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I Asked Fourth and Fifth Graders Who They Thought Would Win the National Championship

Every March millions of brackets are filled out. Both fans and non-fans of college basketball attempt to do the impossible; fill out a perfect bracket. 2023 is no different. Since the bracket came out Sunday evening, I have received floods of text messages asking who my cinderella picks are and who I think will win the “Big Dance.”

Last year less than ten percent of people who filled out a bracket picked Kansas to win. The same can be said for the winner of the 2021 NCAA Tournament— Baylor. Filling out a bracket and picking winners in the first few rounds is hard enough, picking the eventual winner is even harder.

In what has become a tradition over the past two years, I have consulted my favorite experts, my mother’s fourth and fifth-grade students, to see who they think will be cutting down the nets this year. 

These kids are from Western Kentucky, and that might be reflected in their answers. I simply showed them a bracket, giving them 68 possible answers. They then recorded their responses

1 Vote

SEMO- Unfortunately, SEMO was bounced as a part of the First Four games in Dayton, Ohio. SEMO lost to Texas A&M Corpus Christi 75-71 on Tuesday night. It was a great effort by the Ohio Valley champions, though.

UNC Asheville- Like most 15 seeds, the Bulldogs of UNC Asheville have a tall task ahead of them as they will look to upset UCLA in the first round. If they can get past UCLA in round 1, anything is possible. Tennessee transfer Drew Pember leads the way, averaging 21.2 points and 9.4 rebounds per game.

Louisiana Lafayette- The Ragin’ Cajuns are a 13 seed coming into the big dance riding a 5-game winning streak, which includes a 71-66 victory over South Alabama in the Sun Belt Championship game. ULL will no doubt be looking to play spoiler to a Tennessee squad that many experts thought could make a deep run this year.

Drake- No, not that Drake. The University that shares a name with Aubrey Graham can hoop. The Missouri Valley Conference champions have been a trendy cinderella pick, and for good reason. The Bulldogs have a father-son duo of Darian and Tucker DeVries. Darian is the head coach of the Bulldogs, while Tucker was the player of the year in the MVC.

Arizona State- Most of the attention in Arizona has been on the Wildcats, but the Sun Devils can play some basketball. I won’t lie, I don’t know a ton about Bobby Hurley’s team. But I do know they beat Arizona on a sick buzzer beater, and that’s enough for me to believe in them.

Maryland- Kevin Willard was able to bring the Terps to the dance in his first year as the head man. I watched the Terps play one game this season against Illinois, and they looked super impressive, so I kind of love this under-the-radar pick.

Iowa- The good ole’ Hawyekes are back dancing. I never know what to do with Iowa in my brackets. Last year I picked them as a Final Four team, but they lost in the first round. Fran McCaffery’s team has a tall task in round one against Auburn.

Memphis- I think I love Penny Hardaway’s Memphis squad. Memphis comes into the tournament on fire as they’ve won six of their last seven games, including a 75-65 win over one-seed Houston in the American Conference championship game. Senior guard Kendric Davis is the kind of player that makes Memphis a team no one wants to see in the tournament.

Tennessee- My beloved Tennessee Volunteers come into this year’s tournament hobbling. The Vols were at one point considered a Final Four team but now are seen as a popular pick to be upset in the opening rounds. Only time will tell if Rick Barnes’ team can overcome all their adversity and make a run.

Indiana- I really like Indiana. Trayce Jackson-Davis is a DUDE, and the Hoosiers have the feel of a team that will either lose early or makes a magical run.

Kansas State- Kansas State is a team that I think everyone should root for in every sport. They almost always seem like underdogs in my mind, no matter how good they are. Jerome Tang is an amazing coach, and I have no doubt he’ll have the Wildcats ready to make a run. Tang helped make Baylor a powerhouse and hopes to do the same with K State.

Arizona- Arizona is a two-seed that won its conference tournament. Arizona has been a force all season that will likely remain true in the tournament.

