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Obama fills out his brackets

From NBC/NJ's Aswini Anburajan and NBC's Mark Murray
If there's one thing outside of politics that can steal a candidate's attention -- especially the hoops enthusiast Obama -- it's March Madness, which begins in the next hour or two.

Obama has his money on the University of North Carolina to win the NCAA tournament this year beating out UCLA in the final.

Image: Barack Obama's bracket picks

His top bracket picks include: UNC in the East, Kansas in the Midwest, Pittsburgh in the South, and UCLA in the West. Some of those picks don't seem to be by accident, at least according to our political eyes: UNC is the flagship university in North Carolina (which has its primary on May 6), Pittsburgh is in Pennsylvania (which goes on April 22); and Kansas is where his mother's family hailed from.

Obama is a huge basketball fan, and was even caught pondering over his bracket when sitting in an interview with CNN's Anderson Cooper. He joked that he was focusing on what was "important."

Obama was the last person to submit his bracket to the friendly staff-only betting pool. (Entry was $10.) Hotline reported this morning that Obama spokesmen "Bill Burton and Dan Pfeiffer both have Georgetown in the championship, but UCLA winning. Speechwriter Jon Favreau and Ben Finkenbinder have Kansas. Strategist David Axelrod and policy dir Heather Higginbottom picked UNC."

Asked why he was taking so long filling out his own bracket, Obama said: "I'm taking this very seriously. It's a science."

Obama has been playing basketball since he was in high school. He regularly finds a way to sneak some court time in on the campaign trail, shooting hoops with secret service, staff and just yesterday the troops from Fort Bragg.