Jacksonville St.-Louisville Preview (Mar 17, 2017)

INDIANAPOLIS — Whether it will provide an advantage or not, at least Midwest Regional No. 15 seed Jacksonville State coach Ray Harper is very familiar with No. 2 seed Louisville and coach Rick Pitino.

Before getting the Jacksonville State job, Harper spent four seasons as an assistant at Western Kentucky. During those four seasons, Western Kentucky played Louisville three times.

On Friday afternoon in Bankers Life Fieldhouse, Harper will face Pitino and his Cardinals for the first time as a head coach.

“A great basketball team, and coach Pitino is one of the best basketball coaches in the country,” Harper said. “We get to continue playing. With Louisville, you’ve got to be able to handle their pressure — a lot of things — but you’ve got to handle their pressure and rebound the basketball, or you have no chance.”

The Gamecocks (20-14) advanced to the NCAA tournament for the first time by defeating Ohio Valley Conference top seed Belmont and then second-seeded Tennessee-Martin on consecutive days. Their current four-game winning streak matches their season best.

Malcolm Drumwright (12.6 points) and Erik Durham (11.1) are the leading scorers.

“They really weren’t on our radar, but we are excited about the challenge,” Jacksonville State’s Greg Tucker said. “We know we have to take care of the basketball, because they will pressure you 94 feet. They have a great coach and some great players.”

Louisville is back in the tournament after a self-imposed ban in 2016, and while the Cardinals (24-8) are only 2-3 in their five most recent games, they played the nation’s sixth-hardest schedule and feature the nation’s sixth-best defense.

The Cardinals won NCAA titles in 1980, 1986 and 2013 and have advanced to the Final Four 10 times. Pitino has coached in the NCAA tournament 21 times and has a 53-18 record.

If Louisville defeats Jacksonville State on Friday, it could have a possible rematch with Michigan from the 2013 NCAA title game, which the Cardinals won.

“We are very excited to be going to Indianapolis, especially for our fans,” Pitino said. “If our fans can find tickets there, it can be an outstanding site for us to play some outstanding basketball. “Obviously, our strength of schedule was important in us receiving a No. 2 seed. We have had the best or second-best schedule in the RPI. Half of our schedule was played against teams that now are in the tournament. We didn’t lose to a team below 40 in the RPI.”

Louisville is led by 6-3 sophomore Donovan Mitchell (15.7 points), 6-2 Quentin Snider (12.7) and 6-8 Deng Ade (11.9 points and 4.5 rebounds).

This is the Cardinals’ first NCAA Tournament appearance in Indianapolis since 2014, when Kentucky eliminated Louisville in the Sweet 16.