Houston- After losing to Memphis in the American Conference championship game, Houston will need to rebound quickly. The Cougars were dominant all season, but now some are doubting them.

Burger King- “Burger king BKKKKK HAVE IT UR WAY” Yeah, the commercial is now stuck in my head too.

“I think Spongebob, Patrick and Squidward and other people in Bikini Bottom will appear out of no where wearing jetpacks and win”- It’s very nice to know Spongebob is just as popular as he was when I was in fourth or fifth grade. (Also, I am all for this scenario actually playing out.)

The Winner- Yes. This is always my favorite answer. This kid will technically be right in the end. This kid is for sure living by that famous saying, “work harder, not smarter.”

2 Votes

Miami- The Hurricanes are a weird team. Jim Larranaga will no doubt have the Canes ready to play, but they will still be licking their chops after losing to Duke in the ACC Tournament. They are also matched up with a trendy cinderella pick in Drake.

Duke- In their first year without the legend Coach K, Duke won the ACC Tournament and come into the tournament with a ton of momentum. First-year head coach, and former Duke point guard, Jon Scheyer will look to continue the Blue Devils’ long history of March success. (Like these kids, I also picked Duke to win it all this year.)

Texas- Despite all kinds of controversy throughout this season, Texas finds itself a top 10 seed in the NCAA tournament. After Chris Beard was fired, they could’ve fallen apart, but they just kept going. They come into the tournament after winning the Big 12 championship in impressive fashion and could no doubt be a team to watch for throughout this tournament.

UCLA- UCLA is another team that I love in this tournament. Jaime Jaquez Jr. and Tyger Campbell are already legendary players at UCLA but have the chance to make another run in March.

Kansas- I am not crazy about this Kansas team. The defending champs looked bad against Texas in the Big 12 championship game. They will need Jalen Wilson and Grady Dick to step up big-time if they want to make a deep run and attempt to go back-to-back.

Alabama- The Crimson Tide are the number one overall seed in this year’s tournament, and for good reason. The Tide had no problem winning the SEC Tournament and will look to stay hot in the big dance. Freshman Brandon Miller will be a top 5 pick in this year’s NBA Draft and will no doubt have a huge impact in this year’s tournament.

The Midwest- Why pick one team, when you can pick a whole region? The Midwest region isn’t my favorite region, but these two students seem to love these 16 teams.

3 Votes

Illinois- Before the season started, I picked Illinois as a Final Four team. They didn’t have the best year but roll into the tournament as a nine-seed. Illinois will look to rebound from a loss in the Big 10 tournament to Penn St and make a run. They do have a bit of experience on their team as senior forward Matthew Mayer played on Baylor’s championship team back in 2021.

Missouri- First-year head coach Dennis Gates has Missouri in the tournament as a seven seed. The Tigers made a nice run in the SEC Tournament but fell short to Alabama in the semifinals. When Mizzou gets hot they are dangerous, and they could be a very dangerous team in the NCAA Tournament.

5 Votes

IDK- Same. Same. Same. This is tough, trying to pick a winner out of 68 teams is so tough. I respect the maturity of saying “I don’t know” because millions of people will be making wrong predictions.

15 Votes

Kentucky- Despite having a rough season, these kids in the Bluegrass State still believe their Wildcats can cut down the nets. It is very tough to gauge how good this Kentucky team is. Early in the year, they did not look good at all. But when they made the move to play Cason Wallace at point, things changed for the better. As everyone knows, Kentucky’s roster is littered with talent, including 2021-22 Naismith Player of the Year Oscar Tshiebwe. I would not be surprised at all if Kentucky ends up making a run this year.

Final Thoughts

I am not in the least bit surprised that Kentucky came away with the most votes. If you’re not from Kentucky, it might be a surprise, but not for me. Big Blue Nation is a real thing, and they are ride or die for their Cats.

I can’t thank these kids enough for answering my silly little survey. I also can’t wait for the March Madness to be underway this Thursday.

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