My 5-Year-Old Daughter Filled Out a March Madness Bracket

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My 5-Year-Old Daughter Filled Out a March Madness Bracket

My oldest daughter turned five last year, and with March Madness coming around, I had the usual good memories of filling out the bracket with family. Despite the fact that she doesn’t know anything about basketball, it seemed like a fun idea. She was certainly excited at the prospect, so I thought hey, why not start a tradition AND get a blog post out of the effort?

Well, it turns out that asking a 5-year-old to make 63 game picks gets pretttty tedious after about the fifth pick, but she rallied again and again and somehow soldiered on to the end. I gave her the school name and the mascot, and she saw the logo for each team on the screen. My recorder was rolling; here’s how it turned out.


South Region

(1) Alabama over (16) AMCC/SMO – “Hey!” she shouted when she heard the word Alabama. “I’m pretty much going to pick Alabama because we know the street Alabama!” My pride was at an all-time high, because this was a neighboring street and my kid knew some local geography. What a start.
(9) West Virginia over (8) Maryland – Why? “I don’t know.” This turned out to be a common motif.
(12) Charleston over (5) San Diego State – “Charleston,” she said. “I’m picking them by their cool names.” She had this to add before we moved on: “I wish there was one that was from Japan. Ninjas! I like ninjas a lot.”
(13) Furman over (4) Virginia – She picked Virginia first, until I realized I should be telling her the nicknames. As it happens, “Paladins” was too much to resist. “Actually the other ones, the Paladins,” she said, adding that she liked the diamond logo and how it sounded like the word “palace.”
(11) NC State over (6) Creighton – “Wolfpack!” Here she picked based on the logo, which she identified as a cat, despite both of us saying the actual nickname. The cat holds great appeal.
(14) UCSB over (3) Baylor – “Because their nickname [Gauchos], the second letter is ‘s’…for my name, and your name.” On further questioning, it became clear that she meant that ‘s’ was the last letter of the nickname, which was also “s” for Baylor and 98% of the other teams on this list, but I wasn’t going to question her logic.
(7) Missouri over (10) Utah State – “I want this one because it looks like it’s gold.”
(15) Princeton over (2) Arizona – “I’m going to pick this one because it’s a P. It’s a cool letter. And their specialty is going to the bathroom because p, puh, potty.” Take that, Princeton.

Midwest Region

(16) N. Kentucky over (1) Houston – Bold pick! “Northern Kentucky Norse!” she shouted, repeating me. “Because the Norse rhymes with north. Because it sounds like the letter north, for ‘n,’ if you’re on a thing.” As to what this means, your guess is as good as mine.
(9) Auburn over (8) Iowa – She has a huge preference for Tigers.
(5) Miami over (12) Drake – “Oooh, I’m going to pick the one that looks like the U. It’s two colors!”
(4) Indiana over (13) Kent State – “On this one I want this one”—here she pointed to the Indiana logo—”because it looks like the candles they light on Hanukkah night. Even though we don’t celebrate Hanukkah.” This sounds like one of those things you read on Twitter where the parent is clearly making up something his or her kid said, but I swear before this I had no idea she even knew what Hanukkah was.
(6) Iowa State over (11) MSSU/Pitt – “The one on the top! I like the picture. It looks like ninja colors. I always think that yellow or orange or red are ninja colors. Ninja! Ninja! Ninja cha-cha!” We’re almost off the rails already.
(14) Kennesaw State over (3) Xavier – “Owls have really good eyesight.” Yeah they do.
(10) Penn State over (7) Texas A&M – “Nittany Lions! It reminds me of Madagascar.” (The movie, mind you, not the actual place…although I didn’t know she knew about Hanukkah, so maybe she’s been to Madagascar and I just missed it?)
(15) Colgate vs. (2) Texas – I didn’t know the Colgate nickname off hand, but she didn’t need to hear any more before shouting them out. “Coal, freezing cold, coal coal, coal in the fireplace, this is bad.” She laughs to herself after this monologue.

