Want to Win Your March Madness Pool? Don't Follow Obama's Bracket

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There's no doubt that President Obama enjoys basketball. Just ask Chicago Bulls Hall of Famer Scottie Pippen. Or future Hall of Famer LeBron James. Or—sure, why not—Education Secretary Arne Duncan.

However, that doesn't necessarily mean you should trust the president's opinion when it comes to picking winners for the NCAA college basketball tournament, best known to the layman or the person-who-doesn't-live-under-a-rock-man as March Madness. Ever since Obama began his campaign for the White House, it's been his tradition to release his NCAA bracket, typically with an accompanying interview with ESPN.

This year, Obama is going with a reasonably diverse Final Four of Louisville (No. 1 seed), Indiana (No. 1 seed), Florida (No. 3 seed), and Ohio State (No. 2 seed). The president has Indiana going on to win the championship, beating out Louisville in the championship game. And the Baracket (ESPN's lame joke, not National Journal's) has its fair share of upsets, with #1 seeded Gonzaga losing to #5 seeded Wisconsin and #1 seeded Kansas losing to #4 seeded Michigan in the Sweet Sixteen.

It's a fun tradition, and not one that we at National Journal mean to discourage in any way. It is also, however, one that the president doesn't quite excel at. Of the last 20 college basketball teams to make the Final Four, Obama has correctly only picked six of them. That's a 30 percent success rate. Not quite impeachabledefinitely could be worsebut it's nothing to be too proud of either. And it's certainly not a track record you should count on if you're trying to win your office pool.

Here's a look at how Obama's Final Four picks have panned out over the last five years.


Obama's 2012 Picks: 2 for 4

Obama's national champion: UNC
Actual national champion: Kentucky

Last year, Obama was in full campaign mode. And that seems to translate to his bracket. UNC may have been a top seed, but Kentucky was a pretty decent favorite with a 27 percent chance of winning the championship compared with UNC's 9 percent chance, according to Nate Silver's model. But it looks like with his bracket, the president took a swing state over a unibrow.

Of Obama's picks for the Final Four in 2012, only Kentucky and Ohio State actually made it in. Not terrible, not great. 

Obama's 2011 Picks: 0 for 4

Obama's national champion: Kansas
Actual national champion: Connecticut

This is where things start going quite poorly for the president. Obama thought he was playing it safe by picking all No. 1 seeds in 2011. Unfortunately for him, that year's tournament got pretty wacky. 

Need your memory jogged? Just look at the Final Four, featuring No. 11 ranked VCU or  No. 8 Butler. Obama also missed No. 3 seed Connecticut (remember pre-Bobcats Kemba?) and No. 4 Kentucky for a complete Final Four wash.

Obama's 2010 Picks: 0 for 4

Obama's national champion: Kansas
Actual national champion: Duke

Another yikes year for Obama. In 2010, the president picked two No. 1 seeds and two No. 2 seeds for the Final Four and, as he would the next year, went with Kansashis family's hometown team—for the championship.

As it turned out, Duke won the tournament that year and was joined in the Final Four by Michigan State, Butler, and the West Virginia Mountaineers. All in all, the tournament proved to be just the first shellacking the president received in 2010.

Obama's 2009 Picks: 1 for 4 ... and the Winner!

Obama's national champion: UNC
Actual national champion: UNC

The first months of Obama's first term in office weren't too unkind to the president. In February, he got the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (aka the stimulus) passed through Congress. And, just a month later, he managed to pull out the winning team for the year's NCAA tournament.

Of course, beneath the topline victory, Obama's Final Four picks didn't fare too well. The Final Four that year was made up of Michigan State, Connecticut, Villanova, and UNC. So while he did pick UNC to win it all, he did a pretty poor job of sorting out the competition.

Obama's 2008 Picks: 3 for 4

Obama's national champion: UNC
Actual national champion: Kansas

Despite the rigours of running his first presidential campaignand trying to hold off Hillary Rodham Clinton—candidate Obama managed to put together his best NCAA bracket of the last five years in 2008. Of the actual members of the Final Four, Obama missed only Memphis. And really, Memphis' season was later voided, so maybe he was onto something.

Oh, and the team that Obama decided to include over Memphis? The No. 4 ranked Pittsburgh Panthers, conveniently located in the swing-state of Pennsylvania. Obama's near-perfect 2008 bracket: just another casualty of electoral politics.

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