WASHINGTON — President Barack Obama picked Kansas to win the NCAA title, with the hopes of correctly selecting college basketball’s national champion in the first and last years of his presidency.
Obama will leave office in January 2017. He correctly picked North Carolina in his first year in office in 2009, but he hasn’t selected the winner in the past six brackets.
This is the third time he has picked Kansas to win the title; he also selected the Jayhawks in 2010 and 2011.
“Bill Self owes me,” Obama said in jest while filling out a bracket with ESPN for the eighth straight year at the White House. “I’m putting Kansas in here. Coach, I’m just teasing. I’m not putting pressure on you. But I think the Jayhawks in a squeaker get past UNC.”
Obama had only one big “upset” in the first round of his bracket in selecting his home state, Hawaii, over Cal in a 13-4 matchup, in addition to a few “seed” upsets. He picked only four seed upsets in the following rounds.
Obama tends not to pick seed upsets after the first round. The most he selected after the first round was five in 2010 and 2012 and the fewest was two in 2015.
“I have a tendency to pick programs, but I think that may just be an accident this year,” said Obama. “There are some teams out there that are from the mid-majors that I think are high-quality teams, but they may not have the right matchup this year.”
Obama admitted he’s not as knowledgeable on the lower-profile teams to feel comfortable selecting Cinderellas to advance deep in the tournament.
“I have a tendency to pick the coach as much as anything, because typically these days, with one-and-done, what you see is continuity with the program,” said Obama. “Coach K [Mike Krzyzewski] or Coach [Tom] Izzo or Coach Self, Coach [John] Calipari, they know how to take even their blue-chip freshmen and mold them, so that by the time the tournament comes around they’re ready. I haven’t always picked the right top four teams, but typically it’s been one of the top teams that’s ended up winning the tournament.”
Obama said the Kentucky backcourt is probably “the most talented backcourt in the country,” saying Tyler Ulis is a “great ball handler” and Jamal Murray “a great shooter.” He said the potential Carolina-Kentucky matchup in the Elite Eight in Philadelphia would be a great one, with the edge going to Marcus Paige, Brice Johnson and the Heels.
Obama also had Villanova advancing past the second round for the first time since 2009, saying, “I know that eventually they’re going to break through. They’ve had some bad luck over the last couple of years.”
But he predicted a Kansas win over Nova because of the talents of Self and players such as Perry Ellis and Wayne Selden.
“They haven’t been flawless all year, but they’ve been steady,” said Obama.
Obama gave Texas A&M the edge over Oklahoma and Buddy Hield, whom he called a “great player who is going to be a great pro.” And he chose the Aggies over Duke in the Elite Eight in the West because of the veteran leadership A&M possesses.
Obama went with Michigan State out of the Midwest over Virginia, which would be the third straight time the Cavaliers got knocked out by the Spartans.
“UVA is disciplined,” said Obama. “They are really well coached. But I believe, as I know a lot of others do, that Denzel Valentine may be the best college player, may not be the best pro prospect but absolutely has had an unbelievable season. I think he’s going to be a fine pro. And the kind of leadership at the guard position that he provides Michigan State, I think gets them into the Final Four.”
Obama said filling out the bracket has been a lot of fun for him, and that the NCAA tournament is a reminder that “college sports at its best can bring people together.”