With the 2018 Big 12 season drawing to a close, the Texas Longhorns finish off the year playing host to the West Virginia Mountaineers (22-8; 11-6). This will be one of the team's final chances to pick up a high-quality win to show to the NCAA tournament selection committee.
A quick look at West Virginia
Bob Huggins' Mountaineers are a deep squad led by two seniors in the back court — Jevon Carter and Daxter Miles — and perhaps the most imposing defensive big man in the country — Sagaba Konate. These are far from the only Mountaineers that can hurt an opponent; there are dangerous and capable players all over the floor, and they collectively play an aggressive style of basketball that features full-court pressure defense and sends players to the offensive glass with bad intentions.
You can read more on the Mountaineers by checking out the preview from the last time these two teams played.
What happened the last time these two teams met?
What has West Virginia been up to since facing Texas?
The West Virginia victory over Texas broke up what otherwise would have been a six-game losing streak that had many questioning Coach Huggins' team. But the Mountaineers have gotten things back on track, winning six of the past eight games. Over this time the Mountaineers have found their shooting stroke, with Jevon Carter, Beetle Bolden, and Lamont West all putting shots down from distance.
What does this game mean?
For the Texas Longhorns, this game is critical.
Win or lose this game, Texas still has a possible path that can lead to an at-large NCAA tournament selection. But that path is so much easier with a win. Most bracket prognosticators have the Longhorns on the very edge of inclusion at this point. My personal guess is to have a chance at making the tournament, Coach Smart's team likely needs two more wins, with one of those wins falling into the upper quadrants on the team's NCAA tournament selection committee summary sheet.
This game would surely qualify as a quality win, and additionally it would set up Texas far better in the Big 12 tournament. Assuming I have the proper read on the esoteric tie breaker rules for Big 12 tournament seeding, with a win against West Virginia the Longhorns have a pretty good chance of grabbing the seven seed.
Here is how it works. There are four teams that could potentially end the season with eight wins: Texas, Oklahoma, Oklahoma State, and Baylor. There is no scenario that I can come up with where Texas could jump ahead of Baylor (oddly enough, if Texas loses, Baylor loses, and OU wins the Sooners can jump to the sixth spot, but no one else can jump Baylor as far as I can tell). Texas beats Oklahoma in a head-to-head tie breaker, and beats OU and Oklahoma State in a three-way tie breaker. These cases all leave Texas with a seven seed. (Tie breakers mean Texas would seed behind OSU in a head-to-head tie breaker in the unlikely event that OU loses at home to Iowa State and OSU wins at home over Kansas, so there is still a chance that Texas could win on Saturday and not grab a seven seed.)
On the other hand, if Texas loses against West Virginia, then only an OU loss at home to Iowa State (not likely) combined with an OSU loss to Kansas gives Texas a chance of avoiding the 8/9 game in the first round of the conference tournament.
Here is why this is important. The winner of the 8/9 game gets a second round game against Kansas in its home away from home known as Kansas City's Sprint Center. Winning a game like that would of course boost Texas' NCAA tournament hopes, but a far easier path is to win on Saturday against West Virginia, and set up a potential second round match-up against either West Virginia or Texas Tech. (Tech is a game behind WVU in the standings at the moment, but would jump WVU for seeding due to the tie breaker rules.)
So in summary, a win at home on Saturday delivers Texas another quality victory, and more than likely gets Texas out of a second round Big 12 game against the Jayhawks. Lose on Saturday, and unless the Longhorns get help from Iowa State, UT's road to the Big Dance will require prevailing against Kansas in Kansas City.
That makes Saturday pretty important.
The game tips in Austin at 11 a.m. CT, and airs on ESPN.