Breaking Down McCain's March Madness Picks

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Take a long look at the NCAA basketball tournament bracket that Sen. John McCain of Arizona put together. Do the presidential candidate's choices say more about his basketball savvy or his political aspirations?


Back now with DAY TO DAY. I'm Luke Burbank.


And I'm Madeleine Brand.

Two of our greatest spectator sports - politics and college basketball -collide today in the form of the NCAA tournament predictions of Arizona senator, John McCain. Like millions of people in office pools, McCain has filled out a bracket. And the results offer an insight as to both his basketball and political savvy.

We've asked Mike Pesca to break down the McCain bracket.

MIKE PESCA: The brackets are the windows to the soul. That was said by Dickinson - either Emily or Fairleigh, I forget which. And John McCain's offer great insight into the senior senator from Arizona. For a man oft described as a maverick, John McCain's brackets took fewer chances than the Princeton offense with a 10-point lead. To wit, McCain picked the favorite in 31 of the 32 first round games, and his upset was Gonzaga University, the most conventional upset since Polk won the nomination on the eighth ballot in 1844. Okay, I'll stop.

Further on down the line, McCain has the final four comprised entirely of number one seeds, which is the most conservative way to go. Also, it's fairly unlikely. All the top seeds advancing to the semis has never happened. This is the pool of a man who's definitely not endorsing taking a risk on the underdog. You'd have to imagine that a dark horse candidate like Mike Huckabee's pool would look a lot different.

But Christian Ferry, John McCain's e-Campaign director, says the candidate's brackets shouldn't be read as tea leaves.

Mr. CHRISTIAN FERRY (Campaign Director, John McCain): We thought that, you know, putting his bracket up - since he fills out a bracket every year - we might as well put that up online and let people understand that he's a sports fan, too.

PESCA: Yes, he's a sports fan. But he's also a political animal, so let's delve a little deeper. Though McCain has been courting the conservative Christian vote, he picked against Oral Roberts University. McCain also didn't seem to show a penchant for picking swing states over safe ones. For instance, though he has Florida in the semifinals, he has them losing to Kansas. He picked Georgetown to go pretty far. Sticking with the inside the Beltway team isn't savvy politics, but it's pretty smart basketball prognostication.

As for McCain's predicted national champion, it's North Carolina, a team whose best player was savagely elbowed in the face by an opponent in the last regular season game. The opponent's name, for the record, was not Rudy Giuliani.

Mike Pesca, NPR News, New York.

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NCAA Tourney Draw: Let's Hear It for Longshots

The heels of four basketball players are shown as they chase a loose ball. i

Yep, it's time to dive right into March Madness. Streeter Lecka/Getty Images hide caption

itoggle caption Streeter Lecka/Getty Images
The heels of four basketball players are shown as they chase a loose ball.

Yep, it's time to dive right into March Madness.

Streeter Lecka/Getty Images

At this year's NCAA men's basketball tournament the biggest surprise has been a lack of really big surprises.

After all, upsets are what make the spectacle so much fun — and office pools such sweet agony.

But as the Sweet 16 took shape this weekend, some underdogs began to bark a bit.

Sunday saw a No. 2 seed fall as No. 7 seed UNLV pounced on Wisconsin, 74-68. The Badgers were briefly the top-ranked team in some of the regular-season polls before injuries and two late losses to Ohio State showed their vulnerability. They are now the highest-rated team bounced from the tournament.

Saturday — as several games went into overtime — it took two extra sessions for No. 6 seed Vanderbilt to polish off No. 3 seed Washington State, setting up a future date with Georgetown in the Meadowlands.

And let's not forget Butler and Tennessee. The No. 5 seeds handled No. 4 seeds Maryland and Virginia, respectively, to earn the chance for much bigger targets: No. 1 seeds Florida and Ohio State.

Meanwhile, the Winthrop Eagles — who many felt might fly high in this tournament — were grounded by a no-less majestic bunch of birds Sunday. Winthrop, a No. 11 seed, lost 75-61 to the Fighting Ducks of Oregon, a No. 3 seed.

Three other Saturday games featured near-misses:

No. 9 seed Xavier coulda, shoulda and woulda beaten No. 1 seed Ohio State. But the Muskateers left a tiny little window open for the Buckeyes after holding an 11-point lead late in the second half. After sending the game into overtime with a 3-point shot, OSU overpowered its deflated Ohio rival in the extra period to win 79-71.

In other near-upsets, No. 11 seed Virginia Commonwealth roared back from 19 points down to take No. 3 seed Pitt into overtime before the favored Panthers advanced. And No. 6 seed Louisville came within a basket of knocking out No. 3 seed Texas A&M.

Even so, this tournament is as short on stunners and shockers as any in recent memory. Only five of the 32 first-round games defied the bracket-makers' expectations.

So on to Sunday, where the game carrying the most potential for bracket-busting features No. 11 seed Winthrop testing its mettle against No. 3 seed Oregon.

Now, take a last look at the Davids — and the Davidsons — who showed up, slingshots in hand, hoping to knock a Goliath or two upside the head:



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