- The Washington Times - Wednesday, March 18, 2009

BRISTOL, CONN. (AP) - Barack Obama is picking North Carolina to defeat Louisville for the NCAA championship, a relatively safe pick for a trailblazing president.

Obama spent part of Tuesday making his tournament picks for ESPN, which posted his completed bracket online Wednesday and showed the First Fan filling it out with Andy Katz on the noon edition of “Sportscenter.”

The president had top-seeded Pittsburgh join the No. 1-seeded Tar Heels and Cardinals in the Final Four, but chose second-seeded Memphis to beat Connecticut in the West Regional.

“Here’s what I like about Carolina: experience and balance,” Obama said.

The First Hoops Fan indulged in one of the week’s most popular pastimes, filling out his NCAA bracket Tuesday for ESPN.

The president stuck primarily with No. 1 seeds. The sole exception was Memphis, seeded No. 2 behind Connecticut in the West regional.

“It was an educated bracket,” Katz said. “He knew what he was doing. It wasn’t some random kind of pick. There were no political favors or anything like that.”

A private campaign promise earned ESPN the hoops scoop.

Katz interviewed Obama during the presidential campaign last October for a story about the president’s brother-in-law, Oregon State head basketball coach Craig Robinson. After the interview, Obama invited Katz to play in a pickup basketball game on Election Day in Chicago, and he did.

Katz extracted a promise from Obama that if elected, the new president would reveal his NCAA picks to ESPN when the pairings were announced in March.

“They stayed true to their word and didn’t hesitate to get it done,” he said.

Even with a lot on his mind, Obama seemed up on the latest news, such as which teams had won conference tournaments and what players were injured, he said.

They even had some good-natured arguing. Katz is picking Wake Forest and Connecticut in his Final Four, along with North Carolina and Pittsburgh. The two men also disagreed on the eventual national champion.

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