Last week, I introduced a series of interviews with former Louisville point guard, and 2013 National Champion, Peyton Siva. Peyton has agreed to take us behind the scenes of his experiences in March Madness week-by-week. If you missed the first installation, where we discussed Championship Week, you can read it here.
For our second interview, Peyton and I discussed Selection Sunday, the preparation for the first weekend of the NCAA Tournament, the actual games, and finished with some fun “overtime” questions. Make sure to read about the boxing helmet Peyton had to wear in practice his senior year!
To provide reference, here is a quick run-down of Louisville’s first and second round NCAA Tournament games during Peyton Siva’s four years of college:
- Location: Jacksonville, Florida
- Round 1: Louisville (9) vs. California (8)
- Result: Loss, 77-62
- Peyton Siva stats: 8 MIN, 2 PTS, 1-3 FG, 1 R, 1 A, 3 TO, 1 PF
- Location: Denver, Colorado
- Round 1: Louisville (3) vs. Morehead State (13)
- Result: Loss, 62-61
- Peyton Siva stats: 25 MIN, 3 PTS, 1-6 FG, 1-1 FT, 3 R, 3 A, 5 TO, 4 PF
- Location: Portland, Oregon
- Round 1: Louisville (4) vs. Davidson (13)
- Result: Win, 69-62
- Peyton Siva stats: 25 MIN, 17 PTS, 7-12 FG, 3-4 FT, 2 R, 6 A, 2 S, 4 TO, 5 PF
- Round 2: Louisville (4) vs. New Mexico (5)
- Result: Win, 59-56
- Peyton Siva stats: 31 MIN, 6 PTS, 2-6 FG, 2-2 FT, 1 R, 5 A, 1 S, 2 TO, 3 PF
- Location: Lexington, Kentucky
- Round 1: Louisville (1) vs. North Carolina A&T (16)
- Result: Win, 79-48
- Peyton Siva stats: 26 MIN, 6 PTS, 3-7 FG, 2 R, 8 A, 4 S, 3 TO, 1 PF
- Round 2: Louisville (1) vs. Colorado State (8)
- Result: Win, 82-56
- Peyton Siva stats: 32 MIN, 10 PTS, 5-14 FG, 3 R, 5 A, 2 S, 2 TO, 1 PF
And now, without too much further ado (thanks to Derek Zoolander for that brilliant phrase), let’s get to part two of the interview, “March Madness with Peyton Siva”:
Isaac Schade: Did Louisville have any routines or rituals on Selection Sunday?
Peyton Siva: My freshman year, we watched at the gym and it was very nerve-wracking. We were on the cusp of making [the NCAA Tournament] and didn’t know if we were going to make it in or not. We were the very last team to be selected on Selection Sunday. Not knowing is just a crazy feeling, but we made it. We were very excited to be able to play in the NCAA Tournament and our seniors were very happy. Unfortunately we lost in the first round to California that year.
Other than that, all the other years we got together with some fans, had appetizers and everybody came and watched the selection show together. That’s pretty much been the routine. My sophomore through senior year we played on the very last day of the Big East Tournament so Selection Sunday was the next day and we flew back in just in time to catch the very beginning of the selection show.
IS: Was there ever a year Louisville was on the bubble? If so, were you worried about not making the NCAA Tournament?
PS: Like I was saying, my freshman year we were very worried. We lost in the first round of the Big East Tournament and things didn’t go very well that season. We won some big games at the end the year; we beat number one Syracuse that year to close down Freedom Hall [Editor’s note: Louisville’s previous basketball gym]. We lost some key games and went on a losing streak that year, but we snuck in and made the Tournament. We were very worried, but luckily we made it.
IS: Were you generally pretty pleased with your seeding or were there years you felt like the committee got it wrong?
PS: I was pretty pleased with the seeding we received. I think we deserved each seed that we got. My junior and senior year, our higher seeds definitely worked out for the better.
IS: Do you remember your reactions when you saw what team you would be matched up against? Were you ever relieved? Were you ever concerned?
PS: I never really paid attention that much. Yeah, okay, we play somebody in the first round and you look forward to playing. I was more interested in playing in the Tournament; looking forward to getting out there and playing. No matter who steps on the court you always have to play your best and Coach Pitino made sure that he reminded us that not every team makes it to the Tournament and these are the best. So we took every team seriously and never held anything back.
IS: Is there anything else you want to say about Selection Sunday?
PS: I think it’s fun for the fans to see where the team ends up and what seeds they get. Also, for the players you get to see where you’re going to play. You always want to play close to your home so the fans can travel; although Louisville fans travel really well so it didn’t really matter where we played.
Preparing for Rounds One and Two
Isaac Schade: It’s a quick turnaround from Selection Sunday to playing that Thursday or Friday. When would coaches let you know about travel plans?
