NCAA Tournament 2016: 1st-Round Upset Picks to Add to Your Bracket

Chris Roling@@Chris_RolingFeatured ColumnistMarch 15, 2016

Josh Hagins and Little Rock look ready to pull off a notable upset.
Josh Hagins and Little Rock look ready to pull off a notable upset.Matt Marton-USA TODAY Sports

Folks know the drill with the opening round of March Madness—upsets galore.

Things will calm down and the dominant programs will eventually make the run to the Final Four and such, but the opening days of the bracket won't lack for major upsets.

The usual suspects will rule in that regard, too. The No. 14 over the No. 3 at least once, the ill fate of the No. 5 that stumbles against the No. 12, the occasional No. 6 going down at the hands of the No. 11.

This bracket will have a little bit of everything, so let's get to know some of the biggest upset scenarios out there.

Opening Upsets to Watch

No. 14 Stephen F. Austin over No. 3 West Virginia

This is the No. 14-No. 3 to target, folks.

Stephen F. Austin might only come in at No. 71 on the ESPN RPI list, but the team moves the ball in ridiculous fashion with 19 assists per game on average while shooting 48 percent from the floor and 37 percent from deep.

On the defensive side of things, this one is much closer than most would expect, too, as FoxSports.com's Reid Forgrave pointed out:

Reid Forgrave @ReidForgrave

Stephen F. Austin ranks No. 1 in the country in defensive turnover percentage. West Virginia ranks No. 2. They meet in 1st round. Fun game.

West Virginia deserved the seed it earned by landing 12th in RPI and managing a 9-7 record against the RPI top 50. But the Mountaineers play a rather reckless run-and-gun style that doesn't work if the other team is big and cleaning up on the glass.

The Lumberjacks look like the perfect counter. Not only do they average 80.7 points per game, the assist-heavy offense relies on strong sets and execution that control the pace of the game.

Look for Stephen F. Austin to play its game and withstand an overaggressive approach from West Virginia, which will only become more reckless while playing from behind.

Prediction: Stephen F. Austin 69, West Virginia 67

No. 12 Little Rock over No. 5 Purdue

No. 5 Purdue is in a tough spot.

The Boilermakers landed 15th in RPI on a 35th-ranked strength of schedule with just a 10-7 mark against the RPI top 100. Averaging 41 rebounds and 37 percent shooting from deep on the year is a big deal going into the bracket.

One problem—the opponent is the Arkansas-Little Rock Trojans. The team won 29 games this year and looked good against the competition it could get, going 2-1 against the RPI top 100.

Purdue shared a tale of the tape that shows the numbers gap between the two programs doesn't look similar to the difference in seeding:

Purdue Men’s Basketball @BoilerBall

A closer look at Thursday's first-round opponent, Little Rock. #Purdue #MarchMadness https://t.co/xXuojHZp3Z

The problem for Purdue is contrast. The Boilermakers love to win the battle on the glass and in the paint, but Little Rock comes into the game with a guard-heavy approach capable of giving opponents fits.

Josh Hagins, who averages 12.8 points and 4.7 assists per game, might be one of the most underrated players in the tournament. Forwards who can shoot will clear the lane and let Hagins penetrate, dishing to the high-percentage shooters from deep. Little Rock's defense should shine, too, as two of Purdue's top three scorers happen to average more than two turnovers per game.

Shooting and turnover-minded defense will propel Little Rock to a win.

Prediction: Little Rock 65, Purdue 63

No. 11 Northern Iowa over No. 6 Texas

The Northern Iowa Panthers, though only at an RPI of 73, know a thing or two about pulling off an upset. 

The Panthers have a crispy 2-0 mark against the RPI top 25 this year thanks to upsets of North Carolina and Iowa State. Feel free to sprinkle in four wins against the RPI top 50 and eight against the top 100.

With all due respect to Texas, the Longhorns just aren't that formidable of an opponent as a result. Texas sits 27th in RPI with a 7-9 mark against the RPI top 50, using a slower approach to games to convert on 34 percent of shots from deep—a full four percentage points behind the Panthers.

Yahoo Sports' Brad Evans explained perhaps the top reason this is such an upset special:

Indeed, the Panthers rank 45th in adjusted defensive efficiency at KenPom.com, a scary proposition for a Texas team that wants to play its methodical approach.

Having already used stingy defense and elite shooting from deep (the great equalizer come tournament time) to take down some of the nation's best teams, Northern Iowa has more than enough to take care of business against Texas, no matter what the seeds say.

Prediction: Northern Iowa 64, Texas 60

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Stats and information courtesy of ESPN unless otherwise specified. Advanced metrics courtesy of ESPN.

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