go hard [Thursday].”
The Mountaineers will fly to Austin on Friday.
“We’ve talked to them about going to Texas,” Huggins said. “Winning at Texas would mean we’re guaranteed the No. 2 seed in the [Big 12] tournament, which means you wouldn’t play the No. 1 seed until the final game if everything works out right.
“We show them film. It’s not just someone standing up there lecturing. We show them film. We show them what people can do and what they can’t that, hopefully, we can take advantage of.”
WVU can lock down second place in the Big 12 tournament with a win or a Texas Tech loss at home against TCU. If the Mountaineers lose and the Red Raiders win, Tech will claim second place.
All of which WVU’s players are made to understand.
“I don’t ever want them to come to me and say they wished I would have told them,” Huggins said. “We make them aware of everything from NCAA seedings to Big 12 conference seedings.”