Sunday, March 16, 2014

Manhattan Draws Louisville, Familiar Face In Pitino

Manhattan found out its first-round opponent in the NCAA Tournament, and it's hardly a pushover

It's Louisville, fresh from winning the post-season tournament championship of the new American Athletic Conference.

Some thought the Cardinals were good enough to, potentially, be seeded as high as second in a 16-team bracket.

Instead Louisville, ranked as high as No. 5 nationally in the most-recent Associated Press' Top 25 poll, fell all the way to a No. 4 seed.

Manhattan is seeded 13th, and the first-round contest between the programs will be on Thursday at the Amway Center in Orlando, Fla.

Louisville has won 12 of its last 13 games and needs one more victory (it's currently 29-5) for its third-straight 30-victory season. Its last two teams went to the NCAA event's Final Four, and last year's team won the national championship.

Manhattan coach Steve Masiello, though, probably won't be surprised by too much of what Louisville coach Rick Pitino does in the game.

Masiello played a season for Pitino, as a walk-on at Kentucky in the 1996-97 season, Pitino's last at that school. He left Kentucky to become coach of the NBA's Boston Celtics for four seasons before returning to the college ranks at Louisville, where he has been for the past 13 seasons.

Masiello was with the Kentucky program for three more seasons under Tubby Smith, and was a member of the school's national championship team of 1997-98, Smith's first year after replacing Pitino.

There's another New York connection for Kentucky. Its top player, 6-foot-0 senior guard Russell Smith, is a New York City native having played at Archbishop Molloy High School.

Smith averages a team-high 18.3 points for the Cardinals, including a 42-point outburst against Houston in the America Athletic Conference's semifinal-round game.

Louisville, by all appearances, will have a significant edge both in talent and athleticism. But, the Jaspers won't be overwhelmed by their opponent's height.

Only one of the team's starters, 6-foot-8 post player Montzezl Harrell (14.2 points, 8.2 rebounds per game) is taller than 6-6. Its starting lineup also includes 6-6 forward Luke Hancock, 6-5 forward Wayne Blackshear, the 6-0 Smith and 5-10 guard Chris Jones.

Louisville, though, does have height coming off the bench in 6-10 freshman center Manqok Mathinq and 6-9 senior Stephan Van Treese.

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