4. Louisville Cardinals (29-5, 15-3, American)-The Cardinals are playing as well as any team in the country right now, yet were somehow snubbed with a No. 4 seed. Apparently, the committee didn’t like the American Athletic Conference. As always, the Cards like to confuse teams with pressure defense and love to get out and run. Just like last season, Louisville is coming together at the right time.
Senior guard Russ Smith went for 42 points in the Cards’ semifinal win over Houston and has been playing outstanding basketball of late. He leads Louisville at 18.3 points and 4.7 assists per game. Smith is shooting 40% from 3 and has the capability of going for 30 any time.
Montrezl Harrell has also come on incredibly strong at the end of the season. He is a physical monster who will likely be a first-round draft pick come June. At 14.2 ppg and 8.4 rpg, he’s been huge all season long. Final Four Most Outstanding Player Luke Hancock is also back, and is a tremendous shooter. He averages 11.3 points per game.
The Cardinals might be the hottest team in the nation right now and will be tough to take down. Manhattan doesn’t have the personnel or the style of play to do so.
8th Points per Game (82.1)
33rd Field Goal Percentage (.474)
19th Assists Per Game (15.7)
Manhattan (25-7, 15-5 MAAC)- The Jaspers were the preseason favorite to win the MAAC, and though they weren’t appreciably better than Quinnipiac or Iona (Editor’s note: QU grad here, disgusted with the Bobcats’ performance in the semis), Manhattan outlasted both to capture the MAAC tournament title. The Jaspers are led by a pair of quick guards in 6-4 George Beamon (19.4 points, 6.5 rebounds per game) and 6-2 Michael Alvarado (12.3 ppg, 4.1 apg) and love to press. Their goal is to get out and score in transition. Manhattan likes to play the game in the 80’s, and forces 21 turnovers per game, which ranks 9th in the country.
The Jaspers own a win at South Carolina, and lost to George Washington by six early in the season. The MAAC champion has won a game in the NCAA Tournament five times since 2002, and Iona earned an at-large bid in 2011, so this is not a patsy league.
Beamon has gotten some NBA consideration, and though he’s slight of frame, has the ability to go on an offensive explosion at any given time. Manhattan also features a sharpshooter in 6-5 guard Shane Richards, who looks like a walk-on but could be a game-changer if he gets hot from behind the arc. He had 14 points on 4-of-7 shooting from three in Manhattan’s 71-68 triumph over Iona in the MAAC final.
Opponent Turnovers per Game: 9th (21.7)
Points per Game: 38th (77.6)
Points per Possession: 125th (1.5)
Three Point Percentage: 77th (36.7)