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WVU basketball: Last season in Big East could be defined by officiating

MORGANTOWN, W.Va. -- Right now, 26 games into the season and 26 days from Selection Sunday, we just don't know how things will end for West Virginia's basketball team.

A whole lot can change for the team that was 15-5 overall and 5-2 in the Big East, but has now lost five of six. What the Mountaineers do with the remaining six games they are guaranteed will determine if they end up in a fifth straight NCAA Tournament or in the NIT for the first time since winning it in 2007.

All WVU really has to do with the five games left in the regular season and at least one in the Big East Tournament is march in place, win more than lose, and things should be OK.

The RPI on Monday was 41 and the strength of schedule was No. 6.

That won't change a whole lot as long as the bottom doesn't fall out for the Mountaineers ... though it could with road games left at three tough arenas.

West Virginia seems to believe it needs 10 conference wins to get into the NCAA Tournament, but 9-9 could do it, if coupled with a run at Madison Square Garden.

A Big East team that finished below .500 in conference play hasn't made the NCAA Tournament since Seton Hall went 15-11 overall and 8-10 in the Big East in 1993-94.

The Pirates then won two games in the conference tournament, and that was enough to impress because six of the league's 10 teams made the NCAA Tournament that season.  

And while time remains and we might not yet know the story of this season, the hunch here is that it is written.

This season, the last one in the Big East for the Mountaineers, may very well be remembered, if not defined, by officiating.

This isn't a monologue from atop a soapbox. It's not a rant from the bully's pulpit. The truth is I don't have a solution for how fix officiating.

The scheduling system that allows a middle-aged man to work 28 games in 34 days or 77 games before Valentine's Day is absurd. Yet the problem with quality officiating trumps the quantity of games.

Put a limit on games in a week or a month and you limit how often the better officials are available and you incorporate more mediocre officials, which doesn't help.

The fix there is to get more officials who are good at officiating, but that's far easier said than done. Truth is, it's in a bad state right now and everyone has to deal with it.

It's an old story and, again, probably not the one everyone is going to be telling when they talk about these Mountaineers this season.

This could still be about a triumph in spite of youth, or a tragedy because of it. There could be the school's first Big East Player of the Year in Kevin Jones, or a worthy candidate robbed of what he deserved because of an untimely team slump.

Yet three times now in Big East play alone the postgame discussion has been muffled because of the din of complaints about officiating.

The Mountaineers believe they should have had one more possession late in a loss against Connecticut after a ball went out of bounds off a Huskies player under the WVU basket with just seconds to go and UConn up by three points. So says Deniz Kilicli, who doesn't even want to talk about officiating these days.

Then there was the incredible missed goaltending call against Syracuse that probably doesn't need to be revisited, certainly doesn't need to be examined and definitely hurt WVU in a way that has not yet healed.

Saturday offered up the next ignominy. The Mountaineers were left extremely bothered by what they thought was a lot of fouling by Louisville and not a lot of calls from the officials.

No one ever said it, but they sure hinted at it.

"When Deniz is out we get outrebounded," Coach Bob Huggins said. "We gave them too many chance.s Let me rephrase that. They were given too many chances."

Perhaps that wasn't about officials. You can't clarify these things with Huggins, or any coach or player, because they can't talk about officials. So maybe he was actually venting about the mistakes his players made. After all, the Mountaineers did have some critical mistakes.

The Louisville press repeatedly flustered the Mountaineers and forced them into a bunch of errors - the most notable one coming when Louisville's Wayne Blackshear, um, guarded Truck Bryant to the floor and Bryant lost the ball to Louisville's Russ Smith for a layup that gave the Cardinals the lead for good.

"What did you think of it?" Huggins said. "I think when you're allowed to play that way, it's a great strategy. That's what I think."

Hours later, Huggins, or whoever it is that's messaging for him, took to his new Twitter page and sent this out to the world: "WOW was that a physical press or what." Sarcasm has never come across so clearly in 140 characters or less

WVU shot 12 more free throws - and only made four more - and was called for seven fewer fouls in the game. It's hard to pinpoint exactly how the Mountaineers were slighted or to buy into the idea the conference is contracting officials to conspire against the team heading for the Big 12.

One of Huggins' daughters highlighted that conspiracy on her Twitter page Saturday night, and my problem with that is not that she did it - good for her, in fact, for saying what her dad can't - but that we've been led to this place where it's become a prevalent issue.

It's a theme and if the Mountaineers aren't careful, it might become the story.

Contact sportswriter Mike Casazza at mikec@dailymail.com or 304-319-1142. His blog is at blogs.dailymail.com/wvu.


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