If this were college football season, Tennessee, Gonzaga and Boston College would probably be dropping in the polls right now. We demanding voters don't look favorably upon close wins over inferior opponents.
This being the NCAA basketball tournament, however, the score doesn't matter; advancing does. It would be very easy right now to view Thursday's close calls endured by the second-seeded Vols (63-61 over No. 15 seed Winthrop), third-seeded Zags (79-75 over No. 14 seed Xavier) and fourth-seeded Eagles (88-76 in double overtime against No. 13 seed Pacific) as signs of their impending ousters. After all, the results only serve the perceptions by many that Tennessee was seeded too high, that Gonzaga has been overrated all season and that BC might struggle after getting shipped to Salt Lake City.
History tells us, however, that first-round close calls are often a prelude to deep tourney runs.
Remember Mike Miller's last-second floater in the lane to rescue fifth seed Florida against Butler in 2000? That dramatic finish served as a prelude to the Gators' improbable run to the national title game against Michigan State.
In 2001, Maryland needed a three-pointer from Steve Blake with 59 seconds remaining to go ahead of pesky 14 seed George Mason for good. The Terps wound up in the Final Four.
Before third-seeded Georgia Tech could get to the 2004 title game against Connecticut, it had to survive a furious upset bid by No. 14 seed Northern Iowa in the first round.
And how about Tyrone Salley's game-winning breakaway dunk in the closing seconds for West Virginia in last year's first-round game against Creighton? The seventh-seeded Mountaineers went on to upset No. 2 seed Wake Forest two days later, eventually reaching the Elite Eight.
How did these teams parlay their near-disasters into eventual tourney greatness? For starters, their coaches probably didn't view the occurrences as such a bad thing. Upsets happen in the tourney. When they do, it's usually because the little guy plays with a nothing-to-lose attitude, goes on a run and watches as the higher-seeded team panics. By not falling into that trap, the survivors exhibit the type of toughness necessary to string together a tourney run. A coach for such a team -- once he has staved off the potential heart attack -- has to be encouraged.
Winning a close first-round game can also serve as a highly beneficial wake-up call. As much as coaches preach the need to play with urgency in the postseason, nothing replicates the intensity of a one-and-done setting like having your season flash before your eyes.