The University of Louisville brought its 12 wins in 13 games to town for the opening weekend of the NCAA Tournament. It brought its band and cheerleaders and dance team and tournament experience.

Manhattan brought a mirror.

When the teams step on the court in the Amway Center at about 9:45 p.m. Thursday, fourth-seeded U of L (29-5) and 13th-seeded Manhattan (25-7) might as well be practicing with each other. The only differences are the school names on the jersey and the players wearing them.

"I am afraid of playing him," U of L coach Rick Pitino said of Manhattan coach Steve Masiello, his former player and assistant. "He knows every single thing I've done since I was 28."

Pitino was more disappointed with the Cardinals' matchup against Masiello than he was about the No. 4 seed in the Midwest Regional, a tournament ranking that upset the fan base.

So was Masiello, whose Jaspers run sets similar to Louisville's, from matchup zone traps and 2-2-1 presses on defense to high ball screens and turnout plays on offense.

They play the same tempo. Each team's best attribute? Forcing turnovers.

"I was going to cheer my tail off for them," Masiello said. "It took a little fun out of it. … Now I have to take all my emotion. Now it's just business."

Both teams have lost only once since Feb. 1, but the Cardinals have caught the attention of national basketball analysts, many of whom are picking them to reach the Final Four for the third consecutive season.

President Barack Obama, in his annual bracket selection on ESPN, picked them to reach the national championship game. Las Vegas has them among the favorites.

"I haven't even looked at who's in our bracket," U of L senior Luke Hancock said. "We're just worried about the first game because everybody knows that if you don't, you're going to lose."

So how can the Cards prepare for a team that's so similar to themselves? They say they're treating this like a conference game, when familiar foes jostle to find new wrinkles that give them the upper hand.

"We've changed almost everything," Pitino joked. "We've changed all our plays and calls and defenses. If I was him, I would just be thinking a lot and not sleep because of all the changes we are making."