After scare, is Louisville doomed?

Margin of victory in first game carries late-round impact

Updated: March 22, 2014, 9:19 AM ET
By Kevin Pelton | ESPN Insider

Chris Jones, Emmy AndujarDavid Manning/USA TODAY SportsChris Jones and Louisville squeaked past Manhattan on Thursday. Is it a sign of things to come?

On Thursday night, a nation watched in either terror or anticipation as the Manhattan Jaspers threatened to blow up brackets everywhere. The No. 13-seeded Jaspers led 4-seed Louisville, picked to reach the Final Four by 38.5 percent of participants in ESPN's Tournament Challenge, as late as the 2:35 mark before a late Cardinals run allowed them to survive and advance.

While Louisville avoided disaster, the close game doesn't necessarily augur well for those of us who have the defending champs playing deep into this year's tournament (I picked Louisville to lose in the national championship game). At the same time, it's easy to come up with counterexamples of teams that survived early scares en route to a title. So is there really any predictive value to performance in the tournament opener?

I attempted to answer this question four years ago at Basketball Prospectus, but now thanks to Sports-Reference.com, I have a more robust database including every round of 64 game since the NCAA expanded the tournament to 64 teams in 1985. When broken down by seed, history does suggest that margin of victory matters in the first couple of days of the full tournament.