GREENSBORO, N.C. — Away from the court, things are still tough. The economy continues to suffer. Unemployment remains widespread. A quarter is worth a dime.
On the other hand, there is finally some good news for America.
The First Bracket survives. All hail the First Bracket.
Yep, evidently, this is what President Barack Obama saw in the University of North Carolina basketball team when he picked the Tar Heels to win the NCAA Tournament. He saw speed, and he saw sizzle. He saw toughness, and he saw tenacity. Most of all, he saw a team that could thrive while barely taxing itself.
Alas, if only Obama's economic recovery team were this fast or this efficient.
North Carolina — Hoop Force One, if you will — played like a team the leader of the free world could appreciate Thursday afternoon. Despite playing once again without star point guard Ty Lawson, who could use a bit of recovery himself, the Tar Heels beat tiny Radford in a landslide 101-58.
This was North Carolina at its best, flying down the court, wearing down the opponent. Even if you think of the opening around of the tournament as basketball's primaries, it was an impressive thing to see.
When the Heels are running like this, and shooting like this, is there anyone who can keep up? Louisville? Pitt? UConn? Memphis? Duke?
Okay, okay. For all the attention that Obama's bracket — or Baracket, if you prefer — has garnered, let's be honest. The president didn't exactly go out on a limb and pick Binghamton, did he? No one has asked, but it's a safe bet that George W. Bush, Bill Clinton and Queen Elizabeth all have North Carolina winning in their brackets, too.
Who doesn't love North Carolina? Put it this way, in the first AP poll this season, 72 sports writers out of 72 picked North Carolina as No. 1. That comes with being one of the brand names of college basketball.
So, too, do lofty expectations.
For instance, Tar Heels center Tyler Hansbrough broke the ACC scoring record. And this is how coach Roy Williams referred to it.
"I told him I put him back in because I wanted him to get a rebound," Williams said. "I didn't know if he got a rebound the whole game. He scored more points than everybody in the history of the ACC, and he went 4-for-50 (Thursday)."
For instance, Tar Heel shooting guard Wayne Ellington scored 25 points on 11-of-16 shooting. And this is how Williams referred to how well Ellington played.
"Especially after he realized we were wearing one shirt and the other team was wearing another color," Williams said. "Three turnovers in the first five minutes throwing it to the other team. During one of the timeouts, we reminded him we were the team wearing the white jersey."
For the record, Williams was mostly joking, and there was a great deal of fondness for his players contained in the banter. Still, there was a method to the jabs, as if they were reminders to his players not to be fooled by success. Even after a 43-point victory, things aren't perfect.
Take Lawson's right big toe, for instance. In the history of North Carolina, there has never been a toe that has been more widely discussed. Marilyn Monroe had six toes per foot, and none of them was talked about as much as Lawson's. Without Lawson, the Tar Heels' climb gets significantly steeper, and everyone knows it.
And so the writers crowded around Lawson's locker after the game, even though Lawson hadn't played a second. They asked about the digit. They asked about the pain. They asked about the talk-show callers who have suggested that maybe it isn't that painful.
"If anyone says that," Lawson says, "they're retarded."
Still, it says a lot about a program when thousands of people are on the Internet and telephone talking about a young man's go-to-market piggy. People have even called to suggest cures, including having a pretty girl kiss it. For the record, Lawson says the toe is better and that he expects to play Saturday. Someone alert the president.
For the record, Williams says he knows why Obama picked the Heels to win the title.
"When he played with us, nobody blocked his shot, and everybody passed him the ball, and everyone set screens for him. We wanted to let him score. And he drove to the basket one time, and Tyler didn't take his head off. So that was good."
Either that, or perhaps Obama merely noticed how quick and skilled the Tar Heels are.
Evidently, that's been noticed by a lot of people filling out brackets in a lot of offices. Even the Oval one.