Louisville, KY (Sports Network) - A highly-anticipated season for Louisville
gets underway as the No. 2 Cardinals host a tough Manhattan Jaspers squad at
the KFC Yum! Center this afternoon.
Of all the games on Manhattan's schedule this one has got to be the most
anticipated for the Jaspers. A look at the rest of the schedule doesn't have
Manhattan playing any other team that is currently in the top-25 let alone
the second-ranked team in the country. The Jaspers are no slouches themselves
though coming off a strong campaign a year ago when they finished 21-13
overall and 12-6 in league play. The Jaspers really stumbled down the stretch
though with losses in five of their final eight regular season games.
In his 11 seasons at the helm for Louisville, Rick Pitino has turned the
Cardinals into a regular to the NCAA Tournament and last season proved no
different. However, the Cardinals' path, which ended in a Final Four
appearance, was not exactly traditional. Sitting at 22-9 at the end of the
regular season after losing three of its final five regular season games, the
Cardinals didn't look like a Final Four team. Eight straight wins and a Big
East Conference Tournament title later and the Cardinals found themselves
there. Now the Cardinals are a team of which a Final Four, and possibly more,
is expected in 2012.
This is the first meetings between these teams since 2002. In that contest
Louisville routed Manhattan 89-62 to win its fourth straight in the series.
Overall the Cardinals have won five of six all-time matchups.
Having all five starters return from a 20-win team is a situation any coach
would be lucky to have. Manhattan head coach Steve Masiello is one of those
coaches. George Beamon (19.0 ppg, 5.6 rpg) is by far the most important
holdover after he led the team in scoring. The 6-4 swingman shoots well from
just about everywhere on the floor (.486 FG percentage). His size allows him
to get inside and score but he has the ability to put it in from beyond the
arc effectively as well (.427 3FG percentage). With Beamon leading the show
Manhattan was the third best scoring team in the conference (71.2 ppg). Other
important returnees are leading rebounder Emmy Andujar (8.5 ppg, 5.7 rpg) and
point guard Michael Alvarado (8.5 ppg, 3.2 apg). Andujar wasn't a prolific
rebounder but fit in well for the Jaspers who rebounded consistently well
across the board last season. The Jaspers were the second-best team on the
boards in the MAAC (35.0 pg).
Pitino really got the Cardinals to commit on defense last season. The
Cardinals held opponents to only 61.0 points per game and the sixth lowest
field goal percentage (.384) in the nation. That type of defensive intensity
should continue, especially from the inside. Gorgui Dieng is the reason for
that. The 6-11 center was absolutely dominant inside (9.1 ppg, 9.1 rpg) and
will make any player think twice before getting into the paint, as he swatted
3.2 shots per game. Dieng is on a short list of potential Big East Player of
the Year candidates especially if he can produce more on the offense. Peyton
Siva is another star who really blossomed during the Cardinals' run in the
postseason last year. Siva (9.1 ppg, 3.2 rpg, 5.6 apg) runs the point in
Pitino's offense but needs to be more consistent in limiting turnovers.
Charles Behanan is a solid scorer and rebounder (9.5 ppg, 7.5 rpg) on the
inside and Russ Smith (11.5 ppg) is the top returning scorer and has already
shown his ability to play in concert with Siva. George Mason-transfer Luke
Hancock (10.9 ppg, 4.6 rpg, 4.3 apg) adds further depth.
The Sports Network