MORGANTOWN - There is an argument to be made that what West Virginia is playing for this week in games against Connecticut and Louisville is one of the best four seeds in next week's Big East tournament.
Not one of the top four seeds, mind you, but one of the best four.
Those would be seeds five through eight, which doesn't make much sense on the surface, of course, but is actually supported by the data in hand.
That's the same data, by the way, that two pretty influential groups - the Big East's 16 coaches and the league's like number of athletic directors - used when they voted in each of the last two offseasons to do away with the relatively new double-bye that goes to seeds one through four.
It's also the data that the conference presidents - obviously a more influential assemblage - chose to ignore when they struck down the recommendation both years.
"I think it's been very well noted that the coaches voted unanimously to not do the two-game bye, and the athletic directors voted unanimously [the same way],'' West Virginia coach Bob Huggins said. "And then for whatever reason the presidents voted to [keep the double-bye]. I don't think anybody wants it.''
So why is the double-bye such a bad thing? Well, here's the deal. When the Big East began bringing all 16 teams to Madison Square Garden for the league tournament in 2009, the format was set up to have the bottom eight teams play each other on Tuesday, seeds five through eight face the winners on Wednesday and teams one through four jump in to play those winners in Thursday's quarterfinals.
Obviously, no one wants to finish in the bottom eight and play on Tuesday. It means the only path to the championship is to win five games in five days. It's just not going to happen. Ever.
From that standpoint, finishing in the top four seems terrific. Those are the teams that have to win just three games in three days, perhaps facing in every game a team that has already been forced to play more games. A huge advantage, right?
Wrong. The first year, 2009, two of the top four seeds lost in that first game - No. 2 Pitt to West Virginia and No. 3 Connecticut against Syracuse in that six-overtime gem - and No. 4 Villanova survived Marquette by a point.
Then last year three of the top four seeds lost in the quarterfinals - No. 1 Syracuse, No. 2 Pitt and No. 4 Villanova. The only winner was No. 3 West Virginia, which needed a banked Da'Sean Butler 3-pointer at the buzzer to beat a Cincinnati team playing its third game in three days.
True, one of the top four seeds each year won the tournament - No. 1 Louisville in 2009 and WVU in 2010 - but the first-game record of the top four in those eight first-round games stands now at 3-5.
Why? Because in a league that annually fields at least seven to 10 NCAA tournament-worthy teams (perhaps 11 this year), those top four seeds are watching while teams that are pretty much just as good as they are play a warm-up game on Wednesday. When Thursday comes, the top seeds haven't played in five days and are plenty rested, but also plenty rusty.