Don't count out UT just yet

The fact second-seeded Tennessee needed a last-second shot by Chris Lofton to nip No. 15 seed Winthrop in Thursday's first-round NCAA Tournament play has some Vol fans wringing their hands in dismay. It shouldn't. A first-round scare is no big deal … so long as you survive it.

Just ask Billy Donovan.

In Round 1 of the 2000 NCAA Tournament his fifth-seeded Florida Gators needed a last-second shot by Mike Miller to nip No. 12 seed Butler 69-68 in overtime. The Gators were just as unimpressive in that opening-round test as Tennessee was against Winthrop. But consider the rest of the story:

Round 2: Florida 93, No. 4 Illinois 76

Sweet 16: Florida 87, No. 1 Duke 78

Elite Eight: Florida 77, No. 3 Oklahoma State 65

Final Four: Florida 71, No. 8 North Carolina 59

Title game: No. 1 Michigan State 89, Florida 76

You can look it up: After needing a miracle shot just to survive in Round 1, the 2000 Gators found their rhythm and advanced all the way to the NCAA championship game.

One of UT coach Bruce Pearl's favorite lines is: "It's not how you start; it's how you finish." Florida proved that in March of 2000, playing like chumps in Round 1, then playing like champs on their way to the finals. No one expected much of the Gators after their lackluster opening performance, just as no one is expecting much of the Vols after their unimpressive debut.

By the way, there's another similarity between the 2000 Gators and the 2006 Vols: Florida began its Tournament run in the North Carolina city of Winston-Salem en route to a Final Four held April 1 and 3 at Indianapolis. Tennessee opened its Tournament run in the North Carolina city of Greensboro. This year's Final Four will be held April 1 and 3 at Indianapolis.

Bottom line: Don't count out the Big Orange just yet.

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