When it comes to March Madness, a team’s success is directly linked to the effectiveness of their guard play. If a team is going to have any kind of push to the third weekend of the NCAA tournament, the point guard specifically must have a major impact, not only in getting his team involved, but also himself.
Look at the past three champions. The 2012-2013 NIT Kentucky Wildcats had incredible production from their NBA talented guards (Doron Lamb in the regional games and Marquis Teague in the Final Four) last season. Kemba Walker and Shabazz Napier took over the UCONN reins as they carried their team late in the season in 2011. Duke’s guards Nolan Smith and Jon Scheyer couldn’t miss in their 2010 run to the championship.
Also, look at the teams that are the “favorites” this season. Indiana plays with the three headed mini-monsters of Victor Oladipo, Yogi Ferrell, and Jordan Hulls. Duke has their standard shooters in Seth Curry and slasher Freshman Rasheed Sulaimon. Michigan has their back-court set with player of the year candidate Trey Burke and Tim Hardaway Jr. The blueprint has been laid, and it seems the Cards have the foundation.
A number of people, however, me in particular, have been very critical of senior point guard Peyton Siva’s play the past month. Look at his stats since the ‘groundhog day’ overtime game against Notre Dame. Siva is averaging 7.1 points on 19 of 59 from the field (32.2%) in 32 minutes per game (if you take out the 16 point performance from a terrible Depaul team, the numbers are even more staggering). Before the Luke Hancock show began from deep, many people said the Siva was our best three point option. In this stretch, he is shooting 11.1% (2 for 18) from behind the arc. For a team that struggles to score in the half-court, many thought that the Big East pre-season player of the year would be able to fill more of a void than those numbers indicate.
I like Siva…. I really do. But I don’t think there is a coincidence that the Cards went on a big run in last night’s game with Siva on the bench. Kevin Ware is starting to see more minutes, and you can see his confidence rising. I used to be upset when Russ dominated the ball, and didn’t give others a chance to get into the flow of the game, but he seems to have had an abrupt awakening. Russ is still getting his shots/points, but he now has a little better sense of when to dish and when to shoot when he drives into the lane. He had a possession in the Cincy game last night where he curled off a screen, took one dribble, and pulled up in the lane for a very nice mid-range shot. Very impressive, and not the same Russ from a month ago. That ball dominating demon seems now to have transferred to Siva. There was a possession last night with about nine minutes left in the first half where Siva took 18 dribbles (not an exaggeration) only to settle for a contested jump shot just in front of the three point line (then he goes down and commits a shooting foul which is a whole new issue). I know Pitino has had Siva watch a lot of film on Steve Nash, but even Nash will loan the ball to other players for a second before getting it back. Louisville is at its best in the half court when they are moving the ball, attacking through penetration off of one or two dribbles.
In Siva’s case though, March is typically when he cracks out of his slumps.There must be something about those camo Adidas jerseys. It seems to bring out the beast in him. Last year he went wild and took home the Big East tournament MVP as a confidence builder to carry into the NCAA tournament. Before that everyone had the Cards left for dead (I can’t help but remember Tony Vanetti on the ‘Afternoon Underdogs’). Their resurrection spawned at the right time to turn the season around.
With all the negativity I just threw out there, this team is has still a top 10 team (top five in my eyes) with only five loses on the season, and it looks as though all of those teams are going to make the tournament (if Villanova can pull it off). Louisville is still a strong favorite to win the National Championship, and in the eyes of the faithful, anything less than a Final Four will be a disappointment. In order for the Cards to fly high into that third weekend of play though, Siva must be on point.