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2014 NCAA Tournament Preview: (4) Louisville vs. (13) Manhattan

2014 NCAA Tournament Preview: (4) Louisville vs. (13) Manhattan

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Louisville Cardinals 29-5, 15-3

The defending national champions, this year hailing from the American Athletic Conference instead of the Big East, demand respect as they make their 40th appearance in the NCAA Tournament in school history. Gone are key contributors from last year’s championship run in Gorgui Dieng, Peyton Siva and Chane Behanan (dismissed mid-season), but Russ Smith, Montrezel Harrell, Wayne Blackshear and Luke Hancock, the 2013 Final Four’s Most Outstanding Player, remain. Chris Jones, Terry Rozier and Mangok Mathiang have become solid contributors in their first year with the program, and senior big man Stephan Van Treese is making an impact on the glass, helping replace what they lost there from Behanan. The Cardinals went 6-5 against the RPI top 50 during the regular season while playing the 93rd most difficult schedule in the country. They are tenacious defensively, allowing just 61 points a contest, and explosive offensively, scoring 81 points a game with the top margin of victory in the country at 20 points on average. They also boast the nation’s top turnover margin at -6.9 thanks to the 10 steals they accumulate per game. The Cardinals struggle both at converting their free throws and keeping the opponents off of the line. They made just 65 percent of their free throws in the regular season and commit 19.9 fouls a game, ranking them in the bottom 100 nationally.

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Manhattan Jaspers 25-7, 15-5

By virtue of knocking off Iona, the regular season MAAC champs, twice in the last two weeks, Manhattan is dancing for the seventh time in school history. The last time we saw them in the Big Dance was a decade ago when they upset Florida by 15 in the first round. The Jaspers come in as winners of 11 of their last 12 and they feature one of the top small-school players in the tournament in senior guard George Beamon. Beamon is a potent scoring threat, averaging 19.2 a contest to go along with 6.6 rebounds. Against the RPI top 50, the Jaspers went 4-2 with their top wins coming against the aforementioned Iona, Buffalo and La Salle. While Beamon is the star, Rhamel Brown is a serious factor on the defensive end, where he blocks nearly four shots a contest. Free throw shooting will be critical as the Jaspers got to the charity stripe more than any team in the country this season (980), but only connected on 66 percent. They also turn it over in excess at 14.2 times a contest. They have to be better in those two categories in order to pull off an upset. Beamon will also need plenty of help from his supporting cast, most notably from fellow seniors Michael Alvarado and Brown.

Yannis Koutroupis is Basketball Insiders' Managing Site Editor and Senior Writer. He has been covering the NBA and NCAA for seven years.

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