MURRELL COLUMN: Surviving bracket reflects unpredictable happenings

Published 12:01 am Friday, March 25, 2016

Editor’s note: I.C. Murrell has been away from the office since Wednesday and will return Tuesday. This column was prepared before Thursday’s resumption of the NCAA Men’s Basketball Championship.

Every bracket that’s filled for the NCAA Tournament hinges on how the ball bounces.

Every season, much of the tournament’s excitement hinges on the plethora of upsets. My record so far in correctly picking this year’s games (31-21) reveals how conservative I was. I mean, Michigan State, Arizona and West Virginia didn’t do it for me.

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Northern Iowa over Texas? That was an easy pick, but not as easy as it looked. Nor was it conservative.

The conservative move would be for me to go with the bigger-name team with a better resume. But that would be overlooking two things: Northern Iowa is a program built for the tournament, and Northern Iowa defeated North Carolina earlier in the season.

That is not overlooking that Texas beat North Carolina, either.

So, we were in for a good game. What I was not in for, but was bound to happen again after 35 years, was a half-court shot to win a tournament game.

(Malik Sealy and Dwight Stewart knocked them down, but they were at the first-half buzzer. Gordon Hayward came very close.)

History lesson here: Where I’m from, we are enamored with highlights of U.S. Reed’s half-court toss at The Super Drum — oh, I’m sorry, the Erwin Center; I just learned that nickname, recently — to beat defending champion Louisville.

To set the record straight, the 1979 NCAA final between Michigan State and Indiana State did not change the tournament forever. Reed’s shot two years later did.

The drama of that Arkansas-Louisville game forced NBC to keep viewers hanging in emotion between games, beginning an art that would become commonplace for CBS for the next 29 years. (Turner Sports have helped broadcast the last six and make every game broadcast nationally in full.) The moment Bryant Gumbel handed off the hot mike from New York to Marv Albert in Austin, Reed had just started to dribble.

But the common Arkansan — Trojan, Mulerider and Boll Weevil alike — might not remember that entirely. We’re used to the local footage of the shot with the late Paul Eells making the radio call.

I’ve waited 35 years for something like that again. I don’t think I would have bought the idea that it would happen to the Texas Longhorns.

Well, Paul Jesperson made Eells, who happened to be an Iowa City native, happy somewhere in heaven. Because Texas lost, of course.

Oh, but Texas A&M’s comeback was a thing of beauty. Good thing I just restarted my satellite radio subscription; I was done with the Aggies when I finished my last Daytona Beach wing at about the 2-minute mark.

Yes, I had Texas A&M beating Northern Iowa. Coming back in the final 35 seconds of regulation to force one of two overtimes just to win? Unpredictable.

So was Indiana beating Kentucky. I mean, we’re not in 1981 anymore, so I did have Big Blue meeting Baby Blue in the Sweet 16. Now, it’s Big Red meeting my championship favorite, like they did the last time NBC broadcast a tournament game.

Texas A&M playing Oklahoma? I predicted that.

For the record, I correctly picked 11 of the Sweet 16. Now, to review the other regional semifinals and compare them to what I predicted:

  • Kansas vs. Maryland: Kansas was easy, but I gave California coach Cuonzo Martin too much praise. That’s what his Sweet 16 run with Tennessee two years ago made me do.
  • Miami vs. Villanova: Spot on! The old Big East is back!
  • Oregon vs. Duke: Oregon is my Final Four hope, but I must have confused the Baylor Bears with the Lady Bears.
  • Notre Dame vs. Wisconsin: I had Xavier playing ND, although I really wanted Stephen F. Austin to win. Then again, I didn’t think the Lumberjacks had a shot in heaven to beat West Virginia.
  • Utah vs. Syracuse: Utah was a lucky guess. Happy for Jim Boeheim, but I had Michigan State in the Final Four.
  • Virginia vs. Iowa State: Right on the money. That is, of course, after Arkansas-Little … I meant, Little Rock stunned Purdue.

But I’m not complaining. Somewhere in heaven, I think late Little Rock and Dallas broadcaster Max Morgan is still smiling with Eells.

I.C. Murrell can be reached at 721-2435 or On Twitter: @ICMurrellPANews.

About I.C. Murrell

I.C. Murrell was promoted to editor of The News, effective Oct. 14, 2019. He previously served as sports editor since August 2015 and has won or shared eight first-place awards from state newspaper associations and corporations. He was born in Memphis, Tennessee, grew up mostly in Pine Bluff, Arkansas, and graduated from the University of Arkansas at Monticello.

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