Obama predicts Jayhawks will win national title
By DAVE SKRETTA
AP Sports Writer
NEW YORK — The First Fan appears to be a big fan of basketball programs from Kansas.
President Barack Obama predicted Kansas and Kansas State to join Kentucky and Villanova in the men’s basketball Final Four this season, with the Jayhawks defeating Kentucky for the title.
Obama filled out a bracket for ESPN for the second straight year Wednesday.
Last year, Obama correctly picked North Carolina to win the national championship. His bracket ranked 903,125th overall, just above the 80th percentile in ESPN’s online contest.
Obama predicted in January that Kentucky would reach the national championship game when he called coach John Calipari to congratulate the program on raising more than $1 million as part of the “Hoops for Haiti” telethon. He also warned the Wildcats not to take success for granted.
Kentucky had just reached No. 1 and, after the phone call, promptly lost to South Carolina.
“They lost to the Gamecocks and I think that was a good lesson for them,” Obama told ESPN’s Andy Katz. “And I think Calipari will have them ready.”
The Wildcats are one of the youngest teams in the NCAA tournament, though, and Obama said he likes the Jayhawks’ experience — including senior guard Sherron Collins.
“Balanced team, they’ve got Collins in the backcourt. I always like teams in the tournament who’ve got experience,” Obama said. “Terrific guards.”
If things play out like Obama anticipates, the Jayhawks would have to beat Kansas State for the fourth time this season to reach the national championship game.
When asked if Obama had seen Wildcats coach Frank Martin and his menacing sideline glare, the president replied: “I have. He’s a scary dude. I could send him up to Congress to get them to vote for health care.”
“I’ll tell you what, Kansas State impresses me,” Obama added. “They always play tough. And I think they’re going to be motivated. They get to the Final Four.”
Obama predicted several first-round upsets: No. 13 seed Siena over Purdue, 12th-seeded Cornell to beat Wisconsin, and Murray State to upset fourth-seeded Vanderbilt.
“I like Murray State — they’ve got a well-balanced team and they’re athletic,” Obama said. “I like Cornell, which I think will give (Wisconsin) a run for its money. I think they have a terrific team. And Siena. Look, I feel bad for Purdue.”
The fourth-seeded Boilermakers are a trendy upset victim after losing star guard Robbie Hummel to a torn ACL during a game Feb. 24 against Minnesota. Hummel ranked second on the team with 15.7 points and 6.9 rebounds a game.
Other teams that Obama likes include No. 1 seeds Syracuse and Duke, both of which he has losing in the round of eight, seconded-seeded West Virginia and No. 3 seed Georgetown.
Obama was part of a sellout crowd that watched the Hoyas defeat Duke 89-77 on Jan. 30 at the Verizon Center in Washington. He was joined at the game by Vice President Joe Biden, political strategist David Axelrod, press secretary Robert Gibbs and Reggie Love, his personal aide and a former Blue Devils player.
“They don’t have any seniors on their team. They’re a young team,” Obama said of the Hoyas. “But I think they’re getting better. I think (Coach John) Thompson does a great job. So I’m feeling pretty good about Georgetown making a nice little run.”
Obama also filled out the women’s bracket for the first time, picking No. 1 seeds UConn, Tennessee and Stanford to reach the Final Four along with No. 2 seed Notre Dame. He has the Huskies beating Stanford for the second time this season in the national title game.
“They came here last year after they had won the championship,” Obama said of the defending national champion Huskies. “Wonderful young women, obviously a great coach and a great program, and so I’ve been watching them throughout the season, and I think it’s fair to say that they’re the best team in all of sports right now.”