The Demons (1-1), coming off last year's 62-61 NCAA Tournament upset of Iowa, knocked off Utah State, a team that has reached five of the seven NCAA Tournament's, 88-71 in their season-opener and took Oklahoma State down to wire earlier this week before falling to the Cowboys 79-76.
Louisville's only action this season came more than two weeks ago against NAIA Georgetown (KY). The Cardinals, paying without senior guard Brandon Jenkins and junior center David Padgett, escaped with a 94-92 win over the Tigers.
"I think we're excited, whether we're ready or not remains to be seen," Pitino said. "I think this is the most difficult opener I've had in 32 years of coaching. They're a terrific basketball team. They're like a talented UAB."
Sophomore point guard Andre McGee handed out four assists with three turnovers in the Cardinals first exhibition game and he, along with freshman Edgar Sosa, will have a large role in handing Northwestern State's pressure defense.
"They're relentless," McGee said. "They're always coming after you and they slap down a lot. They're a real scrappy team."
Northwestern State starts three seniors and two juniors. The Demons are led by guards Colby Bargeman and Kennan Jones. Bargeman, a 6-5 junior, scored 19 points against Oklahoma State, while Jones, a 6-1 senior, handed out 15 assists in the win over Utah State.
"They're not only an outstanding ball club, but it's their style for a first game that's very difficult to go against," Pitino said. "They're going to turn you over. We've got to make sure that we turn them over. They're extremely experienced. I have extreme trepidation."
Louisville should receive a boost from the return of both Jenkins and Padgett. Though Pitino called the Demons a physical, rebounding team, the Cardinals should have a decided edge inside. Northwestern State uses a three guard lineup, and boasts no player taller than 6-7 in its starting lineup. Louisville figures to play five players 6-8 or taller.
"They'll both probably play," Pitino said of Jenkins and Padgett. "How much I don't know. Neither guy is 100 percent, but they're cleared medically to play."
Pitino said power forward Juan Palacios, small forward Terrence Williams and point guard Edgar Sosa would likely start, but isn't sure whether or not Padgett and Jenkins would round out the starting lineup.
"The other two positions I don't know," Pitino said. Jenkins and 6-10 junior center Terrance Farley are penciled in as starters on U of L's pre-game press release.
Though he's not completely healed after suffering a broke leg last summer, Pitino expects the 6-2 Jenkins will be back at full strength before Big East play begins in January.
"I think he'll be 100 percent by Christmas," Pitino said. "His ability to jump and sprint up and down the court hasn't come back yet, but pretty much everything else has."
"He's not too far from his old self," added McGee.
The Cardinals will play their second exhibition Sunday against Kentucky Wesleyan, though their only focus Saturday will be on Northwestern State.
"We're anxious to play and we just want to get out there and compete," said McGee. "Everybody has been working real hard this year and we're glad that it's finally basketball season."
6-9 freshman forward Derrick Caracter will serve the first of a three-game suspension handed down by the NCAA and will not play against Northwestern State.