Sunday, March 22, 2009

Barack-etology: First weekend update

As you may have heard, Barack Hussein Obama went on ESPN this week and filled out a bracket in the NCAA basketball tournament. He is the first president ever to do this. This may be part of a charm offensive, scoring points with the people who think (for reasons that escape me) they would like to have a president with whom they could be comfortable sharing a beer. While I don't put that motive past him, given how much the man likes nuance, I think a major reason is that he actually is a basketball fan.

Filling out brackets, known facetiously as bracketology, has only been a popular pastime since the field expanded to 64 teams back in the mid eighties. This means Reagan, Bush the Elder, Clinton or Bush the Lesser could have been the first guy to throw his hat in this particular arena. Though Reagan started as a sports announcer at games he couldn't see, and Bush the Elder was a collegiate star, and Bush the Lesser owned a major league baseball team, assuming the Texas Rangers count as a major league team, I don't think any of them are quite the sports fan that Obama is. If the bracket had existed and ESPN had existed during his presidency, I think the guy who would have done this first would have been Nixon. He was a crazy serious sports fan.

So enough about the change. Is it change we can believe in?

The answer after the first two rounds is... yes and no. Or more accurately, no and yes.

First round games, Thursday and Friday: This is why the no comes first. Obama's first round picks sucked eggs. He was both too timid and just flat out wrong. As bad as Paul Krugman will slam Obama's economic plan, I will slam his first round picks even harder. More than that, reality kicked his ass as well. He got 19 of 32 right, which on the ESPN bracket challenge put him in the bottom 5% of the country.


In the first round, it's not like every game is a 50%-50% tossup. When the first seed plays the sixteenth seed, assume the first seed will win. The only time a 16th beat a 1st was in the women's tournament, and just to add further insult to the injury and insult that such a loss entails, it was 16th seed Harvard beating 1st seed Stanford.

In Oakland, California, about thirty miles from their campus in Palo Alto.


Here's how the Handicapper In Chief did in the first round, collected by seeding level.

1st vs. 16th: 4-0
2nd vs. 15th: 4-0
3rd vs. 14th: 4-0
4th vs. 13th: 3-1
5th vs. 12th: 1-3
6th vs. 11th: 1-3
7th vs. 10th: 2-2
8th vs. 9th: 0-4

He got 15 of his 19 wins by agreeing with the selection committee on the easy games, which is also called drawing in chalk. Where I come from, men are not proud of the wins they get drawing in chalk in the first round. The 8th vs. 9th match-ups are the hardest to pick, but even a blind squirrel should get one out of four. The president whiffed, and that's a large reason he sat in the 4th percentile at the end of the first round.

He went with a theory, what I like to call East Coast Bias. He assumed the Pacific 10 teams would suck. He had a reason. The teams lost a lot of good players to the pros after last season. But instead of losing 5 out of 6 games in the first round as Obama predicted, the Pac-10 won 5 out of 6 games, and the worst team, 12th seeded Arizona, actually won in the second round as well, and this year they are the only team that counts as a Cinderella in the Sweet 16.

He's toast, right? Not necessarily.

Second round games, Saturday and Sunday: Because the teams you pick in the second round to win have to be teams you picked in the first round to win, and because he had 13 losses in the first round, there turned out to be a couple games where Obama could not win in the sixteen games played in the second round.

And I mean a couple as in two. If everything went perfect, he could only win 14 of 16 games.

In the second round, Barack Hussein Obama won 14 of 16 games.

Dude. Was. On. Fire.

And in the ESPN way of counting things, these games count double, so he jumped from the 4th percentile at the end of round one to the 53rd percentile at the end of round two.

More than that, there's the idea of a Bracket Buster, when a team you expect will get to the fourth round or fifth round on even the final sixth round loses early, and then there are a whole bunch of games you can't possibly win.

Obama has no busted brackets. It's possible he could win all eight of the eight games in the next round, which is a very nice position to be in. A lot of the 47% of Americans who are ahead of him in the tournament wish they were in such a good position.

Will he win the whole thing? Damned unlikely. There has to be someone in the two million people ahead of him who agrees with his picks the rest of the way and didn't stink up the joint in the first round. But if he gets lucky, and especially if North Carolina wins the whole thing as he as predicted, he could go from the bottom 5% at the end of the first week to the top 5% at the end of the whole she-bang.

Stay tuned.


Abu Scooter said...

The 1998 Stanford story is even more pitiful than you mention. The NCAA put a regional in Oakland with the idea that Stanford would plow through the first two rounds at home. With the Cardinal safely through to that stage, the Arena in Oakland would sell out easily.

It didn't happen. Stanford lost to Harvard -- on their own home floor.

Karen Zipdrive said...

Don't watch it and don't care, but all I know is if Gonzaga wins a friend of mine who went to college there always sends me a free T-Shirt.
Gooo Gonzaga!

BobManDo said...

I'm a rank amateur first time "bracketeer" and I'm at 63.0% percent and beating the prez... My Brother is a fanatic and he is at 99.4%... we'll see if his picks pans out as the games continue.

Matty Boy said...

I put together a bracket at work sometime last decade, and I was in dead last at the end of the first round, but because of the extra value of winning games in later rounds, I won the who she-bang. The next year it was a consensus pick that the rules get changed.

47th Problem of Euclid said...

Everyone is down on Obama for very conservative guesses in the first round, but don't you want the man with his finger on the nuclear button to make very conservative guesses? Conversely, had he been a hot dog, wouldn't people complain that the most powerful man in the free world was a hot dog?

Matty Boy said...

It's true, I didn't want him predicting first and second seeds crashing and burning, but I would have liked to see him get some 8 vs. 9 match-ups right and not to go so quickly with the "Pac 10 sucks" conventional wisdom.