CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- It wasn't quite Iouri Podladtchikov's Cab double cork 1440 at the Winter Olympics, but Bob Huggins' team just snowboarded past one of its most difficult stretches in program history.
The West Virginia University men's basketball team faced four consecutive nationally ranked opponents (per the voters, not computers) for the first time ever. It wasn't a flawless, gold medal performance, but the Mountaineers won twice at home and lost twice on the road to go from NCAA tournament hopeless to Big Dance hopeful.
It is the first time since the 2005 season -- when West Virginia made runs to the Big East tournament title game and Elite 8 -- the program faced four nationally ranked teams in as few as 11 days. That year, WVU played No. 7 Boston College, No. 19 Villanova and No. 16 Syracuse on consecutive days at Madison Square Garden, and then knocked off No. 5 Wake Forest a week after the Big East final to advance to the Sweet 16 of the NCAA tourney.
In the 2005 regular season, the Mountaineers won its 15th game on Feb. 16. This Feb. 16, WVU is 15-11 overall, but which side of the bubble does Huggins' seventh West Virginia team sit?
In the past 11 days, the Mountaineers defeated a pair of ranked teams in Morgantown (then-No. 21 Oklahoma and No. 11 Iowa State), while losing by double digits at No. 8 Kansas (83-69) and at No. 19 Texas (88-71).
The wins over OU and ISU came by an average of 15.0 points. The losses to the Jayhawks and Longhorns were by an average of 15.5 points.
That isn't exactly a clean landing, but two weeks ago the Mountaineers were 13-9 and the pundits weren't debating WVU's bracket placement.
That conversation is going on now, and will probably continue if West Virginia can hold serve at the Coliseum in Morgantown, where it has lost just once (against Texas) since Christmas.
The Mountaineers, with five regular season games left, play at home on the final three Saturdays of the regular season: against unranked Baylor, unranked TCU and No. 7 Kansas. Those games alternate with tough road matchups against the Cyclones and Sooners, teams WVU beat at home.
Saturday's flop in Austin shouldn't pull the Mountaineers off the tongues of bracket gurus like ESPN's Joe Lunardi, who had WVU as a No. 12 seed before the 17-point loss at Texas on Saturday. The Mountaineers were one of the last four teams in during a media mock selection process in Indianapolis last week.
The national profile of the Big 12 and the endless supply of top 25 teams in the league are benefiting the Mountaineers in their second season as a conference member. The Big 12 is still the nation's No. 1 conference per the Ratings Percentage Index (RPI), and the four ranked teams West Virginia just played in an 11-day span equaled the amount the team played in an entire season as recently as 2002.