President Barack Obama spent part of Tuesday making his tournament picks for ESPN, which posted his completed bracket online Wednesday and showed the First Fan filling it out with Andy Katz on the noon edition of “Sportscenter.”
Obama picked North Carolina to defeat Louisville for the NCAA championship, a relatively safe selection for a trailblazing president.
“Now, for all the Tar Heels who are watching, I picked you last year — you let me down,” Obama said. “This year, don’t embarrass me in front of the nation, all right? I’m counting on you. I still got those sneakers you guys gave me.”
Of course, the president’s choice drew a reaction from the Tar Heels’ most intense rival.
“Somebody said that we’re not in President Obama’s Final Four, and as much as I respect what he’s doing, really, the economy is something that he should focus on, probably more than the brackets,” Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski said with a laugh from the Blue Devils’ first-round site in Greensboro, N.C.
The president had top-seeded Pittsburgh join the No. 1-seeded Tar Heels and Cardinals in the Final Four, but chose second-seeded Memphis to beat Connecticut in the West Regional.
“I think Memphis has got a very athletic team,” Obama told Katz, an ESPN college basketball analyst. “I think they’ve got a good shot.”
Perhaps showing some indecision, Obama initially had the Panthers playing Louisville for the national title in the file posted online. Pitt was scratched out of the title game in favor of North Carolina, which in turn replaced Louisville in the “champion” box.
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“Here’s what I like about Carolina: experience and balance,” Obama said.
Familiarity, too. Obama played a pickup game with Tyler Hansbrough and the Tar Heels while campaigning in North Carolina last April.
Katz interviewed Obama last October for a story about the president’s brother-in-law, Oregon State basketball coach Craig Robinson. After the interview, Obama invited Katz to play in a pickup basketball game on Election Day in Chicago, and he did.
Katz extracted a promise from Obama that if elected, the new president would reveal his NCAA picks to ESPN when the pairings were announced in March.
“They stayed true to their word and didn’t hesitate to get it done,” Katz said.
Obama was brutally honest in assessing many of the teams, including Blake Griffin and second-seeded Oklahoma, which he has losing to Syracuse for a spot in the final eight.
“The problem with Oklahoma, they have the player of the year, but they play like, seven guys,” Obama said. “I think you start getting worn down.”
Among the other notable selections, Obama picked 10th-seeded Maryland to beat No. 7 seed California in the West Regional, fifth-seeded Florida State to make the round of 16, and No. 11 seed Virginia Commonwealth to beat UCLA.
Any chance the president slips away for a few minutes to see how his picks are doing when the tournament begins in earnest Thursday?
“I think the chances are pretty high,” he said.