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Is anyone playing better than Louisville right now? Maybe not, but that didn't stop the committee from giving them a 4-seed. They'll face off with Manhattan, a team much like Louisville that was projected to win its conference, but came in second in the regular season and then won the tourney . Louisville comes in as a monstrous -15.5 point favorite in the 4-13 matchup.
The Cardinals only have five losses this year, but the main reason the committee didn't rate them more highly was due to a poor schedule. They lost to their most difficult opponents in non-conference play against North Carolina and Kentucky and played in a mediocre conference that had five teams equal to mid-major quality. Nevertheless, they still carved through the AAC tourney winning their first game 92-31 which is incredible. Even in the championship game against Connecticut, it was never as close as the 10-point score line suggests.
The Jaspers started MAAC play in a funk with a 4-4 record. It wasn't until February that they figured it all out as they are on an 11-1 streak. Manhattan's only NCAA tourney opponent this year was George Washington, and they lost at home by six points. They beat regular season MAAC winners, Iona, in the championship game.
It's hard to see how the Jaspers are going to keep up in this one. Not because they don't have a solid team, but because of what Louisville has been doing. The Cardinals have a swarming defense combined with multiple scoring options on the offensive end which presents an incredibly difficult matchup for most teams.
The problem for Manhattan is that they turn it over an alarming 14 times per game, which is 317th in the nation. And that is just one stat. Russ Smith and Chris Jones are feisty defenders on the outside while Montrezl Harrell is a scary NBA prospect and has improved greatly this season.
The Jaspers have a deep squad which will need to come into play here. George Beamon is a consistent threat and could draw the defense of Luke Hancock. Beamon will have the advantage if that's the case. He leads the team in scoring (19.2 PPG) and rebounding (6.6 RPG). Outside of Beamon, someone else will have to step up. Rhamel Brown and Emmy Andujar were huge in the MAAC tourney and will need to do the same here.
Another aspect the Cardinals have going for them is that they know how to win. All of these players were on the National Championship team from a year ago. If Russ Smith is needed, he can rarely be stopped and is coming off a ridiculous tourney that included a 42-point outburst. If Smith or Harrell can't get it done, Luke Hancock can step up as we saw in last year's tourney. While he hasn't been playing great as of late, we know he has the ability. In addition to their starters, the Cardinals also have a viable bench which doesn't make it easy on opponents.
With the way they're playing, it's easy to go with Louisville in this game. But one shouldn't underestimate a veteran Manhattan team that has enough scorers to possibly make it a game.
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