MORGANTOWN - Coach Bob Huggins thinks that, win or lose against Louisville in Saturday night's regular-season finale, his West Virginia basketball team is assured of a berth in the NCAA Tournament.
The Mountaineers, 21-9 overall and 10-7 in the Big East, are listed as 20th in the Ratings Percentage Index (RPI) this week, and the team's strength of schedule is No. 15.
"Yeah, I don't know how we can't be," Huggins replied Wednesday night when asked that question. WVU had just earned a first-round bye in next week's Big East Tournament at Madison Square Garden, drubbing DePaul 82-63 at the Coliseum.
"If we do what we can do on Saturday and get 11 (conference) wins with the schedule we have played, not only should we be in, but our seed should be pretty good. We played probably as hard a schedule as anyone in this league."
Louisville, ranked No. 6 in the polls, is 24-5 overall and 14-3 in the Big East following its 95-78 rout of Seton Hall at home Wednesday night. The Cardinals won an earlier encounter with WVU, 69-63, in Louisville.
"We did a much better job in the second half (of that game)," Huggins recalled. "We need to concentrate on doing what we did the second half more than what we did the first half.
"They were like most people, they had a hard time scoring when we didn't throw it to them. We have to do a better job at not throwing it to them. We have to gear it back up, defensively."
Huggins is pleased with the development of three freshmen.
"I think they are getting better," he said. "Kevin Jones is playing with a lot of confidence, and I think it's a shame if he is not on the All-Big East rookie team. What he has contributed to this basketball team without a question I think Devin Ebanks is in, but Kevin is very deserving. He has just gotten better and better."
Darryl "Truck" Bryant also has been a major contributor. He had 12 points and six assists against DePaul. Bryant is showing signs that he may be becoming more consistent as a point guard.
DePaul coach Jerry Wainwright likes what he saw of the Mountaineers.
"The way West Virginia ratcheted it up there and made shots, they certainly deserved to win," he said. "And they will be a tough out and certainly an NCAA representative team.
"They're a team that that will cause some problems in the right brackets because of their versatility. They can score a lot of different ways, and that always helps you in tournament basketball."
Alex Ruoff, 6-foot-6 guard, is the only senior on this year's squad. He will be honored in a pre-game ceremony Saturday. Ruoff has tied the WVU career record for 3-point goals.
He is averaging 16.3 points and 3.6 rebounds for 28 games this season. He also has a team-best 98 assists, 48 steals and nine blocked shots.
Ruoff's next 3-pointer will give him a career collection of 254, breaking the previous record of 253 set by former teammate Kevin Pittsnogle.