Biggest Challenges Louisville Faces in NCAA Tourney Matchup vs. Manhattan
No one ever said repeating as NCAA tournament champs would be easy.
The No. 4 seed Louisville Cardinals certainly do not have a simple task in front of them as they search to attain glory at the highest level of college basketball for the second consecutive season.
First in the way on the path to success is No. 13 seed Manhattan out of the MAAC.
Here is a look at the five biggest challenges Louisville will face on Thursday night in Orlando.
Will the Apprentice Get the Best of the Master?
Manhattan coach Steve Masiello is very familiar with Rick Pitino's Louisville Cardinals since he was an assistant on the staff from 2005 to 2011.
Masiello, who at 36 is making his first tournament appearance as a head coach, has modeled his coaching style after Pitino, and both teams possess some of the same qualities.
Both teams will look to maintain full-court defensive pressure on each other and force a large number of turnovers.
In half-court sets, Masiello's Jaspers model the trapping style of the Cardinals, who have used that aspect of the game to their advantage on numerous occasions this season.
Pitino was quoted in a story by Jeff Greer of the Louisville Courier-Journal as saying the matchup is far from ideal for him:
"I am afraid of playing him. He knows every single thing I've done since I was 28."
One of Louisville's most effective defensive strategies is the matchup zone traps.
If the Cardinals can put the pressure on the MAAC tournament champions early and often, a blowout win could be in the making.
But, if Manhattan recognizes the sets and adjusts well to how the Cardinals are attempting to play defense, it could be a long day of hard work for Louisville.
Putting an inexperienced tournament team under pressure within the first five minutes of a game is what veteran teams do in the Big Dance, and that is exactly what the Cardinals are expected to do at the Amway Center.
Avoiding a Letdown as the Favorite
There is no debating who carries the most experience into this game, and Louisville must bank on that to help it cruise past Manhattan.
One thing the Cardinals can't do is approach the game like it has been won before the first tip.
On countless occasions through the years in the Big Dance, heavy favorites have fallen at unexpected times early in the tournament because they did not take the opponent seriously.
New Mexico's crash and burn in the second round last year is a perfect example of a high seed not playing up to its potential.
Louisville will likely avoid a lackadaisical attitude out on the court, but not reaching the Final Four again has to be a fear stuck somewhere in the players' minds.
Production from Players Behind Montrezl Harrell on Depth Chart
If Masiello was a smart man, he would tell his Manhattan squad to attack the paint and force Montrezl Harrell into foul trouble.
Harrell has at times this season been the best player on the floor in a Cardinals uniform, but if his presence inside is taken away because of fouls, the Jaspers will get a chance to challenge the backup bigs.
Stephan Van Treese and Mangok Mathiang are not as skilled and experienced as Harrell is down in the paint, and neither player is expected to carry the load in the frontcourt all tournament long.
However, the bench pair may be asked to replace Harrell's production in a game where he is forced to be less aggressive due to a few disciplinary calls.
If Van Treese and Mathiang are not up to the task and Harrell fails to earn consistent minutes, the Jaspers could have a bleak chance of securing an upset.
Keeping the Ball Out of George Beamon's Hands
George Beamon is the best player Manhattan will trot out to the court on Thursday night, and the Cardinals must do a good job at containing his contributions.
Beamon will be able to drain a few buckets, but the Cardinals must not let the senior, who averages 19.2 points per game, get on a run that inspires the Jaspers.
If Beamon does catch fire, the momentum will lean in the direction of Manhattan, and so will whatever neutrals are left in the crowd from the first game of the night session.
Shutting down Beamon is something that can be done, but it has been done rarely this season.
In the Jaspers' first game against Iona in the regular season, Beamon scored just nine points in a pesky road environment.
If Louisville can have the same effect on a neutral court that Iona did at home, we may not hear from Beamon for most of the night.
Follow Joe on Twitter, @JTansey90.