The Presidential Bracket: Obama Flashes Pragmatism in NCAA Picks

By Chris Good

In what has now become an annual occurrence, President Obama has filled out his NCAA bracket at the White House with ESPN college hoops guru Andy Katz. The president's picks: Kansas to win it, Georgetown to make a run, and Kansas State to play their ways into the Final Four.

Here's the video of Obama and Katz:

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And here's the president's bracket (click for large version):
Obama NCAA bracket 2010.jpg
Obama coolly made his picks on ESPN as if he might have just thought them up--as if college basketball really is second nature to him--but don't be fooled: the president agonized over his bracket beforehand, according to White House spokesman Tommy Vietor.


So what do the president's picks say about him?

Presidential Pragmatism

Above all, Obama showcased his trademark pragmatism--which makes sense, because Obama has been telling voters how pragmatic he is since the campaign trail.

The president does not appear to let emotion get in the way of predictions: he picks the teams that, he feels, are most likely to win, not teams he would like to see win.

He took the odds-on favorite (Kansas) to win the tournament, and he picked Kentucky, rwhich gets second-best odds in Vegas, to appear in the championship game. His biggest upset pick is 13-seed Murray State over 4-seed Vanderbilt, but that's about it. Obama showed conviction and confidence behind his decisions; when he makes a pick, he gives a reason for it. On Murray State, he told Katz: "They've got a well-balanced team, and they're athletic." Which is more than most people have to say about Murray State.

Obama's bracket, and his explanation of it, is an illustration of cool analysis over wild-eyed, emotional upsets, even if he threw the underdogs (St. Mary's, Cornell) a few first-round bones.

But Obama is in a unique position for bracket picks: he is, after all, the president of the United States. He's supposed to be responsible, and there are stock markets to think about here. If he picked Montana to win it all, Iran might attack tomorrow. It's not beyond the realm of possibility that Ahmadinejad gets ESPN.

Experience and Leadership over Talent

Obama made it clear, in his talk with Katz, that he prizes experience and leadership over talent. (Yes, his critics would call this ironic.)

"I always like teams in the tournament who've got experience, terrific guards," Obama said of the seasoned Kansas Jayhawks, whom he picked over the freshman-talent-laden Kentucky for the championship win.

When faced with choices between talent and leadership, Obama deferred to the latter. He picked Georgetown to beat Ohio State and player of the year candidate Evan Turner, citing John Thompson III's leadership as a head coach.

Same story in his pick of 5-seed Michigan State to beat 4-seed Maryland and emotional leader Greivis Vazquez.

"Maryland's got a great player, but Michigan State's got a great coach [in Tom Izzo], and I think that makes the difference," Obama said.

The President Knows Basketball

But we already knew that.

Obama has clearly been following college basketball this season. He talked fluently with Katz about Cornell's near-upset of Kansas in early January. He knew about the injury to Purdue star Robbie Hummel. He referenced New Mexico's weak schedule.

And he even knew that Kansas State coach Frank Martin is an intense, intimidating guy. (Martin actually hit a player on the back of the head in a fit of emotion this season after a loss to Missouri, then quickly apologized. Somehow, no one was surprised by this.)

"He's a scary dude," Obama told Katz. "I could send him up to Congress to vote for health care."

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