President Barack Obama, for the second year in a row, picked the University of Kansas to win the National Collegiate Athletic Association’s basketball championship, this year by beating Ohio State University.
While the Jayhawks were upset early in last year’s tournament, Obama said they deserve a second chance.
“Kansas has more firepower,” Obama said in an interview with sports cable channel ESPN as he filled out his bracket predicting the results of the annual tournament. “I’m giving them a chance at redemption.”
Obama, an avid basketball player and fan, predicted that the four top-seeded teams -- Kansas, Ohio State, Duke University and the University of Pittsburgh -- will reach the semifinals, known as the Final Four.
Las Vegas oddsmakers favor Ohio State to win its first men’s basketball championship since 1960. The Buckeyes, who went 32-2 this season and captured the Big Ten Conference regular-season and tournament titles, are given 7-2 odds of taking the title.
They are a slight favorite over Duke, the defending national champion, and the other top seeds, Kansas and Pittsburgh.
Obama said Pittsburgh, playing in the Southeast Regional, has “what looks like the weakest bracket in the tournament,” which will help them advance to the Final Four.
The president picked few upsets in his bracket, with almost all the higher seeds advancing. Some exceptions include 11th-seeded Marquette over sixth-seed Xavier and 12th-seeded Richmond over Vanderbilt, a five-seed.
Obama said he was reminded of his failure to pick last year’s tournament winner when the Duke Blue Devils and their coach, Mike Krzyzewski, visited the White House on May 27.
“Last year I did not pick Duke, and Coach K gave me a hard time,” Obama said.
The NCAA tournament started yesterday in Dayton, Ohio, with two play-in games that advanced the University of North Carolina-Asheville and Clemson University. Two more are scheduled for today before full tournament play begins tomorrow. The championship game is scheduled for April 4 at Reliant Stadium in Houston.
The president also gave his analysis of top college players. Obama called Brigham Young University guard Jimmer Fredette, who has averaged 28.5 points per game this year, “unbelievable” and the “best scorer, obviously, in the country.” He said the University of Connecticut’s Kemba Walker “plays like a pro already” and singled out freshman Jared Sullinger of Ohio State as helping that team advance.
Help for Japan
Before making his picks on the broadcast, Obama urged basketball fans to take a break from filling out their brackets to visit the U.S. Agency for International Development’s website and consider making a donation “to help the people who have been devastated in Japan.”
“Go to usaid.gov and that’s going to list a whole range of charities where you can potentially contribute,” he said. “I think that would be a great gesture as you’re filling out your brackets.”
“This is a great tradition, we have fun every year doing it,” Obama said of the college basketball tournament. “But while you’re doing it, if you’re on your laptop,” consider making a contribution, he said.