President Obama Is Surprisingly Bad at Picking March Madness Brackets - Rolling Stone
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President Obama Is Surprisingly Bad at Picking March Madness Brackets

Analyzing the POTUS’ NCAA tournament prediction skills

Barack ObamaBarack Obama

Barack Obama

Saul Loeb/AFP/Getty Images

Let’s just get this out of the way immediately: President Barack Obama is not very good at picking the NCAA Tournament. If you were to go as far as to say that he’s “terrible” at filling out a bracket, you wouldn’t be that far off. Of course, it’s easy to understand why.

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Let’s take this week as an example. At some point, Obama will sit down at his desk and make educated guesses about a series of college basketball games. At every other time, he will be thinking about, say, a passenger jet that has been missing for over a week, or Russia being on the brink of inciting a war. So we can cut him some slack while again noting that you should definitely take your gambling advice from just about anyone else on Earth.

In studying the brackets that Obama has filled out during his six years in the Oval Office, we have picked up on some trends, including one — and just one — legitimate strength.

1. He loves No. 1 seeds
Like the majority of people who fill out brackets, Obama favors top-seeded teams. Of the 24 teams he has picked to make the Final Four over the last six years, 16 of them have been No. 1 seeds. Of the remaining eight teams, six were two seeds, one was a three seed and one was a four seed. This is the normcore of NCAA tournament predictions.

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Of course, No. 1 seeds are far from locks to be among the last four teams standing. Consequently, this strategy has not served Obama well: the president has selected seven correct Final Four teams out of 24, good for 29 percent.

2. His championship pick might as well be a kiss of death
Out of six years, Obama has nailed only one national champion: North Carolina in 2009. (Obama trusts the Tar Heels, having picked them to make the Final Four four times.) 2009 also happens to be the last time that Obama’s championship pick even made the Final Four. So if he picks your team to win it all this year, do whatever is the opposite of getting your hopes up.

3. He hates Cinderellas
The entire culture of Americans filling out NCAA brackets isn’t based just on gambling. There’s also the unique thrill of watching one of your upset picks crash the party. Barack Obama, on the other hand, doesn’t see the appeal. In his six years in office, Obama has picked only one double-digit seed to advance to the Sweet 16: 11 seed North Carolina State in 2012, which, to his credit, actually happened.

Otherwise, what passes for an upset prediction in the White House is Obama picking sixth-seeded Marquette to win two games in 2010 (they lost in the opening round). Otherwise, he exclusively picks teams in the top five seeds to advance past the second round, though in 2009 he did select seventh-seeded Clemson — which lost its opening game — to defeat second-seeded Oklahoma in the second round, before crossing it out and going with the Sooners.

4. He is good at picking first-round upsets, though
Again, Barack Obama, like the rest of us, is not good at predicting college basketball outcomes. But, for some reason, he has shown an aptitude at — and only at — picking first-round upsets. Since 2008, Obama has picked 21 double-digit seeds to win in the first round, and he’s been right 11 times. This includes when, in 2011, he nailed all four of his major first round upset selections. All of which makes it even more baffling that he subsequently picks each of these teams to lose its next game.

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5. He has no alma mater bias
Barack Obama went to Occidental College — which may or may not have a basketball team — as an undergrad. He eventually made his way to Harvard Law, but let’s hazard a guess that he didn’t care too much about the school’s sports teams. Harvard has made the tournament in each of the past two seasons, but Obama hasn’t picked them to win in either year, instead going with Vanderbilt in 2012 and New Mexico in 2013. Last year’s team, by the way, pulled off the upset.

The president will have a chance to redeem himself this year, though. His Crimson nabbed a 12 seed, and will face the fifth-seeded Cincinnati Bearcats in the first round. C’mon, Barack.

In This Article: Basketball, Obama


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