Rick Pitino believes his Louisville Cardinals are appropriately battle tested for the NCAA Tournament, and he’s probably right.
The Cardinals will open play in the 2017 NCAA Tournament on Friday as the No. 2 seed in the Midwest Regional. The Cardinals will take on No. 15 seed Jacksonville State in Indianapolis.
“Obviously, our strength of schedule was important,” said Pitino, who is making his 21st NCAA Tournament appearance as a head coach. “We’ve had the best or second-best ranked schedule and a high RPI. Half of our schedule was played against teams that are now competing in the tournament, and we didn’t lose to a team below 40 in the RPI.”
Louisville (24-8) tied for second place in the Atlantic Coast Conference during the regular season and was eliminated by eventual champion Duke in the quarterfinals of the league tournament.
The ACC is represented by nine teams in the 2017 NCAA field, the most of any conference.
Louisville faced 14 teams this season that are in the NCAA Tournament field, producing an 8-8 record against those teams. The Cardinals’ schedule was the nation’s second-toughest schedule according to the RPI.
Jacksonville State, champions of the Ohio Valley Conference Tournament, is led by Ray Harper, formerly the coach at Western Kentucky. Harper led the Gamecocks to the NCAA Tournament in his first season at Jacksonville State.
If the Cardinals win their opening matchup with Jacksonville State, the winner of a game between No. 7 seed Michigan and No. 10 seed Oklahoma State awaits on Sunday in Indianapolis.
Quentin Snider, a junior out of Ballard, averages 12.7 points and leads the team with 4.1 assists. Ray Spalding, a sophomore from Louisville Trinity, averages 5.9 points and 5.7 rebounds per game. David Levitch, a senior from North Oldham, contributes 2.0 points and 1.2 rebounds.
Louisville is making its 42nd NCAA Tournament appearance — fifth-most in the nation. The Cardinals have reached 10 Final Fours and won national championships in 1980, 1986 and 2013. This is the third time that U of L has entered the tournament as a No. 2 seed, and the Cardinals won national titles in 1980 and 1986 from that position.
Louisville’s tournament opener
Louisville vs. Jacksonville State
Midwest Regional at Indianapolis
When: About 2:45 p.m. Friday
Where: Bankers Life Fieldhouse
Records: Louisville 24-8, Jacksonville State 20-14
About Jacksonville State
Location: Jacksonville, Ala.
School colors: Red and White
Head coach: Ray Harper (109-78 in six seasons overall; 20-14 in one season at Jacksonville State)
Conference: Ohio Valley
All-time series: Louisville leads 1-0
Common opponents with Louisville: Jacksonville State lost to Eastern Kentucky 57-52 at home on Jan. 26 and 68-65 at EKU on Feb. 23.
Other notable games this season: Jacksonville State, the No. 4 seed in the OVC Tournament, won three games in three days to capture the league’s automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament.