Laying the Seeds: What’s on the line in WVU’s clash with Baylor

WVU Men's Basketball

The Big 12 men’s basketball tournament is just days away, but nearly every team in the conference is still waiting to find out when — and who — they will be playing. This dilemma will be resolved on Saturday when all 10 teams hit the court for their final games of the season, finally solidifying their spot in the conference standings.

TeamBig 12 OverallSat. opp.
1. #1 Kansas16-127-3at Texas Tech
2. #4 Baylor15-226-3at West Virginia
3. Texas Tech9-818-12Kansas
4. Texas9-819-11Oklahoma State
5. West Virginia8-920-10Baylor
6. Oklahoma8-918-12at TCU
7. TCU7-1016-14Oklahoma
8. Oklahoma State6-1116-14at Texas
9. Iowa State5-1212-18at Kansas State
10. Kansas State2-159-21Iowa State

Of the five contests taking place, one could argue that none is more consequential than the clash between West Virginia and No. 4 Baylor in Morgantown. In a wacky college basketball season which made the top spot in the AP Top 25 seem more like a curse than a blessing, the Bears managed to stay on top for five weeks, the longest streak this year. With a win on Saturday, Scott Drew’s team has the chance to take a share of the Big 12 regular season championship with Kansas. Win or lose, though, the Bears have their first-round bye in the bank and can take solace in knowing that, at the very least, they will have the two-seed.

West Virginia does not have that luxury. They are within a game of (or tied with) five different teams in the conference and by Saturday’s end could find themselves at anywhere from the No. 3 seed to the No. 7 seed.

While much of WVU’s fate is determined by the outcome of their own contest, there are a lot of outside factors that will affect their positioning:

IF WEST VIRGINIA BEATS BAYLOR:

If they get the victory on Saturday, the Mountaineers solidify themselves as a top six seed, which guarantees them a bye in the first round. With some help, though, they can get as high as the third seed.

Fans should keep their eye on two games in the event of a WVU win, with a particular eye on the respective home teams: Kansas at Texas Tech and Oklahoma State at Texas. West Virginia can get propelled to the No. 3 seed in the conference tournament if both Texas Tech and Texas lose, as they would tie both teams in conference play while getting an edge with a win over Baylor.

If they aren’t quite as lucky and just one of them take a loss, they would jump just one seed to the No. 4 with either Texas Tech or Texas (whichever got the win) on top as the third.

IF BAYLOR BEATS WEST VIRGINIA:

If West Virginia falls on Saturday, their first-round bye is jeopardized as Baylor earns the chance to share the Big 12 regular-season title.

The main game fans should pay attention is Oklahoma at TCU. If the Horned Frogs get the win, they tie WVU in Big 12 play but get the edge through their upset of Baylor a week ago in Waco. That puts West Virginia firmly as the No. 7 team, poised for a first-round meeting with Kansas State before facing either Kansas or Baylor in the second.

With a Sooner win, however, the Mountaineers stay out of first-round competition as the sixth seed. Their opponent would then be any of Texas, Texas Tech or Oklahoma, depending on the outcome of their matchups.

THE BOTTOM LINE:

West Virginia may be eliminated from the regular-season title race, but there is still a lot at stake for them in this upcoming contest. This game has clear and direct implications on their performance in the conference tournament, but even beyond the Big 12, there are more important consequences to how this weekend will shake out.

As he remains focused on the job to be done on Saturday, Bob Huggins has the big picture in the back of his mind.

“I think we’ve got more to play for than they do,” said WVU coach Bob Huggins. “We’re playing for a better seed in the tournament, we’re playing for a better seed in the NCAA Tournament. Obviously a better seed in our tournament and some wins there would enhance our seed in the NCAA Tournament, I would think. We’re playing in the most competitive league in the country, and I think…some of those bracketologists…realize how hard it is to win in this league.”

Regardless of the outcome, the Mountaineers and their fans are in for a particularly stressful Saturday afternoon. West Virginia tips off against Baylor at 1 p.m., with the last game of the day (Oklahoma at TCU) tipping off at 6 p.m.

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