Scout/Jeff Drummond

After sitting out last season, the University Louisville starts its NCAA Tournament run today in Indianapolis against Jacksonville State

INDIANAPOLIS - After sitting out last season, the University Louisville starts its NCAA Tournament run today against Jacksonville State at 2:40 p.m. in Bankers Life Fieldhouse.

University of Louisville basketball coach Rick Pitino couldn't even watch the NCAA Tournament last season.

He started vacation a few weeks early, only turning on the championship game.

U of L then freshman guard Donovan Mitchell would listen to the games as he worked out, while point guard Quentin Snider said he watched but it was only to motivate him for the future.

Louisville's self-imposed ban because of a sex scandal kept it out of the postseason last March, but the Cardinals will make their return trip to the NCAA Tournament on Friday when they face Jacksonville State in the opener at Banker's Life Fieldhouse in Indianapolis.

"I've been waiting for this all my life," Mitchell said.

Added Snider: "It was hard not to be there last year, I can't wait to get back out there in the NCAA."

Pitino called March his "favorite time of the year," and noted he only watched the championship game because his friend - Jay Wright - had Villanova in the finals and eventually won the title.

Otherwise, Pitino said he was too sad to watch if his team wasn't playing.

"I tried to forget everything about last year," Pitino said with a smile.

But he's hoping his team will make a run he can't forget this season. The Cardinals are 24-8 and finished tied for second in the ACC, losing to eventually ACC Tournament champion Duke in last week's ACC quarterfinals.

Pitino said his team is playing its best basketball and he's ready to see what the Cardinals can do.

"It's just an exciting time of year," he said. "You realize it's Russian Roulette, anybody can beat you on a given night. You don't shoot well and they shoot great, then you can get beat. It's not always the best team because it's not a series, so it's a lot of fun.

There are so many prognosticators picking. My wife texted me this morning and said this person's picking you to go to this, this person -- I said yeah, I just worked out at the 'Y', and somebody was telling me we were going to go far. That guy at the 'Y' is every bit as good as the people you just mentioned. So everybody's got an opinion. Nobody's ever right. Nobody has that bracket.

"But it's the most fun time because Super Bowl is very big in our country, but it's two teams. If you're not a fan of those two teams, you want to tune in and watch it, but there are so many fans of every school waiting to be Cinderella, waiting to get to the Final four.

"To me, it's just a magical time."

And Louisville is back with a chance to make some noise.

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