And the Cardinals didn't disappoint.
Louisville rolled to a 74-55 victory over the University of Pikeville, the defending NAIA Division I national champion, in its first exhibition game of the season.
The Cards roared out to a 16-0 start and hardly had to look in their rearview mirror as they held the Bears to 29.2 percent shooting.
"We did a lot of good things tonight, especially our man defense," said UofL coach Rick Pitino, whose team is ranked No. 8 in the ESPN/USA Today preseason poll. "Our man defense is where we excelled, they were 14 for 41 against it. The guys did a very good job of covering for each other. They were very active with their hands, so I was very pleased. We did a lot of good things sharing the basketball, (and) we did a lot of good things offensively. And for a first game, I thought it was good."
Bulked-up sophomore center Gorgui Dieng scored 14 points, grabbed 15 rebounds and blocked six shots, while highly-touted freshman forward Chane Behanan added 16 points and seven rebounds. The latter was a point of emphasis for Pitino in his post-game press conference.
"I think Chane has to be hungry to rebound as he does to score," the UofL coach said. "He is very hungry to score. He has to have the same intensity to rebound as he does to score. When he does that, then you will see some incredible numbers like Gorgui."
Behanan gobbled up Louisville's first points of the game, on a pair of free throws at the 17:36 mark, to start the early run. The Cards started clicking moments later as Peyton Siva broke away for a layup, Kyle Kuric hit a jumper and Chris Smith hit back-to-back three-pointers. Behanan then scored inside, off a feed from Smith, before Dieng's dunk punctuated the 16-0 spurt.
Pitino began substituting shortly thereafter – shuffling in Jared Swopshire, Elisha Justice, Wayne Blackshear and Mike Marra - and that's when Pikeville, which missed its first 10 shot attempts, battled back.
The Bears trimmed Louisville's lead to six (24-18) with a little over eight minutes remaining in the first half before Cards' starters responded.
Siva hit two free throws, Smith tipped in his own missed layup and then followed that up with a three-pointer moments later.
"Our starting five is what I liked the best," Pitino said. "We were playing great defense there until I went to the press. I wasn't concerned about the score. I was concerned about working on things we need to work on."
Still Pikeville battled back. The Bears cut the Cards' lead to six (33-27) with a little more than two minutes left in the first half, but Louisville answered with six straight points. The first four were back-to-back tip-ins by freshman Zach Price before Swopshire – in his first game action for the Cards since the first-round loss to California in the 2010 NCAA Tournament – softly dunked in Justice's miss just before the halftime horn.
UofL, which shot 46.7 percent (14 for 30) in the first half, opened up the second half with a 10-3 spurt. Behanan's tip-in and another rebound basket were followed by a driving layup by Siva. Pikeville's Trevor Setty interrupted the run with a three-pointer before Dieng hit two free throws then Smith had a steal and dunk to make it 50-31. The Bears responded with their own 7-0 run, which prompted Pitino to call a timeout, before the Cards came back with another surge.
UofL outscored Pikeville 10-5 over a subsequent 4-minute sequence that featured a pair of run-outs by Behanan, a Kuric dunk off an alley-oop from Siva and was capped off by a sequence of unselfish passing, tipped balls and hustle that ended with a rebound-basket by Dieng.
"Gorgui played a great game inside," said Kuric, who finished with eight points and six rebounds. "He played like we need him to play."
Dieng finished 5 of 6 from the field and 4 of 6 from the free throw line.
"Gorgui was a good basketball player tonight," Pitino said. "He made some minor mistakes, but Gorgui is really coming on. In one more year, the way our players improve because of the amount of work they put in, I expect Gorgui to be one of the premier centers in basketball. But right now he's going to have good games. Some nights he'll have great nights and some nights he'll have mediocre nights. He's going to be 255 pounds by next year. You see how much he's grown now at 232 pounds. It's going to be all muscle and he'll always be quick."
Smith added 13 points – 11 in the first half – and seven rebounds, while Siva scored eight points and dished out five assists. Price and Justice added five points apiece off the bench, while Marra chipped in with three and Swopshire with two.
In his debut, freshman Wayne Blackshear, who was recently-cleared to play by the NCAA, was scoreless on 0-for-6 shooting, but did grab three rebounds and block two shots.
"He hasn't touched a ball in six months, that's extreme," Pitino said of Blackshear. "He has no defensive timing, no offensive timing and the conditioning is in the way. He has no basketball skills right now. It will take a good six weeks before he is a basketball player again. He is winded, he is out of shape and he doesn't know what he is doing out there offensively and defensively. In two weeks time he will know a little bit more but it will take six weeks to get back to the basketball player he was in high school.
"I feel sorry for him to be put in that situation. Not knowing any plays, not knowing the defense, not playing basketball for a long amount of time. We said we were going to let him go out there as long as he doesn't get frustrated and expect too much of himself. He's not the Wayne Blackshear we recruited. As long as he knows that no human being can come out after sitting for six months and come out and execute, it's not physically possible."
The Cards next host reigning NCAA Division II national champ Bellarmine University at 7:06 p.m. next Thursday night.