Early games that matter in March

There's more at stake when Louisville faces Minnesota than the father-son rivalry of Rick and Richard. AP Photo/Frank Franklin II

When we think of sports in November, big-time college basketball isn't usually at the top of the list. But maybe it should be. As college football is discovering, the looming presence of a postseason bracket doesn't minimize regular-season games. It enhances them.

In college hoops, there are plenty of meaningful games in the early season. From Atlantis to Maui, Alaska to San Juan, a team can affect its postseason selection or seeding with both performance and the level of competition. Too many cupcakes will almost always cause indigestion later, while an early steal becomes the gift that keeps on giving.

Let's put it another way: A team can't win an NCAA bid in November, but it can make the next four months a whole lot easier (or harder, as the case may be). And it's not very difficult to identify recent teams whose Selection Sunday fate was formed largely in the first month of the season:

BYU Cougars (2013-14, NCAA)

The Cougars were only in the NCAA conversation because of November victories over fellow tourney teams Stanford (away) and Texas (neutral). So-called "good" losses to Iowa State and Wichita State, both ranked, also came in the first month of the season.

SMU Mustangs (2013-14, NIT)

I still believe the Mustangs were an at-large team last season. However, nonconference scheduling became their anchor with consecutive November home games against Texas State, Arkansas-Pine Bluff and Sam Houston. These were followed a few weeks later by visits from McNeese State, Texas-Pan American and Hofstra. That's just too many cupcakes for the committee to swallow.