"They're one of the hottest teams around, they've won seven of their last eight," Pitino said of the Gamecocks. "They were a 49-47 loss to (Florida) away from going to the NCAA. They're playing great basketball, and we've got our work cut out for us."
The Cardinals advanced to New York after beating Missouri State 74-56 last week in the quarterfinals, while South Carolina slipped past Cincinnati 65-62 to punch their ticket to New York.
Louisville will likely be without freshman point guard Andre McGee, who continues to struggle with back spasms. His status is doubtful for Tuesday's game, and Pitino said he'll play Brandon Jenkins more at the point if the 5-10 McGee can't go.
"Andre will probably not play in this game," Pitino said.
South Carolina is led by guards Terrance Kinsey and Tre Kelly. Kinsey led the Gamecocks in scoring (15.6 ppg.), while Kelly leads the team in assists and averages 12.4 points per game. Forwards Renaldo Balkman and Brandon Wallace provide inside punch for Dave Odem's squad.
"I think we'll have to play great to beat South Carolina," Pitino said, noting that the Gamecocks beat Florida twice, and also defeated Kentucky and Tennessee during the regular season. "We're going to have to play great to get a victory."
Entering Tuesday's semifinal, Louisville has won three games in a row, and five of their last eight. One reason for the Cardinals strong late season surge has been the play of 6-9 freshman Brian Johnson. Johnson had a double-double (13 points, 13 rebounds) against Clemson and had 9 points and 10 boards against Missouri State while playing a season-high 20 minutes.
"It's a great sign that he's playing this many minutes," Pitino said. "Ten days ago he couldn't run up and down the court three or four times without getting spent."
The game is scheduled to tip off at 9 p.m. and will be televised nationally by ESPN2. The winner of the Louisville – South Carolina semifinal will advance to the NIT championship game on Thursday at 7 p.m. on ESPN and will face the winner of the Michigan - Old Dominion semifinal game.
Pitino compared 6-9, 300-pound signee Derrick Caracter to Louisiana State star center Glen Davis. Davis, the SEC Player of the Year, led the Tigers to the NCAA Final Four this season where they'll face UCLA next Saturday in the national semifinals.
"What you're seeing now from the young man at LSU (Glen Davis), I'm hoping somehow that Derrick Caracter is watching him," Pitino said. "I just hope he's taking notes on that guy because that's what his body is like."