"We won the fight against (Clemson), but we were physically beaten up," Pitino said.
Seeded second in Louisville's bracket, Missouri State finished second in the Missouri Valley Conference, a league that placed four teams in the NCAA Tournament, and still has two teams – Bradley and Wichita State – alive in the Sweet 16. The Bears ended the regular season with a No. 21 RPI, and knocked off Stanford in the NIT first round.
"As you advance in the tournament you keep facing better teams," Pitino said. "(Missouri State) is a very good road team. They have the leading free throw shooter in NCAA history. They're a terrific basketball team."
Formerly Southwest Missouri, Missouri State will provide a stern test for the Cardinals. Though Louisville has won 18-21 games at home this season, the Bears have proven a tough road opponent, going 8-5 on the road this season including an impressive win at Wisconsin-Milwaukee last month.
"This team poses a much more difficult challenge than (Clemson)," Pitino said. "They are a very experienced offensive basketball team, and they're a great shooting team. They're a great execution team, and they're tough and hardnosed."
"We're playing a great team, and that's what you want with a trip to Madison Square Garden on the line," Pitino said.
Regardless of the outcome, Pitino said the NIT experience should prove fruitful for his team in the future.
"We've had the opportunity to practice a lot at every phase of the game," Pitino said. "This is great competition for us and gives us an opportunity to improve and get better for next year. The (players) have to understand how important this NIT is to their growth."