Games that defined 2012-13 season

Wichita State's 53-51 win at VCU in November showed that the Shockers had major potential. Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

In a week, we'll post our first bracket for the 2013-14 season. That exercise will be educated guesswork subject to a whole bunch of variables -- such as coaching changes, NBA early entry candidates and transfers -- between now and November.

Today, we take one last look backward. It's our coda for the 2012-13 season and a reminder of how easily just a handful of games can impact the NCAA tournament. What we view with so much finality in March (and April) is actually anything but final without a near-endless series of events along the way.

Here's a look at nine key dates (featuring a dozen games) that proved to be the most significant stepping-stones in terms of shaping the NCAA tournament bracket and determining the eventual national champions, the Louisville Cardinals.

Nov. 13, Wichita State Shockers at Virginia Commonwealth Rams
The Shockers were replacing four starters from a 27-6 team that had lost to VCU as a 5-seed in the 2012 NCAA tournament. The likelihood that Wichita State would win on the road at an even-better VCU in the second game of the season seemed remote. Yet the Shockers prevailed 53-51, giving us a very early indication of what would be possible just four months later.

Jan. 19, Gonzaga Bulldogs at Butler Bulldogs
Who knew a crazy finish and loss at Hinkle Field House would propel the Zags to the most unlikely No. 1 seed since Saint Joseph's in 2004? Gonzaga would win 15 in a row following Roosevelt Jones' heroics for Butler, claiming a No. 1 seed in the West and igniting the usual big-versus-small-conference debates. Once again, even with the Zags losing in the third round, the NCAAs provided plenty of "little-guy moments."

Jan. 23, Duke Blue Devils at Miami Hurricanes
The Hurricanes were a nice little story through the nonconference schedule, then hammered Duke (90-63) and North Carolina (87-61) on their way to ACC regular-season and tournament championships. It was by far the best season in school history, and it earned coach Jim Larranaga national coach of the year honors (and a near No. 1 seed on Selection Sunday).