Peyton Siva: We would know about travel plans literally right after the Selection Show. They’ll make the flights, get everything ready, talk to our teachers, and get our work for those days we’re going to miss classes. They really have everything planned to a T.
IS: How would you prepare for your opponent?
PS: Just like any other opponent. Coaches would scout them – hours and hours of film. We would watch hours and hours of film. I think we ended up knowing some of the opponent’s plays better than they did.
I think we ended up knowing some of the opponent’s plays better than they did.
IS: Would you prepare for just the first round opponent or also look ahead to the two potential second round opponents?
PS: We would always just prepare for the first round opponent because you never know what’s going to happen until after. I’m pretty sure Coach had some of the assistant coaches watch film on the next two potential opponents, but for the players, we only focused on one opponent at a time. That was our motto, “one game at a time”. We always heard the saying, “survive and advance” and we really took that to heart.
IS: Would Coach Pitino add any new wrinkles into your offense or defense?
PS: All the time. I think we ran one set and had about 10 different options out of it. Our defense adjusted to teams we were playing, and that’s what makes Coach P so special. The way he scouts and the way he adds those wrinkles in for opposing teams.
IS: When would you travel to the location of the first two rounds?
PS: Usually a day or two after the selection show. You want to get there and get used to the time change. Sometimes you’re playing on the west coast, so that’s a big time change. When we went to Denver, we wanted to get used to the climate and the air up there.
IS: What was your favorite place you played in the first two rounds?
PS: Portland was the first round my junior year and that was amazing just because it was a chance for me to go back close to home. Portland is only a two-hour drive from my home in Seattle. A lot of my family and friends got a chance to come up there and support. There was a ton of family up in the stands and it made it very special for us. Coach didn’t really like it though, because it was far away from Louisville and the fans, but, like I said, Louisville fans travel well. So that was awesome.
To be that far away from home, in Louisville, my family didn’t really get a chance to see me play a lot, so this was a chance for a ton of my family to finally get to see me play in person in college. I think I took everybody’s tickets on my team to get tickets for my family and friends to be in the gym. It was awesome. Looking back at it, I saw my brother and sister, my cousins, my nieces and nephews. It was great to see them all get to be there and support me and to see me play in person.
IS: Your senior year, you played in Lexington, KY, just a short drive down I-64. After traveling to Jacksonville, Denver, and Portland your first three years, was it nice to be this close to Louisville?
PS: Yeah, it’s always nice to be close to where you play. Because more fans are going to come. Lexington’s a hop, skip, and a jump from Louisville, so all the Louisville fans drove over there and packed the place out. It felt like a home game.
IS: Was it strange being the “home team” at Rupp Arena?
PS: It wasn’t strange at all just because of the fact that, yeah Louisville and Kentucky is a huge rivalry but in Louisville there’s a lot of Kentucky fans and in Lexington there’s at least a couple Louisville fans. When they packed the place out, it felt good to see all that red in Rupp Arena. It felt like a home game, so it didn’t feel weird at all because we had all our fans with us.
it felt good to see
all that red in Rupp Arena
IS: Is there anything else you want to say about preparation for or the lead-up to the first weekend of the NCAA Tournament?
PS: It’s do or die. One game and you’re out. At that point you’re just trying to survive and advance. No matter how you win – ugly wins, big wins, small wins – you just try to get the win at the end of the day. You’re trying to build momentum to continue to roll.
Isaac Schade: What’s the schedule like on game day for a March Madness game?
Peyton Siva: We wake up in the morning, grab breakfast, watch film, go to walk-through, come back, take a little nap, wake up, watch film again, and then head to the game. And that’s about it – that’s the schedule on a game day.
IS: What’s the vibe like in the locker room before a March Madness game?
PS: I feel like it was pretty much like any other game for us. During my freshman year it was a little tense, my sophomore year we had a couple players injured so we were focused, and my junior and senior year we were way more relaxed. By that point we knew what to expect, we had been through the ringer and we just went out there and played freely.
IS: What’s the vibe like in the arena during a March Madness game? Is it a noticeably different feel than regular season?
PS: It’s a big difference. Unless you’re playing one of those games on Big Monday or you’re playing a top-five team, March Madness is unlike anything else. The fans from all the teams [playing at that site] are there and they’re all watching the game. The gym is packed. It’s a neutral site so it’s fun. The atmosphere is crazy in there and you know all eyes are on you.
IS: What was your best individual game in the first two rounds of the NCAA Tournament?
PS: The Davidson game my junior year was probably my best game. Davidson was a tough team that year and I came out really aggressive. I think that was my highest scoring game of my four years in the first two rounds – I believe I had 17 points. I just came out aggressive and played hard and it turned into one of my better individual games.
