MORGANTOWN - If West Virginia's offensive performance Saturday in a win over DePaul was nothing but an anomaly, things could get pretty dicey for the Mountaineers from here on out.
But if it was a portent of things to come, well, it couldn't have come at a better time.
Beginning with tonight's Big Monday game against No. 12 Syracuse at the Carrier Dome (7 p.m., ESPN), West Virginia plays five of its last six games against teams ranked in the Top 16 in the country. Three of those are against Top 10 teams.
To say that the Mountaineers' postseason hopes ride in the balance would not be overstating things. Where WVU is seeded in the 16-team Big East tournament and where it lands - or, quite frankly, if it lands - in the NCAA tournament bracket will be determined over the next three weeks.
The bottom line is that if West Virginia's offense is ready to contribute to the defensive and rebounding cause as happened against DePaul, that can only help the Mountaineers' chances of success.
But was Saturday's 53-percent shooting and high assist rate (23 on 28 baskets) a sign that this team's slump is over or was it merely a product of facing the Big East's worst team, one that has won just one Big East game in going on three full seasons now?
The answer should start to develop tonight against a Syracuse 2-3 zone that makes the Orange one of the best defensive teams in the country.
"Obviously, confidence-wise, it helps,'' point guard Joe Mazzulla said of WVU's first 50-percent shooting performance since Jan. 4 and its highest assist total in three years. "But we know against the 2-3 zone we're probably going to have to make more difficult shots, we have to get the ball inside and we have to execute. [DePaul] was a different game than [Syracuse], but we can take some confidence away from it.''
In Syracuse (20-6, 7-6 Big East), the Mountaineers are facing a hard-to-figure team that has stumbled badly over the last four weeks. After starting the season 18-0 and rising as high as No. 3, the Orange lost four straight and six of eight, including Saturday's 73-69 defeat at Louisville. Half of those six losses have come at the Carrier Dome, including a 22-point loss to Seton Hall.
But for the most part, Syracuse's struggles are merely a product of playing in the Big East. Five of those last eight games have been against ranked teams.