Barack Obama’s Very Special Election-Year NCAA Bracket
by Dan Shanoff
In a contentious election year in which Barack Obama’s approval rating sits at right around 50 percent, let’s offer the same caveat as last year: Just because the President is taking ten minutes to fill out a bracket doesn’t mean he isn’t focused on creating jobs. Political TV producers will have to find something else to fill 12 hours of talk today.
With that said, let’s dig into President Obama’s bracket, keeping in mind that in last year’s version, he out-performed 87 percent of the country (despite whiffing on his national-champ pick) and has spent his first term with annual bracket success ratings well into the 80th percentile.
Like most of the country, the President recognizes Kentucky’s dominance in the region, and his four South semifinalists are conventional — the top four seeds all advance, with the Wildcats earning a Final Four spot.
Audacity of Upsets: In a nod to the previously red state that flipped blue in 2008, Obama picks 12-seed VCU to upend 5-seed Wichita State. (Or, perhaps, Obama just remembers VCU’s Cinderella run to the Final Four a year ago.)
National (Bracket) Approval Rating: Strong. When compared to the nation — as aggregated through ESPN.com’s “National Bracket” of everyone’s combined picks — Obama is in lockstep in this region. Even Obama’s pick of Baylor over Duke — at nearly 50/50, by far the most nationally divisive pick of the Sweet 16 round — appropriately reads the anti-elitist mood of the country.
The President is a big fan of Michigan State coach Tom Izzo (with all those Final Fours, what self-respecting amateur bracket pundit wouldn’t be?), and yet he goes another way when it comes to picking a winner of the region. Will America approve? (Answer below.)
Audacity of Upsets: Is New Mexico in play in November? Perhaps that is an extra motivation for Obama to pick the 5-seed Lobos to upend 4-seed Louisville to advance to the Sweet 16. (That it might tweak Senate minority leader Mitch McConnell, a die-hard Louisville fan, seems like a serendipitous bonus.) Meanwhile, Obama picks 10-seed Virginia over 7-seed Florida. (This afternoon’s Politico headline: “WILL JEB BUSH TAKE THIS SNUB ALL THE WAY TO A BROKERED GOP CONVENTION?”)
National (Bracket) Approval Rating: Very strong. 1-seeds tend to dominate the Final Four in the National Bracket, but this year, a plurality of the country picked 2-seed Missouri over 1-seed Michigan State — as did Obama. (Unclear whether Mitt Romney will pen an op-ed calling to let Michigan State fail in your bracket.)
The President made his picks before yesterday’s news that imposing Syracuse center Fab Melo would be ineligible for the tournament. That didn’t stop him from reading the situation correctly that the Orange are a perennial tournament let-down. It probably won’t hurt his standing in the ultimate battleground state that he picks Ohio State to win the region. David Plouffe undoubtedly reminds him that the Electoral College math is more important than bracket percentile. (And yet: It’s a testament to Syracuse’s potential to choke that it overwhelms even the most obvious political conspiracy-theory pick of Obama’s bracket.)
Audacity of Upsets: Obama’s East is chalky — he picks all the favorites, except 10-seed West Virginia over 7-seed Gonzaga (and with the game in WVU’s backyard, Pittsburgh, there’s a near-majority of fans picking the ‘Eers to win anyway).
As for Obama’s law school alma mater, Harvard? Obama picks them to lose in the first round to Vanderbilt: “I will be rooting for Harvard,” he said. “But it’s just too much of a stretch.”
National (Bracket) Approval Rating: Strong — potentially much stronger. The nation has Syracuse nudging past Ohio State to win the region, but almost all of those votes were before yesterday afternoon’s scandal. In the final 24 hours before brackets close, watch for a surge of support for Ohio State — and validation of Obama’s judgment.
The seemingly most obvious of the four brackets for the rest of us is a simple task for Obama, too: UNC winning the region, beating Kansas in the final. This is the least controversial portion of everyone’s bracket — something about which “red” and “blue” America can finally come together. That doesn’t mean Obama doesn’t make it interesting.
Audacity of Upsets: Modest. Perhaps inspired by the momentum of recently positive job reports, Obama rides the hot hand of 11-seed NC State — one of the final teams let into the Tournament, on the strength of its solid run through the ACC Tournament — into the Sweet 16. (Given Georgetown’s struggles to escape the first weekend of the tournament over the past few years, Obama’s upset pick isn’t a stretch.)
National (Bracket) Approval Rating: Very strong. Obama splits from the country on St. Mary’s-Purdue (he takes Purdue) and NC State-Georgetown (Obama picks NC State), but otherwise, lockstep. If Obama jibes this strongly with the Midwest in November, his re-election is assured.
Final Four: Obama shares 3 of 4 Final Four teams with a plurality of the nation — Kentucky, Missouri and UNC. His fourth Final Four team, Ohio State, may very well be the nation’s pick by the time brackets close tomorrow shortly before noon ET.
When it comes to picking a champion, Obama zigs. The nation overwhelmingly favors Kentucky, yet the President says he thinks that North Carolina’s experience will upend the Wildcats.
Experience matters? Sounds like a campaign theme in the making.
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.