East Region

(1) Purdue over (16) TXSO/FDU – “Is it okay if you do this one by yourself?” she asks. We are on borrowed time already; what seemed like a fun project at the start is quickly getting boring, and I’m worried because my honor as a blogsman dictates that I can’t stop. I tell her we can take a break, and when we get back, there is a slight energy rebound. When I say the word “Boilermakers,” that’s all she needs: “Making stew, I’m making an eyeball. Because stew. The word stew. I’m witches, baking an eyeball, eyeball, eyeball.” I quickly move to the next game before it gets even darker.
(9) FAU over (8) Memphis – A real classic with Owls vs. Tigers, but she doesn’t hesitate—she says the logo looks like a ship, “the bottom curves, and there are all the wise people on top.” You’ll have to trust me that the small version does kind of look like this.
(5) Duke over (12) Oral Roberts – “Duke! I know Duke!” YES. My indoctrination has worked.
(13) Louisiana over (4) Tennessee – “Ragin’ Cajuns” is a no-brainer, and she won’t even deign to offer an explanation. Nor should I have even asked.
(11) Providence over (6) Kentucky – I mistakenly say that both teams are the “Wildcats” here, so she has to go to the logs, and apparently the blue “UK” isn’t doing it for her. When I correct myself, nothing changes, but now she keeps saying “friars for fritters!”
(14) Montana St. over (3) Kansas St. – Wildcats vs. Bobcats, and she’s just grateful for something a little different than a Wildcat. Rather than explain her reasoning, she demonstrates with a solid backward flop that if she falls on my lap, she’ll land softly in a nearby leather chair.
(10) USC over (7) Michigan State – “I don’t know.”
(2) Marquette over (15) Vermont – “Golden eagles! Golden!” Okay, okay.

West Region

(1) Kansas over (16) Howard – “The one on top! It’s like a rainbow, the Google thing we have on our TV. Can I look at that closer? Oh. It looks like a ducky.”
(9) Illinois over (8) Arkansas – “The one that looks like an I.”
(5) St. Mary’s over (12) VCU – She goes VCU first, but the St. Mary’s colors win her over a split second later.
(4) UConn vs. (13) Iona – “Ooh, the cat picture on the next one! There’s been so many cats.” When I explain that it’s actually a dog, she says, “really? Do they really look like cats?” Her voice sounds both worried and disappointed.
(11) ASU over (6) TCU – “Because it has the word sun and the sun is golden.” I’m frankly shocked that “Horned Frogs” lost here.
(14) Grand Canyon over (3) Gonzaga – “Grand Canyon! Yeah, I like the name where it says ‘caves.’ A Grand Canyon is another way to say cave.” Someone tell the National Park Service.
(7) Northwestern over (10) Boise St. – “The one that looks like an N.” Why? “Because it’s an N!”
(15) UNC-Asheville over (2) UCLA – “Just because ash. The word ash.” I don’t press, but make a note of it considering the magnitude of this upset.

At this point, she thought we were done, and was near despondent when I told her we had just finished the first round. I gave it all the pep I could in explaining how exciting and fast the rest would be, which just managed to convince her.


South Region

(9) West Virginia over (1) Alabama – “Mountaineers. Just because mountains.”
(13) Furman over (12) Charleston – She’s not getting away from Paladins; not without a fight.
(14) UCSB over (11) N.C. State – “Because we’re learning about G at my school and g-g-g-Gauchos.”
(15) Princeton over (7) Missouri – Two Tigers, so we go with the one that looks like a P.

Midwest Region

(9) Auburn over (16) N. Kentucky – “Auburn Tigers.” Absolutely no hesitation, but she sounds both weary and sad now.
(4) Indiana over (5) Miami – I tell her it’s the U vs. Hanukkah candles, and once again she goes with Hanukkah candles.
(6) Iowa State over (14) Kennesaw St. – Ninja colors again.
(15) Colgate over (10) Penn State – This time, it’s because the C logo looks like a horseshoe. The Madagascar connection has lost its appeal, I guess.

