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

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

If you're looking for NCAA success, don't just follow the leader.

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San Antonio Spurs forward Kawhi Leonard hands President Barack Obama a signed ball during an event in the East Room of the White House on January 12, 2015 in Washington, D.C.(Brendan Smialowski/AFP/GettyImages)

President Obama is, without a doubt, a basketball guy. This is not news. He recently let one of the NBA's leading MVP candidates hang out with his dog. Obama's love of the game was most entertaingly confirmed this year when he had the San Antonio Spurs to the White House to congratulate them on their 2014 NBA championship and treated them to a host of insidery, NBA-dork jokes. He ended his public remarks to the team saying, "if you guys need any tips on winning back-to-back, you know where to find me."

But Obama has a problem when it comes to March Madness. Ever since he began his campaign for the White House, it's been his tradition to release his NCAA bracket, typically with an accompanying interview with ESPN. If you want to win your own bracket, you'd be better off ignoring his.

 

This year, Obama is going with the prohibitive favorite for his national champion pick: the so-far-undefeated Kentucky. He has Villanova, another No. 1 seed, joining Kentucky for the championship. They're joined in the Final Four by Duke, yet another No. 1, and Arizona, a No. 2 seed. Judging by FiveThirtyEight's predictive model for this year's tournament, the president is playing it pretty safe. Kentucky is given a wild 41 percent chance of winning the tournament, and the other teams are all given solid odds of getting far.

It's a fine 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 28 college basketball teams to make the Final Four, Obama has correctly picked only eight of them. That's just under a 30 percent success rate. Not quite impeachablebut 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.

We originally published a version of this story a year ago. And another the year before that. Because the truth holds. Here's a look at how Obama's Final Four picks have panned out over the past seven years.

 

Obama's 2014 Picks: 1 for 4

Obama's national champion: Michigan State

Actual national champion: UConn

Not a sterling year for the president, but actually not too bad either. Obama went with two No. 1 seeds for the Final Four (Florida and Arizona) and two No. 4 seeds (Michigan State and Louisville). He put those two No. 4's against each other for the championship, with Michigan State coming out on top. But going with Michigan wasn't particularly zany. Ahead of the tournament, FiveThirtyEight's prediction model gave Michigan State a reasonable 6 percent chance of winning the championship.

Of Obama's picks, only Florida made it to the Final Four. But that still put Obama's bracket in the 72.9 percentile, according to ESPN.

 

Obama's 2013 Picks: 1 for 4

(White House)Obama's national champion: Indiana

Actual national champion: Louisville

In 2013, Obama wasn't really feeling upsets for his Final Four. You've got two top seeds (Louisville and Indiana), a No. 2 seed (Ohio State), and a No. 3 (Florida). Unfortunately for him, this didn't work out well. Wichita State, ranked ninth, came out of relative obscurity to make the Final Four and knock out Ohio State in the process. Indiana wound up losing to Syracuse, which went on to top Marquette to make the Final Four. And while Florida nearly got there, they lost to Michigan by 20 in the Elite Eight.

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The bracket overall, per ESPN, ranked 2,080,996 out of 8.15 million entries on ESPN.com, good for the 74.4th percentile. Certainly not the worst.

Obama's 2012 Picks: 2 for 4

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

In 2012, Obama was in full campaign mode. And that may've translated 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 went 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 VCU and  No. 8 Butler. Obama also missed No. 3 seed Connecticut (remember 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 were 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 rigors of running his first presidential campaignand trying to hold off Hillary Clintoncandidate Obama managed to put together his best NCAA bracket (so far) of the past six years in 2008. Of the actual members of the Final Four, Obama missed only Memphis. And, really, Memphis's 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.

DISCLAIMER: The author of this post is very, very bad at picking March Madness brackets and would honestly be thrilled with anything approaching Obama's success. The author recommends that you pick teams based on who has a sillier mascot.

March Madness: Presidential Edition
See Complete Photo Essay

Don't Miss Today's Top Stories

Excellent!"

Rick, Executive Director for Policy

Concise coverage of everything I wish I had hours to read about."

Chuck, Graduate Student

The day's action in one quick read."

Stacy, Director of Communications

I find them informative and appreciate the daily news updates and enjoy the humor as well."

Richard, VP of Government Affairs

Chock full of usable information on today's issues. "

Michael, Executive Director

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