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2015 NCAA Tournament: Most likely first-round upsets include Maryland, Louisville

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Picking favorites in the NCAA tournament is the smart play, but what makes March Madness great is the upsets and Cinderella teams who pull off something special. And let’s not forget the bragging rights that come with correctly predicting an upset in your own bracket pool.

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We can be reasonably sure an early upset won’t happen to the No.1 seed — since 1985, when the tournament expanded to 64 teams, the top four seeded teams are 104-0 in the first round. In fact, the top three seeds are 292-20 in Round 1, so we will concentrate our upset picks elsewhere. And while a No. 9 seed beating the No. 8 seed in the first round is technically an upset, we are going to focus on the true underdogs: those that are at least four seeds below the favorite they are facing.

Here are four upsets in the first round you can bet your bracket on.

No. 11 BYU over No. 6 Xavier

The Cougars have to get by Ole Miss in the play-in round, but when they do, they should topple Xavier.

BYU compiled a 25-9 record behind the ninth most efficient offense in the nation, one that produces 116.7 points per 100 possessions. The Cougars also sport the fifth best free-throw rate among the college ranks (77.0 percent).

Senior guard Tyler Haws is their “go-to guy,” using 29.3 percent of their possessions to produce 21.9 points, 4.4 rebounds, 2.3 assists and 1.0 steals per game so far this season.

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No 12. Stephen F. Austin over No. 5 Utah

The Lumberjacks were ranked 35th in Ken Pomeroy’s College Basketball Ratings and boasted a top-20 adjusted offensive efficiency (113.0) because they can shoot the ball. They had the ninth-best effective field goal percentage (56.2 percent), which breaks down to the sixth-best two-point field goal percentage (55.6 percent) and 38.1 percent from beyond the three-point line (37th best in nation).

No. 13 Valparaiso over No. 4 Maryland

The Valparaiso Crusaders are hard to score against. They rank 31st in Pomeroy’s adjusted defensive efficiency with a mark of 94.3, an estimate of points allowed per 100 possessions adjusted for strength of schedule. They’ve also held opponents to   just 42.1 percent shooting on two-point shots (13th best in the nation).

Meanwhile, Maryland has benefited from a lot of luck this season, the second luckiest team in the nation according to Pomeroy’s numbers. This is going to be a tough battle for the Terps, making it a sound upset selection.

No. 13 UC Irvine over No. 4 Louisville

Making their NCAA tournament debut, the Anteaters feature 7-foot-6 Mamadou Ndiaye, who could be a difference maker in the middle of the Anteater zone defense.

A big presence like Ndiaye has helped keep opponents to a 42.3 percent field-goal percentage on two-point shots, 16th best among college teams. That could spell trouble for a Louisville offense that ranks just 95th in offensive efficiency, the worst major-conference mark in the tournament.

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