There was a time when President Obama was an underdog in the sport of presidential politics. But there were only hints of the Cinderella mentality when the president made his annual NCAA March Madness predictions with ESPN’s Andy Katz.
“He has North Dakota State over Oklahoma, which is a trendy pick by many people, and he does have Harvard over Cincinnati,” Katz told “Top Line” following his annual “Barack-etology” with the president.
Having covered the president and his interest in college hoops since he was a presidential candidate in 2008, Katz said Obama has an impressive grasp of the sport.
“Every year, I am less surprised because he continues to be highly knowledgeable on the sport,” he said. “Dan Pfeiffer, the White House adviser, was telling me earlier that essentially, when he can, on Air Force One late at night … he's watching ESPN, and he's paying attention.”
That’s in addition to making in-person appearances at a number of college games this year, Katz noted.
“He went to the Diamond Head Classic when he was vacationing in Honolulu, he went to Oregon State in Maryland, obviously because his brother-in-law, Craig Robinson, is the head coach at Oregon State,” he said.
Despite his obvious passion for the game of basketball, Katz said President Obama clearly had politics on his mind when he met with him to make his predictions Tuesday.
“The health care push, in terms of getting everyone to sign up for the healthcare … certainly was on top of his mind,” Katz said. “He did slip in a couple of references to that, in trying to get people to sign up. So, you know, yes, he's definitely pushing this.”
While Washington may be the president’s current hometown, Obama didn’t show any love for the two D.C. teams, American University and George Washington University, that earned tournament berths.
“He doesn't give them any shot, of American beating Wisconsin in a 2-15 matchup or GW against Memphis in an 8-9,” Katz said.
Obama also gave relatively short shrift to Vice President Joe Biden’s two favorite teams: Syracuse University and the University of Delaware. The presidential Final Four features Florida, Arizona, Louisville and Michigan State.
As in years past, Obama continued in his strategy of putting strong weight behind his favorite coaches. He put particular faith in Michigan State Coach Tom Izzo, favoring the Spartans to win the championship.
“He’s all in on Tom Izzo, loves Tom Izzo,” Katz said. “Clearly, when Izzo met with the president earlier this year, when he was in East Lansing, that had some influence on him. And he's riding Tom Izzo and Michigan State to the final four.”
For more of the presidential play-by-play with Katz, and to hear about a new Katz-Klein matchup in the world of ESPN podcasts, check out this episode of “Top Line.”
ABC News’ Katie Cohen, Alexandra Dukakis and Tom Thornton contributed to this episode.