by Dan Shanoff
Let’s start with this sobering but necessary caveat: Barack Obama is perfectly capable of applying his attention on the country’s economic problems and the world’s massively scary issues right now and taking 20 minutes to fill out an NCAA bracket.
With that out of the way, let’s parse Obama’s bracket — published earlier today on ESPN.com — with all of the attention of a 24/7 political pundit parsing the latest daily message from the White House. Forget Politico’s “Win the morning.” Let’s “Win the March Madness.”
East: The President stays very conventional, picking the higher seed to win in every match-up except one. He shows a strong commitment to the battleground state of Ohio, picking the Buckeyes to roll through the region.
Audacity of Upsets: Just one, taking 11-seed Marquette over 6-seed Xavier. Otherwise, he is a pragmatist.
National (Bracket) Approval Rating: Strong. When compared to nation — as aggregated through ESPN.com’s “National Bracket” of all picks combined — Obama hews closely to the rest of us, although America likes Xavier more than Marquette.
West: Obama gets a bit bolder. While he likes 1-seed Duke to win the region, he picks Arizona — a sentimental favorite, undoubtedly — ahead of Texas, a state in which he has little chance of ever winning majority approval.
Audacity of Upsets: In addition to Arizona, the President flashes an East Coast — some might smear “elitist” — bias by taking streaking UConn over 2-seed San Diego State in the regional semifinal, despite the fact the game will be played in Anaheim, SDSU’s backyard. Obama clearly doesn’t believe in the trendy one-hit wonders, for which San Diego State is the poster team.
National (Bracket) Approval Rating: America approves! The consensus also predicts UConn will upend San Diego State — although the nation has far less faith that Arizona can beat Texas (by a 2.5-to-1 margin).
Southwest: More conservative thinking, with all four top seeds advancing to the Sweet 16, at which point things get slightly more interesting: Obama picks 3-seed Purdue over 2-seed Notre Dame in the regional semis. This is clearly some kind of pre-emptive political judo against popular Indiana governor and thinking person’s GOP 2012 front-runner Mitch Daniels.
Audacity of Upsets: Slightly more risk taken here than before, picking 12-seed Richmond over 5-seed Vanderbilt (a popular upset pick) and 10-seed Florida State over 7-seed Texas A&M; (it never hurts to try to earn extra points with fans/voters in Florida).
National (Bracket) Approval Rating: Low. The nation rejects the upset picks of Richmond and Florida State, and also picks Notre Dame over Purdue in a nearly 2-to-1 ratio. The Southwest is a mixed experience for Obama. Obviously, despite our political fissure, everyone agrees that Kansas will win the region handily.
Southeast: More up-the-middle conventionality, with the seeding mostly holding and Pitt winning the region. But let’s read into something interesting….
Audacity of Upsets: Perhaps in a tweak to fiscal foil Paul Ryan or governor Scott Walker — if you’re going to make a pick or two informed by irrational reasons, it is not unreasonable to think Obama will make a few with political ones — Obama picks 4-seed Wisconsin to get eliminated even before the Sweet 16. (If it happens in real life, you can’t help but think “karma.”)
Obama also has 11-seed Gonzaga knocking out 6-seed St. John’s on the tournament’s first day — busting New York City will undoubtedly help as a talking point in the more purple states — and 10-seed Michigan State beating 7-seed UCLA.
National (Bracket) Approval Rating: Credit to Obama — not only does the nation match his Pitt-over-Florida prediction for the regional finals, but his K-State pick over Wisconsin is the most evenly split among the country of any of the 16 games in the Round of 32. Conclusion: Many people apparently hate Scott Walker.
Final Four: Obama walks in lockstep with most of the nation, picking all four 1-seeds to reach the Final Four — Ohio State, Duke, Kansas, Pittsburgh. From there, he joins the country in picking Kansas and Ohio State to make the title game. There, they diverge: A plurality have the Buckeyes winning it all; Obama says “Rock Chalk Jayhawk” and picks KU.
Of course, last year, Obama picked Kansas to win it all — and the Jayhawks were bounced out in the first term weekend by pesky Northern Iowa.
With a largely conventional selection, Obama seems poised to return to the form that saw him out-pick 80 percent of the country in 2009, when he correctly called North Carolina as the champ.
Really: Was that such an impossible break to take? Now we can all go back to focusing on Japan and jobs.
Dan Shanoff is the founder of Quickish, a real-time quick-hit sports-news company that helps you keep up with the big things that are happening. Perfect for moments like, you know, 12 straight hours of NCAA Tournament games that start tomorrow afternoon. Oh, you are personally invited to join the Quickish bracket-picking group. (Yes! Another one!) Bonus: Obama’s entry will be a part of it, so you can compare yourself to him as things progress.