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West Virginia Vs. South Florida: Mountaineers Close Out Regular Season In Tampa

Both the Bulls and the 'Eers eye NCAA tournament bids as they square off in the last regular season game of the year.

Well, it all comes down to this. The Mountaineers have one more regular season contest remaining, Saturday's noon tipoff against South Florida. At stake for both teams is an opportunity to move solidly into the NCAA Tournament field. For the Mountaineers, it means a shot at a 9-9 record in conference and, if they get some help from DePaul, a bye in the first round of the Big East tournament. Here's what I'll be watching:

  • The scoreboard. It might not get a lot of work today. South Florida smothers teams with defense and will try to do the same against the Mountaineers. WVU sometimes has trouble finding good shots, so the Bulls' strengths will take direct advantage of the 'Eers weaknesses. Bob Huggins has said that the Mountaineers need to play the game into the 60s in order to win. The Bulls are rooting for a rock fight in the 40s, and they just might get it.
  • The standings. If WVU wins and Seton Hall loses (to lowly DePaul), then the Mountaineers will earn a first-round bye and avoid playing on day one of the Big East tournament. If the Mountaineers and Pirates both win, it looks like WVU will get a shot at a tenth win against DePaul in the first game of the Big East tournament. While both outcomes could potentially benefit WVU, it's always better to move up in the standings. For that even to be an option, they've got to take care of business Saturday afternoon.
  • Can Truck re-write the history books? Senior guard Truck Bryant will go down in Mountaineer history books as a fairly successful but enigmatic player. When he's good, he's great, but when he's bad, he's god-awful. Truck looked great in his senior night game in Morgantown, and if he can keep that up, he could lead the 'Eers on a surprising run in the Big East and NCAA Tournament. If he can do that, then many in Morgantown will forget that "Truck" has been used as an expletive for most of the season.
  • The ascent of DoMo. Dominique Rutledge has gone from starting the season on suspension and being a non-factor for the bulk of the season to being a crucial part of the equation for the Mountaineers. As the only big man left on the bench to back up Kevin Jones and Deniz Kilicli, Rutledge has been on fire of late, scoring 14 points and hauling in 18 rebounds in the last two contests. While he looks a bit out of sync on offense, he's made huge contributions on the glass and on defense. He's been a better option than Kilicli of late, a trend that seems likely to continue.

For more on the West Virginia Mountaineers, stay tuned to SBNation Pittsburgh and The Smoking Musket.

Photographs by dizfunk used in background montage under Creative Commons. Thank you.