WVU women’s basketball is playing a waiting game, and according to head coach Mike Carey, it shouldn’t be.
After losing to Kansas State 72-59 in the quarterfinal round of the Big 12 tournament, the Mountaineers’ postseason fate now lies in the hands of the NCAA selection committee. The latest projections list the Mountaineers as a bubble team, with some experts claiming WVU will miss the NCAA tournament entirely.
As Carey indicated after Saturday’s Big 12 tournament exit, there seems to be a discrepancy in the selection process between the men’s and women’s tournament.
“Let me put it this way: If a team on the men’s side won 11 [conference] games and didn’t get in the NCAA, you all would picket,” Carey said.
The program’s longtime leader has a point: If West Virginia doesn’t make the tournament field on “Selection Monday,” it will mark the first time since the program joined the Big 12 that a team with 11 conference wins — women’s or men’s — does not qualify for the national tournament.
West Virginia’s argument extends beyond reaching a wins threshold. The Mountaineers have defeated two ranked teams this season, including a win over Texas on the road, and they came within six points of an upset of No. 1 Baylor in their final regular season game. But by ending the campaign with four losses in five outings, including two to Kansas State, WVU did itself no favors.
Two other teams in the league are in the same position as West Virginia. The Wildcats appears much safer after advancing to the conference tournament semifinals and improving to 21-11 overall. Both WVU and K-State won 11 league games in the regular season.
Then, there’s TCU, which is 20-10 overall and 10-8 in conference. The Horned Frogs lost to three-seed Texas in the tournament quarterfinals by two points.
ESPN’s latest projection lists TCU as one of the first four teams out of the field. WVU is listed as one of the “next four out” after that.
Kansas State head coach Jeff Mittie believes WVU has done enough to earn a spot in the NCAA field.
“This time of year, everyone talks about NCAA tournament teams, and West Virginia is an NCAA tournament team. There is no doubt in my mind. I want to make that clear,” Mittie said. “What I will say about West Virginia is that nobody in the tournament will want to play them. I can assure you.”
Since 2013, nine conference victories are normally enough for a Big 12 women’s team to qualify. Only TCU in 2015 failed to make the NCAA tournament with a 9-9 league record.
In 2013 and 2016, two 8-10 teams from the Big 12 made the field, but West Virginia’s eight-win mark in the conference last year didn’t make the cut.
The base requirements for men’s teams in that same timeframe are similar. Since 2014, five teams who finished 8-10 in the Big 12 regular season have gone on to appear in the NCAA tournament, but reaching the eight-win mark does not guarantee a berth.
Last season, two 8-10 teams in Big 12 play wound up in the NIT, while a 9-9 Baylor side in 2013 also missed the NCAA tournament, only to win the NIT championship.
Still, none of those tournament snubs would be anything close to an 11-win West Virginia team missing the national tournament, according to Carey.
“Only on the women’s side could something like this happen,” said Carey. “It’s amazing how this goes on on the women’s side, it really is, because if it happened to a Big 12 men’s team, it would be all over. There would be changes.”
The Big 12 ranks third among women’s basketball conferences in RPI. According to the latest bracket projections from ESPN, only four Big 12 teams will make the field. Each of the other top five RPI leagues are projected to send at least six teams to the NCAA tournament this year, according to ESPN and Real Time RPI.
“You win 11 games and finish fourth in the league, and you’re the third-rated RPI league in the country, you should be in the NCAA tournament, and if we’re not, there is a big problem with the selection,” said Carey.
The Mountaineers failed to qualify for the tournament last year after earning a berth in each of the two previous campaigns. Last year, WVU won more games in the regular season overall (21) and advanced to the semifinals in the Big 12 tournament, but finished the regular season with an 8-10 league mark.
In 2015, WVU also missed the NCAA tournament. Instead, it made a run to the WNIT championship, where it lost to UCLA 62-60.