Siva leads Louisville past Davidson, 69-62: Peyton Siva scored 17 points and the fourth-seeded Cardinals beat… http://t.co/cr7ym2yr— Breaking NYC News (@breakingnycnews) March 15, 2012
IS: What was your toughest individual game in the first two rounds of the NCAA Tournament?
PS: Morehead State. I had hurt my ankle the game before against UConn in the Big East Championship. I tried to go out there and play basically on one ankle. They pressed the whole game. They mirrored us. They had a good point guard in [Demonte] Harper and they had Kenneth Faried so they were a very good team. I struggled a little bit, and we lost on a buzzer beater. But that’s just the way it is sometimes, and you learn from your mistakes.
I tried to go out there and play
basically on one ankle.
IS: What did you learn as an underclassman in these games that helped you as an upperclassman?
PS: We lost in the first round my first two years, so we knew what to expect going into the Tournament. We knew the feel, we know the routine. I just felt a lot looser, I felt more confident. I think that’s probably why I had one of my bigger games my junior year against Davidson in the first game, just because I wanted to get that win. You want to get over the hump and get out of that first round. Once we got out of the first round, everything was a lot easier.
IS: What did you learn from the close loss your sophomore year against Morehead State that allowed you to pull out close wins against Davidson and New Mexico your junior year?
PS: We learned that you can’t play so uptight. You can’t get rattled in the big moments. You just have to go out there and play basketball just like any other game. We learned from it how to execute well down the stretch and play good defense. Defense wins championships.
You can’t get rattled in the big moments.
IS: Was it difficult playing in the altitude in Denver your sophomore year?
PS: I didn’t really feel a difference in the altitude. Like I said, I was injured; I had messed up my ankle pretty bad and I felt like that was more difficult than the atmosphere or the altitude.
IS: What was the closest game Louisville played in the first two rounds? Any buzzer beaters?
PS: The Morehead State game, they hit a buzzer beater to knock us out of the first round and I think that was closest game for us. We played New Mexico and that was a close game, but it wasn’t a buzzer beater.
IS: Looking back on your six first and second round games, who was the toughest player you went against?
PS: I would say out of those games, [Demonte] Harper, from Morehead State. He was a big guard, strong guard, he could shoot and score. He was very talented.
IS: Your senior year, you won your first two games by 31 and 26 points. What was it like to be clicking on all cylinders like that?
PS: It’s amazing. My junior year we made it to the Final Four and everybody came back except two seniors. We were ready. We knew what we had to do. We were already rolling. We went through the Big East and won the championship so we already had a rhythm going and it just carried us over into the Tournament.
IS: Follow-up – did you have a good feeling at that point that you were in a good position to win the National Championship?
PS: I felt like we had a good chance to win the National Championship at the beginning of the year. I felt like we had a good team, good chemistry. But you can’t get overhyped about the first game or first two games. You’ve just got to play every game like it’s your last and I think that’s what we tried to do and thankfully we ended up winning.
Overtime (The Fun Questions)
Isaac Schade: Did you carry your conference tournament pre-game pizza tradition on to March Madness?
Peyton Siva: I should’ve, but there was no New York pizza that I could find anywhere close enough to the hotel that I could sneak and go get it.
IS: Tell me about Coach Pitino’s white suit. That thing is sweet. Is it magic? Did he ever change into it at halftime?
PS: His white suit is pretty amazing. I remember my senior year of high school when I went on a visit, they played Georgetown for a white-out game. He wore his white suit, went in at halftime and changed it, and told the team that “if they think he’s gonna get his white suit dirty for them, then they’re out of their minds”. I don’t think he wore his all-white suit again, because he doesn’t want to dirty it for any of us.
IS: Did you play in any March Madness pools while you were at Louisville?
PS: No, I didn’t play in any pools. I never looked at it that way, or filled out a bracket or anything. I would look at brackets, but I feel like it’s kind of bad luck to fill out your own bracket while you’re playing.
IS: Do you have any other fun memories from the first two rounds?
PS: I just think the most special memory was being in Portland and seeing my family. Now that I look back at it, for them to all come out there and watch me play was pretty amazing. I just had a good time. It’s fun, the first two rounds. The first round is always the toughest.
One of the most embarrassing things that I had to deal with in the first two rounds was when we were having an open practice my senior year. I had had a couple concussions so I had to wear a boxing, like sparring, helmet in practice. I got away with it all year without anyone seeing it, but in the NCAA Tournament Coach said I had to wear it in practice. Since it was an open practice, it was probably the most embarrassed I’ve been. Everybody was laughing and I looked like a weirdo. But, hey, it’s all right. It happens. All in good fun.
Thanks again to Peyton Siva for his time and insights. Enjoy the first weekend of the NCAA Tournament, and don’t forget to check back in next week as we discuss the Sweet Sixteen and Elite Eight rounds!