(4) Louisville Wildcats
On Thursday night the Wildcats were on the verge of getting upset by a Manhattan Jaspers team that Rick Pitino classified as a “carbon copy” of themselves. Coached by a Pitino disciple in Steve Masiello, the Jaspers were prepared for everything that the Wildcats threw at them and even gave them a taste of their own medicine in many instances. However, while the style of play and philosophies may have been the same, in the end Louisville had Russ Smith and Luke Hancock and the Jaspers didn’t. The two seniors outscored the Jaspers 11-4 over the final 1:53 to avoid what would have been one of the biggest upsets in recent tournament history. Prior to their run Montrezl Harrell was the one keeping them in it on a night where shots they usually hit just weren’t falling. He finished with 12 points, 13 rebounds and four blocks while playing with inspiring energy on both ends of the floor as he always does. The Wildcats outrebounded the Jaspers by 11 and forced 15 turnovers. As far as higher seeds go, this was probably the toughest matchup the Wildcats could have drawn, so don’t be too down on them despite the near upset. This is still one of the hottest teams in the country and the Billikens’ top-ranked defense is going to have their hands full as the Wildcats will likely carry over their momentum. Not only do they have more weapons than the Wolfpack, but they’re also a superior to the Billikens defensively, something they aren’t used to facing.
(5) Saint Louis Billikens
The Billikens did not play their best basketball late in the season. They came into the tournament losers of four of their last five, but with their bid secured weeks ago many wondered if they would simply flip the switch and get back to playing like one of the top teams in the country. It didn’t happen until about 32 minutes into their opening round contest against the N.C. State Wolfpack, but they came to it just in time to avoid being upset, surviving 83-80 in overtime. They trailed by as many as 16 in the second half, but Jordair Jett scored 12 points in the final eight minutes of regulation and Rob Loe had six of his 22 points in overtime to complete the come-from-behind victory. Loe also had 15 rebounds and three assists. Like every team in the country, they had difficulty containing T.J. Warren, who finished with a game-high 28 points, but he missed a crucial free throw that would have tied the ball game up with 27 seconds left and the fouled out on the next possession. Both teams struggled mightily at the free throw line as the Wolfpack missed 17 while the Billikens missed 14. In the Round of 32 against Louisville the Billikens cannot shoot as poorly or else they’ll be watching the rest of the tournament. Manhattan gave them a great blueprint to follow, however, it will take a complete effort for 40 minutes in order for them to stand a chance. They won’t win another one like they did Thursday.
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