By Justin Sink
President Obama is picking Big 10 champion Michigan State to go all the way in his NCAA Final Four bracket, predicting the No. 4 seeded Spartans to edge defending champion Louisville in the national championship game.
Obama also selected overall No. 1 seed Florida and No. 1 seed Arizona to make the Final Four.
“I know these are not imaginative picks, but I think they’re the right ones,” Obama said during an interview with ESPN.
Obama hailed Michigan State coach Tom Izzo as a “great tournament coach” and said he was sticking with his pick despite the Spartans’ opening match-up against Vice President Biden’s sentimental favorite — the No. 13 seed Delaware Blue Hens.
“I’ll let Biden fill out his own bracket,” Obama said. “If he wants to pick Delaware over Michigan State, I’ll let him do it.”
The president was coy when asked what he would do if he ended up with a perfect bracket and won the $1 billion being staked by billionaire investor — and political supporter — Warren Buffett.
"I’m sure somebody would ask me to pay down more of the federal debt. Michelle might want a few shoes," Obama joked.
Obama, as is his tendency in prior brackets, shied away from upset picks, choosing only three double-digit seeds to advance past the first round: Arizona State over Texas, North Dakota State over Oklahoma, and Harvard — where he graduated from law school — to beat out Cincinnati.
North Carolina was not favored in Obama’s bracket despite head coach Roy Williams cutting an ad to promote enrollment on the ObamaCare exchanges. The president predicted they would fall to Villanova in the Sweet Sixteen.
Obama was slightly more optimistic about UNC’s rival Duke, advancing the Blue Devils to the Elite Eight. The president said he was a big fan of Duke freshman Jabari Parker, a Chicago native.
“Need to be a hometown booster,” Obama said.
The president told ESPN he wasn’t upset that Parker, widely expected to be among the top picks in next year’s NBA draft, might leave college after this season.
“I don’t begrudge young people if they’ve got an opportunity to look after their family to go ahead and get an NBA contract and then go back to school hopefully and get their degree,” Obama said.
But the president said he hoped the NCAA would do more for “average kids” playing sports to make sure they were well supported academically and wouldn’t lose their scholarships because of injury.
Last year, Obama correctly picked Louisville to play in the championship game, but guessed they would fall to Indiana, which was unable to advance to the Final Four. During a championship celebration at the White House, Obama joked about his foiled prediction.
“We're here to celebrate a Louisville team that always played hard, that always worked together, that stayed focused on one singular goal — and that is to bust my bracket," Obama quipped.
Obama has only once correctly predicted the national champion during his time in the Oval Office, selecting North Carolina as his favorite in 2009. On average, Obama has correctly predicted slightly under 30 percent of Final Four teams correctly.
The White House is planning to use the president’s bracket to promote enrollment on the ObamaCare exchanges before the deadline at the end of the month.
According to a White House official, the bracket will be featured on a White House webpage that also features the “16 Sweetest Reasons to Get Covered” squaring off in a tournament-style bracket.
On Tuesday, the healthcare exchanges were promoted on NBA.com, and the White House hosted a conference call with Miami Heat star and former Duke standout Shane Battier.
White House chief of staff Denis McDonough will also call in Wednesday to sports talk radio stations in Pittsburgh and Raleigh to promote ObamaCare enrollment.
— This story was updated at 10:07 a.m.