President Obama picks UNC-UK rematch

March, 14, 2012
3/14/12
9:37
AM ET

WASHINGTON -- President Barack Obama wanted to show British Prime Minister David Cameron something that America has come to love.

March Madness.

So he took him aboard Air Force One to Dayton, Ohio, for the first of Tuesday's First Four games: a 16-seed battle between Western Kentucky and Mississippi Valley State.

“I love it because it’s one and done," President Obama said earlier in the White House library as he filled out the men’s bracket for ESPN for a fourth straight year (and the women's bracket for a third straight). “You never know what’s going to happen and then it makes it exciting that every one of these teams is imagining themselves being the Cinderella team. ... You can’t beat it."

Like the rest of us, Obama said he tries to overthink every pick and looks for hidden trends when combing over his bracket.

"I am big on momentum, especially in a tournament like this. So whoever is looking hotter at the end of the year, those are the teams that I tend to be a little more inclined to pick," Obama said. "I like teams with good point guards because I think the ability to control the game and limit turnovers, I think that’s a big difference. Being able to make free throws, that ends up counting a little bit. Other than that, it’s all throwing darts."

[+] EnlargeKatz/Obama
Official White House Photo by Pete SouzaPresident Barack Obama picked North Carolina over Kentucky in the NCAA title game.
Obama didn't shy away from the favorites. He was quick to point out the impact Anthony Davis will have for Kentucky in the NCAA tournament. And that’s one of the main reasons he had UK reaching the title game.

"There is a reason why they are the overall No. 1 seed," Obama said. "Anthony Davis is an Illinois kid. He is proving to be unbelievably talented across the board and he keeps on getting better. When they get out in the open court, they are pretty hard to beat."

Obama was aware of Davis’ growth spurt in high school from a 6-foot-2 guard to a 6-10 center.

"That’s why he had good handles," he said. "He just woke up one day and he’s 6-10, but the way he plays defense -- the number of shots he is altering -- he looks a lot like Marcus Camby, and that’s what he reminds me of."

Obama fancies himself as someone who pushes for the underdog, but he didn’t pick any to advance to the Sweet 16 outside of New Mexico, if the Lobos can even be given such a label.

"I am generally somebody who is rooting for the underdog, but this year when I look at the Big Ten, when I look at the Big 12, at some of the conferences, there are just a lot of excellent teams that are pretty balanced," Obama said. "I think that is going to get them through."

When asked about Murray State’s terrific run to 30 wins and why he's not jumping on the Racers’ bandwagon, he said, "Congratulations to them, but you got to go with Marquette on this one," as he chose the Golden Eagles over the Racers in the round of 32.

At the time of the taping early Tuesday afternoon, Obama was unaware that Syracuse big man Fab Melo was ineligible for the NCAA tournament. But even so, he still went with Ohio State over the Orange in the Elite Eight.

In the other regions, he took Missouri over Michigan State in the West, Kentucky over Baylor in the South and North Carolina over Kansas in the Midwest.

"I am just a sucker for the Tar Heels," Obama said. "I love the way [Kendall] Marshall handles the ball, the way he distributes. They just have a balanced team. I am worried about [John] Henson [who is battling a wrist injury]. This is all a premise that Henson is going to be able to play."

Obama picked a title game between Kentucky and North Carolina, a rematch of a thrilling regular-season showdown in Lexington back in December. Davis blocked Henson’s shot in the final seconds to secure a 73-72 win for the Big Blue. The president initially leaned toward Kentucky, but then switched to the Heels.

“I am going with North Carolina getting revenge for the regular-season victory,’’ Obama said. “They are an older team, a more experienced team. I think Kentucky is unbelievably talented. But I think Marshall’s play, [Tyler] Zeller’s play, I see North Carolina winning it all.

“And since they won it for me the last time I picked them, hopefully I will be able to get a little redemption for the last two years,’’ said Obama, who picked Kansas in 2010 and 2011 after taking UNC in 2009.

“I went back and forth,’’ he said. “I thought about it hard and I think this will be a great game. I think it will come down to the wire. But in the end, I think it goes back down to Chapel Hill.’’

Andy Katz | email

Senior Writer, ESPN.com

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