No team can make the NCAA tournament in November, but any team can play itself out of the Big Dance this month.
Yes, it's early, and many teams look very different come February, but these games count, too. In some cases, November matchups are widely referenced when differentiating teams for NCAA tournament selection. Strength of schedule often gets built, good or bad, in the season's first month.
To this point, every team is very much alive for a tournament berth, but some squads are approaching trouble -- or at least have demonstrated they might not be as good as early expectations.
Something just doesn't seem right in Austin, Texas. Last season's promise turned into disappointment and ended in a first-round NCAA tournament loss to Indiana. After a 2-2 start to this season, the Longhorns are already on alert. They haven't dropped from the field yet, but they have tumbled from a top-16 team in October's preseason bracket to one not all that far from the bubble. Texas is a No. 9 seed in Thursday's projection.
Coach Karen Aston has used different starting lineups in all four of Texas' games, searching for the right chemistry. It wasn't there in a 25-point home loss to Arizona on Sunday, or in the season opener, a 64-57 defeat at South Florida.
The two wins (Texas-Arlington and UT Rio Grande Valley) do nothing for the résumé, and the Longhorns can no longer be considered a lock for a tournament berth. Games against NC State, Stanford and Tennessee await before Big 12 play, but without a win in at least one of those matchups, Texas will enter the new year playing for its postseason life.
It was big news when the Irish fell out of the AP Top 25 for the first time in 12 years, but perhaps it shouldn't have been a surprise. Not only did Notre Dame lose its entire starting lineup from a year ago to the WNBA, but two projected starters this season -- Abby Prohaska (pulmonary embolism) and Mikayla Vaughn (knee sprain) -- are sidelined. Inexperience and a lack of depth are obvious shortcomings right now. Those areas will improve with time, but given their typically tough schedule, will those improvements come soon enough for the Irish this season?
Notre Dame has played in the past two NCAA title games, winning its second championship in 2018, and the idea of an NCAA tournament without the Fighting Irish seems almost fantasy. But after back-to-back home losses (Tennessee and Michigan State) and narrow wins over pedestrian opponents (Fordham and Toledo), it's a reality.
In Thursday's bracket projection, the Irish are a No. 9 seed, but Michigan, UConn, DePaul, Minnesota and South Florida still await on Notre Dame's schedule before the rugged ACC schedule begins. By this time next month, Notre Dame could be on the outside looking in after competing in 24 consecutive NCAA tournaments.
Unlike Texas or Notre Dame, the Tigers have already fallen out of the field. Losses to Navy and Alabama already threaten to spoil a season that had promise. The momentum of last year's first NCAA tournament appearance in 17 years is already gone, and a team projected as a No. 8 seed in the preseason bracketology is gone.
If Clemson's performance doesn't quickly and significantly improve, it's not a stretch to say that those two losses are already too much to overcome. Regardless of what the Tigers do the rest of the way, they will be anchors on the résumé the entire season.
Big East (other than DePaul)
One year removed from an outstanding battle between Marquette and DePaul for conference supremacy, and one year away from the return of UConn, this wasn't necessarily supposed to be a banner season in the Big East. But did anyone see it becoming a one-bid league?
The Blue Demons, one of the country's most consistent programs, once again look to be fine. After that, there is no sure thing. St. John's and Seton Hall, the next two teams in the preseason poll, both failed their only early-season tests (losses to James Madison and Princeton, respectively). Neither made the field this week. Nor did the Golden Eagles, who lost a head coach (Carolyn Kieger moved to Penn State, replaced by Megan Duffy) and five senior starters. They have started 4-1 with one fairly significant résumé-worthy win over Green Bay, but that isn't enough. The same can be said for everyone else in the conference.