Advocate staff photo by HILARY SCHEINUK -- LSU Tigers head coach Johnny Jones watches his players compete against Florida, Saturday, Feb. 21, at LSU's Pete Maravich Assembly Center in Baton Rouge, La.

If at all possible, LSU basketball coach Johnny Jones doesn’t like scheduling games against his friends in the coaching profession.

Sometimes, he can’t avoid it. That’s the case for LSU’s first NCAA tournament game in six seasons on Thursday night: a second-round East regional game against North Carolina State in Pittsburgh.

Even though he was a member of North Carolina State coach Mark Gottfried’s staff for just one season when Gottfried was at Alabama, their friendship goes way back before that.

“It’s really difficult anytime you have a relationship with someone,” said Jones, who worked with Gottfried for the 2000-01 season. “I don’t even like scheduling guys I have that type of relationship with.”

Jones did it earlier this season when McNeese State coach Dave Simmons, a high school teammate of Jones in the late 1970s in DeRidder, came to Baton Rouge. But he hasn’t even tried to schedule old friend Tic Price or Gottfried over the years.

“It’s tough,” Jones said. “Mark and I have never even talked about, or even thought about, scheduling (a game) against each other. But it’s happening (Thursday night) … it’s there.

“I can assure you we have a great deal of admiration and care about each other a great deal,” he added. “But when we throw it up on Thursday, I think both of us will be locked in on what’s happening on that (court) instead of a relationship.”

Eyeing Musselman?

LSU associate head coach Eric Musselman, who is in his first year on Jones’ staff, is being mentioned as a candidate for the head coaching job at the University of San Diego.

San Diego fired coach Bill Grier, who had a 117-144 record in eight seasons, on Monday and Musselman’s quickly surfaced as a possible replacement.

Musselman, a graduate of San Diego, was a guard on the 1986-87 team that set a school record with 24 wins. The Toreros went to the NCAA tournament and lost to Auburn in the first round.

Musselman previously coached at Arizona State and has been an NBA head coach.

Back in the mix

LSU will be playing in the NCAA tournament for the 21st time when it goes against North Carolina State on Thursday night.

The Tigers are 24-23 all-time in their 20 previous appearances, with the first one coming in 1953 when that team reached the national semifinals before it was dubbed the Final Four.

All told, LSU has been to four Final Fours, six Elite Eight regional finals and nine Sweet 16 regional semifinals.

Join the club

Jones is only the fifth coach to take LSU to the Big Dance and the first to graduate from the school after playing four seasons for the Tigers from 1981-84.

Jones’ college coach and mentor, Dale Brown, is the school’s all-time leader with 13 NCAA tournament appearances — including 10 in a row from 1984 to 1993. He’s followed by John Brady (four), Harry Rabenhorst (two) and Trent Johnson and Jones (one each).

Short list

According to the LSU Sports Information Department, LSU and Arkansas are the only Southeastern Conference schools to play in a bowl game and have its men’s and women’s basketball teams in the NCAA tournament this year.

Nationally, only 14 schools have turned in that hat trick this season.

Heading out

The LSU basketball team and official party left campus Tuesday night on a chartered flight to Pittsburgh.

Jones and selected players will attend a news conference from 5 p.m. to 5:30 p.m. CDT Wednesday and hold a 40-minute practice from 5:40 p.m. to 6:20 p.m. The workout is open to the public.

Follow Sheldon Mickles on Twitter @MicklesAdvocate.