#2 Louisville Cardinals v.s. #15 Jacksonville State Gamecocks
2:45 ET, CBS
Louisville Cardinals (24-8) (12-6) – ACC
Player to Watch: Donovan Mitchell (15.7 PPG, 4.6 RPG, 2.1 SPG)
The All-ACC First Team guard has led the Cards all season in scoring and led the ACC in steals per game this season. Since January 24, Mitchell has scored in double figures in 10 out of 12 of Louisville’s final games. Donovan Mitchell has struggled at times and Louisville’s offense runs through Mitchell, but if he heats up in the tournament and continues his offensive dominance, it may be hard to stop this Louisville team.
X-Factor: Rick Pitino
Do I really have to explain this one? Rick Pitino lives for the NCAA Tournament! In six of the past eleven years, Pitino has coached the Cardinals into the Elite Eight, which is the same as the likes of Roy Williams (UNC) and more than John Calipari (UK). Since 2005, Louisville’s average seed for the NCAA Tournament is 3.9, but have been seeded 4 more than 1-3. Rick Pitino’s Cards finished the regular season ranked 6th in defensive efficiency and 23rd in offensive efficiency. Rick Pitino lives for March Madness and will have the Cards ready to make a deep run once again this year!
Jacksonville State Gamecocks (20-14) (9-7) – OVC
Player to Watch: Norbertas Giga (10.4 PPG, 8.1 RPG, 1.0 BPG)
It will be a very tough task for the Gamecocks to upset Louisville in the first round, but if they are to upset the Cards, it will be because of Norbertas Giga. The 6’10” forward is a strong interior player for Jacksonville State and could help them on both the offensive and defensive glass. Giga will definitely compete for rebounds against a bigger Louisville frontcourt.
X-Factor: Attack the Paint
Jacksonville State is not a great three-point shooting team, but will have lots of looks against Rick Pitino’s zone defense. For the Gamecocks to be successful, they will have to attack the paint and get Louisville in foul trouble. If Louisville has to constantly rotate their lineup because of fouls, then they will not be able to get in a “groove” offensively. Jacksonville State will have their hands full getting back in transition also, but if they can get Pitino’s Cards in foul trouble, then they have a chance to keep this game close.
Match-Up to Watch: Donovan Mitchell v.s. Himself
Being a 2-seed in this year’s NCAA Tournament puts a chip not only on Louisville’s shoulders, but Donovan Mitchell’s. With a favorable draw, this is Mitchell’s chance to lead Louisville to the Final Four again and become apart of history. Louisville will depend on Donovan Mitchell to be successful and if he steps up, nobody may be able to stop Louisville.
Key Stat: Rick Pitino Coaching Record in NCAA Tournament
Rick Pitino is 53-18 (74.6%) in the NCAA Tournament in his career, has reached the Final Four 7 times, and has won 2 National Championships. Rick Pitino knows what it takes to make a run in March, something Jacksonville State does not have. Louisville’s experience will be what carries them deep into March.
Prediction: Louisville Cardinals 83, Jacksonville State Gamecocks 56
Louisville should not have any issues handling Jacksonville State. Louisville has an excellent chance to make it to the Elite 8 and it starts with a big win in the first round to get ready for a long run. Be ready to see Donovan Mitchell and Louisville’s defense put on a show in the tournament this year!
The Ville ‘20
(photo from USA Today)