Friday, March 21, 2008

Obama’s NCAA Picks Show Good Strategic Judgment.

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Long before I started blogging about politics - in fact, long before there was even an Internet – one of my great loves was picking apart arguments and strategies related to basketball. I’ve participated in March Madness pools for the last 30 years, often serving as commissioner of pools I created. I was a charter member of an NBA fantasy league back when game stats and league standings were calculated with pencil and paper, and the timeliness of my newspaper deliverer was a source of daily hand wringing.

Over the years, I’ve won – a lot! I’m currently on a 3 year streak of finishing first or second in my primary NCAA Tourney pool. Before I gave up the NBA fantasy league a few years ago, I was in the money 9 of the previous 10 years. These facts are not intended to brag, but rather to explain my qualifications for discussing the strategic judgment displayed by the bracket selections recently released by Barack Obama.

I’ve looked over his picks in detail and can reach some strong conclusions that suggest he would be a good bet to exercise the thoughtful, wise, strategic judgment he promises as President. Here are some of those observations, keeping in mind that some of the games are already in the books, so I have to be careful not to place too much weight on known results.

1. He doesn’t expect too many miracles. His Final Four picks include 3 number 1 seeds, suggesting he believes the odds favor existing evidence. With a few notable exceptions, the majority of his picks are the favored teams, suggesting recognition that the reason they are favored is their past observable performance.

2. He understands that you have to take some chances. Among his first round picks are a few lower seeds, such as Winthrop, St. Joseph’s, Davidson, St. Mary’s, and Baylor, all hot teams matched up against teams considered to be slumping or more beatable than their reputations. He has Pittsburgh, a 4 seed, in the Final Four. None of his upset picks appear to be based on blind allegiance, such as a 15-2 or 16-1 matchup in round 1, or a deep run for a low seed. Although they do happen, the odds are very low that you, or anyone else, will guess which one. More likely, you'll get it wrong and lose!

3. He’s not a “homer.” Although there isn’t an Illinois team in the tourney, a common fault of “homers” is to stick with teams in their home team’s league. In this case, University of Illinois plays in the Big Ten, but Barack doesn’t have any of the four Big Ten teams going deeper than their seed would suggest.

4. He appears to remember his day job. As noted by other journalists, Obama’s pick to win the tournament happens to be from North Carolina, which has an important upcoming primary. His “surprise” Final Four choice is Pittsburgh - from Pennsylvania, the next primary on the docket. Despite the nod to upcoming voters, both picks are well within the realm of reasonableness.

5. He’s not a panderer. He could have picked, as his Final Four, Pittsburgh, Villanova, St Joseph’s and Temple (the last one an "intentional" cross bracket blunder) – all teams from Pennsylvania. Or, looking forward, he could have selected Indiana, Purdue, Notre Dame and Butler, all from Indiana.

I didn’t do a similar analysis of John McCain’s brackets because I wasn’t willing to sign up at his website in order to see them. However, based on hints from this article, let’s just say that I’m willing to let their bracket selections determine which of them gets to be president!

Also at Daily Kos

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