Obama's election will help hoops popularity

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By Larry Goffinet

Basketball coaches and fans across the United States, regardless of their political party affiliation, should be happy about Barack Obama's election as our country's next president.

That's because any sport the president chooses to participate in usually gains greatly in popularity during his term.

And Obama's sport of choice is basketball. He played it in high school in Hawaii and at 47 he still plays it fairly regularly. He played for two hours with friends and staff Tuesday while awaiting election results, a habit he got into during the primaries.

And if you think a sizable portion of the public won't try to emulate him by playing basketball, you haven't paid much attention to history.

Dwight D. Eisenhower is widely credited with popularizing golf during his two terms as president in the 1950s.

He hit the links several times a week if his schedule permitted it.

In the late 1970s Jimmy Carter helped popularize slowpitch softball during his one term as chief executive.

His campaign in 1976 often featured softball games with Secret Service members on one team and members of the press on the other.

Carter always played on the team with the Secret Service men, reportedly because they were in better physical shape than the reporters and thus helped Carter's team usually win.

Partially due to the exposure Carter gave the sport, slowpitch leagues sprang up everywhere during his term. But the sport has declined in popularity in recent years.

There were three men's slowpitch leagues in Perry County during the last year of Carter's term; now there are none.

Tell City and Cannelton leagues each had 11 teams in 1980 and each hosted several men's open tourneys on weekends.

There were at least 13 women's softball leagues in Perry, Spencer and Dubois counties in Carter's last year of office. Now there are three - open leagues in Tell City and Jasper and a church league in Holland.

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Speaking of basketball, this figures to be an interesting year for the college game.

Two traditional powers in this area, Kentucky and Indiana, figure to be down this year. But Louisville looks strong and Notre Dame could also crack the Final Four.

Nearly everyone else is picking North Carolina, with every starter back from a Final Four team plus the addition of Indiana Mr. Basketball Tyler Zeller of Washington, to win it all.

But what fun is it to go along with everyone else?

In a best-of-seven series North Carolina might clearly be the best. But the NCAA tourney is single-elimination and every team will gear up to play its best game against North Carolina.

UNC opponents will get further fired up when they hear commentators say stupid things such as "the other three teams in the Final Four combined couldn't beat the Tar Heels."

That's the kind of things they said about UNLV in 1991. And nearly everyone was having Georgetown fitted for championship rings in 1985. So upsets can happen.

Here are my predictions:

Top 20 Teams

1. Louisville 11. Tennessee

2. North Carolina 12. Memphis

3. Notre Dame 13. Kansas

4. Connecticut 14. Michigan St.

5. UCLA 15. UNLV

6. Texas 16. Davidson

7. Gonzaga 17. Duke

8. Pittsburgh 18. Florida

9. Oklahoma 19. Purdue

10. Wisconsin 20. Georgetown