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Breaking Down McCain's March Madness Picks


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. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Mike Pesca
Mike Pesca first reached the airwaves as a 10-year-old caller to a New York Jets-themed radio show and has since been able to parlay his interests in sports coverage as a National Desk correspondent for NPR based in New York City.