"Baylor was seventh [in the polls after a 12-1 start before starting to slide]. Should we run around saying, 'Gosh, we beat the seventh-ranked team in the country?' Because they were seventh,'' Huggins asked. "No, not really. It's about people's RPIs.''
Again, though, getting wins over teams with better RPIs is something the Mountaineers have managed to do of late, so whether those teams are in the Top 25 in the polls or not is immaterial. Those last three wins were against three teams in or near the RPI top 50, which is significant. In the first 20 games of the season West Virginia failed in every attempt to beat a team with a decent RPI.
Consider that before those last three wins, WVU was 11-9. The 11 wins came against 10 teams that as of Thursday were ranked the following in the RPI: 128, 133, 173, 194, 196, 232, 235, 289, 315 and 349. The highest-ranked of those was No. 128 Texas Tech (twice) and the highest-ranked non-conference foe was No. 133 William & Mary.
That's the kind of resume that gets even a 20-win team bumped out of the NCAA tournament field when someone asks, "Well, who did you beat?''
It's not that the Mountaineers scheduled poorly, though. They just didn't manage to beat any of the better teams they played.
To wit: With the exception of a baffling collapse at now-No. 221 Virginia Tech the second game of the season, the other eight losses West Virginia suffered were to teams all rated higher - in most cases much higher - than the teams the Mountaineers beat. The RPIs of those eight teams that beat WVU are now No. 12 Wisconsin, No. 22 Gonzaga, No. 24 Texas, No. 28 Oklahoma State (twice), No.38 Kansas State, No. 48 Missouri and No. 103 Purdue.
Incidentally, most of those teams are or have been in the Top 25 this season and West Virginia didn't beat them. But Wednesday's win over Oklahoma was a victory over both a ranked team and a high-RPI team. So while the fact that the Mountaineers beat a ranked team for the first time since beating Georgetown in January of 2012 might not be all that it's cracked up to be, beating a team with a solid RPI is.
How all that affects WVU's chances of making the NCAA tournament remains to be seen, of course. Three wins in late January and early February is a small sampling. The Mountaineers still have a lot of work to do to overcome that absence of quality wins prior to the past 10 days, and getting more will be even more difficult because of the schedule.
In a word, that schedule is brutal, beginning with Saturday's game at Kansas. Based on the RPI - where WVU was No. 72 before Thursday's games - the final eight games of the regular season are against teams ranked Nos. 1, 6, 24, 55, 6, 194, 21 and 1. That's four of eight against teams in the RPI top 10 (two each against No. 1 Kansas and No. 6 Iowa State), two more from the top 25 (Oklahoma and Texas) and all but one in the top 75.
"We just want to win,'' said point guard Juwan Staten. "Whether they're Top 25 teams or whatever they are, we just want to win.''
Reach Dave Hickman at 304-348-1734 or dphickm...@aol.com or follow him at Twitter.com/dphickman1.