In mid-March 2009, less than two months after being sworn in as President, Barack Obama filled out his bracket for the NCAA men’s basketball tournament. As he explained his picks to ESPN’s Andy Katz, the president displayed some deft knowledge of both the game and the landscape of the tournament. “I hate to say this because my brother-in-law’s in the Pac-10 right now,” Obama told Katz, “but the Pac-10’s been looking pretty weak this year.”
It’s no big secret that Obama is a huge basketball fan. He grew up playing the game, his aforementioned brother-in-law, Craig Robinson, is the head coach at Oregon State, and he plays plenty of pick-up games (including a regular match documented in Michael Lewis’ Vanity Fair profile of the president). In ’09 he predicted that Pitt, North Carolina, Louisville and Memphis would make the Final Four. He got one right – UNC, who he also picked to win it all — and the Tar Heels beat Michigan State 89-72 to become National Champions.
The rest of Obama’s NCAA picks, however, seemed to mirror the fortunes of his own presidency. In 2010 none of Obama’s Final Four picks made it; in 2011, it was the same story. Last year, the president again picked North Carolina to go the distance, telling Katz, “I’m just a sucker for the Tar Heels.” Things recovered somewhat in his reelection year, however; the President picked Kentucky to make the Final Four, and the Wildcats blew through the field to ultimately win the title over Kansas.
Obama continues his “Barack-etology” tradition this year (a term that sounds pretty familiar), and after going 1 and 3 in his first term he’s trying to bring back some optimism. “I think we can do better,” Obama said. His big upsets include Belmont over Arizona, and he seems to favor the Big 10 conference. UNC, the team he picked twice to win the tournament, seems a bit young this year; Obama slated them to lose in the round of 32.
Perhaps the biggest upset Obama picked was that Gonzaga, the No. 1 seed in the West, will fall to Wisconsin in the Sweet 16. He picked Michigan to advance to the Elite 8, where he predicted the Wolverines would lose to Florida.
This year’s Presidential Final Four: Louisville, Indiana, Ohio State and Florida, with Louisville and Indiana facing off in the title game and the Hoosiers taking home the trophy.
So what does this Oval Office prognostication mean for your own NCAA brackets? Well, clearly the President knows a lot about the field, although according to a recent study that doesn’t always help; his choices have been hit or miss the past few years. Still, he did pick the champion his first year in office, and as he starts his second term it’s hard to count Number 44 out of the game.