MORGANTOWN, W.Va. -- Cleaning out a crowded notebook and a cluttered mind after cleaning off nearly a foot of snow that fell here Monday:
If you're like me, you're still trying to figure out just what to make of this West Virginia basketball team. I've had a front-row seat for 19 of 22 games and I still don't know if this team is good, bad or indifferent.
It's pretty much impossible to call this a bad team because in 22 games the Mountaineers have been basically non-competitive in just three - Missouri, Texas and the first game against Kansas State. And given that their strength of schedule to date is No. 68 (out of 351) and projects to being No. 25 at the end of the season, well, winning or having a chance to win all but three would seem pretty good.
Then again, WVU is just 13-9, which means that despite being in position to win almost every game, it has managed to falter frequently. And that strength of schedule component raises an interesting issue, too. If the schedule rating is No. 68
Fact: West Virginia has nine games remaining against six teams. Seven of those nine games are against teams that are in this week's Associated Press Top 25 - two each against No. 8 Kansas, No. 16 Iowa State and No. 21 Oklahoma and one against No. 15 Texas. The Mountaineers have already played three games against teams in this week's Top 25 and are 0-3, losing twice to No. 19 Oklahoma State and once to Texas.
In other words, regardless of how competitive WVU has been against a Top-75 schedule to date, the cold, hard reality is that now that schedule gets even more difficult. And even the fact that five of those remaining nine games are at home is mitigated by this: Two of those five home games are against the only two non-ranked teams remaining on the slate, Baylor and TCU. That means that of the seven games against Top 25 teams, four are on the road.
But, oh well, remember, too, that WVU has been better on the road in league play this year (3-2) than at home (2-2).
Numbers like those above, of course, can be made to say anything you want them to say. That's what you do with numbers. You fit them to the story line you want to create.
We could have mentioned that West Virginia was No. 80 in the RPI before Monday night's games, which is well within striking distance of NCAA tournament territory, particularly given the bumps the Mountaineers would get from going even 5-4 in those final nine games.
The better litmus test, though, is probably the eye test, which seems to point to the Mountaineers having figured out a few things of late, namely how to survive and even thrive in those close games they were so often losing up to until last week.
Yes, those last two wins against Baylor and Kansas State come with caveats. While they were WVU's first in two years of Big 12 play over teams that would seem to at least be in the NCAA tournament conversation (until beating Baylor last week WVU was 9-1 against Texas Tech, TCU and Texas, but 0-15 against everyone else), they also came against two teams that might be slipping out of that conversation.
Still, baby steps.