It's been over a week since West Virginia played a basketball game and it will be two weeks exactly when they are expected to take the floor this Saturday at Kansas State. The last time out, the Mountaineers fell to No. 4 Texas in the final seconds 72-70, preventing them from their first signature win of the season.
A couple of days ago, Jeremy Woo of Sports Illustrated put together the eight tiers of college basketball for this season. Gonzaga is in a tier of their own at No. 1, Baylor is in a tier of their own at No. 2, then it starts to get really interesting. Gonzaga and Baylor are clearly the best two teams in the country and quite frankly, it's not even close. I wouldn't lock them into a Final Four because anything can happen come tournament time, but it has the feel that only two Final Four spots remain. Let's look at the rest of Woo's tiers and where West Virginia fits in.
Tier 3: Clear Final Four contenders
Iowa, Michigan, Texas
Tier 4: Knocking on the door
Creighton, Kansas, Tennessee, Villanova, Wisconsin
Tier 5: You would rather not play them
Clemson, Houston, Illinois, Oregon, Texas Tech, Virginia, West Virginia
Tier 6: Sneakily potent
Colorado, Ohio State, Saint Louis, UCLA, Virginia Tech
Tier 7: Good, but not completely convincing
Alabama, Indiana, Louisville, Minnesota, Oklahoma State, Purdue, Rutgers, Stanford, UConn, USC
Tier 8: How good are these teams really?
Arkansas, Duke, Florida, Florida State, LSU, Michigan State, Missouri, Oklahoma, North Carolina, Richmond, San Diego State, Seton Hall, Xavier
Having the Mountaineers in that fifth tier does make a lot of sense but they also have a little bit of that tier seven feel to it. They're somewhere between tiers 5-7 in my eyes but they're not going to sneak up on anyone. Just saying Bob Huggins and West Virginia basketball brings a lot of respect. The Mountaineers are no secret. I would shade more toward the fifth tier because if this team does start figuring out how to play defense and begins to make shots more consistently, this is going to be a tough team to beat in the tournament.
The only reason I see a little bit of the 7th tier is because what has West Virginia proved thus far? They hung with No. 1 Gonzaga but lost, they hung with No. 4 Texas but lost, and also got demolished on the road vs No. 6 Kansas. Their best win is probably against Richmond which doesn't bolster the resume by any means. On top of that, West Virginia is 1-2 since Oscar Tshiebwe's departure from the program. I get that it takes time to play with a new lineup but that's exactly why I'm not convinced on the Mountaineers just yet. To be a legitimate Final Four contender, you're going to have to beat some of the best teams in your conference and prove that you can do it on the road as well. The Mountaineers can get there, but they still have a lot to prove before they can climb these tiers of Final Four contenders.
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