East Region

(1) Purdue over (9) FAU – She is no longer amused by this exercise. I have asked too much.
(5) Duke over (13) Louisiana – She picks Louisiana at first, and I say “over Duke?” This jars her from her torpor, and she says “ohhh! Duke! Duke!” Listening back to the recording, I might have violated some neutrality ethics here. To be fair, I give her a “you sure?” after the switch, and she doubles down for Duke.
(14) Montana St. over (11) Providence – “I like cats.”
(2) Marquette over (10) USC – “Golden” carries the day, and when I ask what her favorite golden things are, she says “gold coins, sapphires, rubies.”

West Region

(1) Kansas over (9) Illinois – She’s now exaggerating the weary voice to make a point.
(4) UConn over (5) St. Mary’s – “Because it starts with H and H starts with H-h-h-Huskies, and H starts with home and house and hug.” Here, she actually gives me a hug, and I melt.
(14) Grand Canyon over (11) ASU – Caves over Sun Devils, I guess? I can’t get much out of her.
(15) UNC-Asheville over (7) Northwestern – I decide to press a little on why she likes the word “ash,” and get this in response: “The dinosaur world, ash, when it says ashtown. Because it’s the real thing where the dinosaurs got extinct. It was all covered in ash when the meteor hit.”


South Region

(9) West Virginia over (13) Furman – The word “mountain” apparently looms large enough in her mind to overcome the previously unbeatable “Paladins.”
(14) UCSB over (15) Princeton – The allure of the letter P cannot stand up to Gauchos. Worth noting that we’ve never in NCAA history had a 14 vs. 15 Sweet 16 match-up, but my daughter has picked two.

Midwest Region

(4) Indiana over (9) Auburn – We’re very much running out of steam. No explanation forthcoming.
(6) Iowa St. over (15) Colgate – Ditto.

East Region

(5) Duke over (1) Purdue –  “Duke!” I don’t even need to prompt. I am a good parent.
(2) Marquette over (14) Montana St. – Golden Eagles can’t lose.

West Region

(4) UConn over (1) Kansas – She repeats the house, home, and hug act, and I’m tempted to pretend UConn is playing 10 more games, just for the free hugs.
(15) UNC-Asheville over (14) Grand Canyon – “I don’t know.”


(9) West Virginia over (14) UCSB – I’m getting stonewalled.
(6) Iowa St. over (4) Indiana – We are deeeeep into diminishing returns. I’m not sure we’re going to finish.
(5) Duke over (2) Marquette – “Duke.” No longer so enthusiastic, but she’s staying loyal even against the word “golden.”
(15) UNC-Asheville over (4) UConn – The dinosaur ash narrative holds strong, but I am done receiving hugs.


(5) Duke over (9) West Virginia – “Duke Blue Devils.” It’s not even a question. The faith runs strong in this one.
(15) UNC-Asheville over (6) Iowa State – She picks Asheville, but will only say “snuggle buggles” twice as a rationale.


(5) Duke over (15) UNC-Asheville – We did it! We made it through! The outcome was never in doubt, but the really eye-opening element here is the score. To say that Asheville will come back to earth in the championship game after its incredible run is an understatement; per my daughter, Duke wins 100-2 in a record thrashing.

When I revealed the picks to a few friends, my friend Damon went to his preferred sports book and figured out that a Final Four parlay with Duke, West Virginia, Iowa State, and UNC-Asheville could be had at +94087250. He put down $1 to win $940,873.50, and promised to buy my daughter a pony if it hits. I wouldn’t be thrilled to have a pony in the backyard, but frankly, she deserves it. A tremendous rookie bracket performance for a five-year-old.

Shane Ryan is a writer and editor. You can find more of his writing and podcasting at “Apocalypse Sports”:, and follow him on Twitter here .

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