Make no mistake: Winning a Big East conference title is a big deal. That goes double for West Virginia, a program that has gone 26 years without winning a Big East conference title. The fans in Morgantown love their Mountaineers -- sometimes a little too much -- and a conference championship would put this Da'Sean Butler and Devin Ebanks and Bob Huggins and the rest of this rangy squad into that lofty "never buy a drink in West Virginia again" category only legends ever reach.
For the rest of the country, though, West Virginia's conference title bid -- which ends one way or the other with tonight's 9 p.m. ET date with Georgetown -- has more important implications. Will West Virginia lock down a No. 1 seed?
“Nobody goes through what we go through in this league,” he told SI.com on Friday, after his team beat Notre Dame 53-51 in the semifinals. “I learned a long time ago that I’m not on the committee. But I mean, to think we’re not [a No. 1]? By the time we’re done with this tournament, our strength of schedule is going to be in the top five in the country. We’re going to be in the top five in the RPI. We’ve done everything they say to do and won.
“Who else would have sat in Newark on Christmas Day [before a game at Seton Hall], and then been in West Lafayette on New Year’s Eve [before a game at Purdue]? We went and played people. You ever been in West Lafayette on New Year’s Eve? Trust me — it was only about 26 below.”
I'm not sure the NCAA selection committee will take into account how cold it was in West Lafayette, Ind. on New Year's Eve. That has to be somewhere below strength of schedule on the committee's priorities. (Though it's probably still higher than Pomeroy rank. Sigh.) And Bob Huggins isn't exactly the most unbiased arbiter on this issue.
But none of that matters: If West Virginia wins the Big East tournament, its argument for a No. 1 seed is sound. The Mountaineers will have prevailed over 16 teams in what most consider the toughest conference in the country. They sit at No. 4 in the RPI. West Virginia is 4-4 against the top 25 while Duke is 1-3. West Virginia's worst loss came to No. 62 RPI team UConn while Duke's came to No. 90 N.C. State. The Mountaineers also won four more games at road or neutral sites, going 14-4 to Duke's 10-5. Even if Duke wins the ACC tournament, West Virginia's accomplishments are just a hair more impressive -- but more impressive all the same.
As Winn points out in his piece, West Virginia doesn't win pretty. If the committee decides to get all eye-testy, they could favor a Duke team that's spent much of the last month -- including this weekend -- fluidly dominating conference foes. But given the two conferences' relative levels of competition, it's hard to look at both teams and decide that Duke is clearly more deserving of a No. 1. It isn't.
Of course, there is still work to be done here. Both teams need to finish the job for this to be a conversation, no guarantee for either (especially the Mountaineers, who face a very hot Georgetown team in their finale tonight). But Bob Huggins, for all his gruff, is right: If the Mountaineers win the Big East tournament, they should be a No. 1 seed. Simple as that.