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Obama Picks Kentucky To Win NCAA Tournament, Mixes In Politics

University of Kentucky basketball players celebrate their Southeastern Conference tournament championship victory earlier this month.
Steve Helber
University of Kentucky basketball players celebrate their Southeastern Conference tournament championship victory earlier this month.

President Barack Obama didn't exactly go out on a limb with his college-basketball picks this year.

Like most people, he picked Kentucky to run the table, go 40-0, and win the NCAA Tournament. He also picked three No. 1 seeds and one No. 2 to make it to the Final Four.

"I don't think you can play a perfect basketball game anymore than you can do anything perfectly," the president said of Kentucky, "but these guys are coming pretty close."

The president did mix in a little politics.

ESPN's Andy Katz asked what seed he would have been, if politics had a bracket.

"Oh, I was definitely a third or fourth seed, but I was scrappy," Obama said, alluding to his first run for the White House against Hillary Clinton.

Clinton was the overwhelming favorite for the Democratic nomination in 2008. She's running again, and is an even bigger favorite.

"It's nice being just a little bit of the underdog because you have less pressure on you," Obama said. "On the other hand, there's a reason they're the favorite," he said of Kentucky, "because they're a really good team."

President Obama's 2015 NCAA Tournament bracket.
Pete Souza / White House
White House
President Obama's 2015 NCAA Tournament bracket.


The president also picked one 12-5 upset, the first round game that pits usually a top mid-major program 12th seed against a big-conference school at a No. 5 slot. It's a game that often sees at least one 5-seed go down.

This year, the president picked Buffalo to upset West Virginia. Buffalo is coached this year by Bobby Hurley, the former standout Duke point guard, making his first return to the NCAA tournament as a head coach. Obama called him "tough and scrappy" — despite his size.

The president also picked 10th-seeded Davidson to upset second-seeded Gonzaga in the Round of 32.

Rules change

Obama also made a little bit of news, advocating that the NCAA change its rules to make the game more high scoring.

"I am an advocate by the way for the NCAA changing the rules – in terms of shortening the shot clock, widening the lane, moving the 3-point line back a little bit," the president, also an NBA fan, said.

"Let's get it down to 30 seconds at minimum," he said of a potential shot clock.

Copyright 2023 NPR. To see more, visit

Domenico Montanaro is NPR's senior political editor/correspondent. Based in Washington, D.C., his work appears on air and online delivering analysis of the political climate in Washington and campaigns. He also helps edit political coverage.
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