Cardinal rule: Peyton Siva leads Louisville past Michigan for national title

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ATLANTA — Louisville’s 82-76 win over Michigan in the 2013 National Title game turned into a classic, one of the best finals that we’ve seen in a long time.

But it started out as a sideshow, chock-full of the kind of performance that you should always expect to see in a national title game simply because it’s so unexpected.

Michigan’s Spike Albrecht, the 5-foot-11 back-up point guard who looks more like a manager than a baller and scored 24 points during the Big Ten season, lit up the Cardinals with 17 first half points. Michigan took a 33-21 lead despite having to play with National Player of the Year Trey Burke glued to the bench with two fouls. Luke Hancock, a transfer from George Mason that struggled with shoulder problems all season long, answered with four threes in the span of two minutes, erasing the Louisville deficit in the amount of time it takes microwave a bag of popcorn.

It was thrilling.

Unless you were Peyton Siva.

“At halftime, [Pitino] kept asking me, ‘Do you know the plays?'” Siva said after the game. “You keep looking over at me and asking me what plays to run.”

That wasn’t all he was saying, either.

MORE: Photos from Monday night

“You got to dig in, man,” Pitino screamed at his point guard. “You’re not in shape. I thought you were.” I’m sure it was no where near that PG.

But it worked. Pitino gave Siva the reins in the second half. He let him call the offense. He let him make the decisions and make the reads, and Siva took control, playing arguably his best half of the season. He scored 14 in the final 20 minutes, including a stretch where he netted three straight layups, to turn the tide when Michigan looked like they were getting ready to take control of the game once again.

All told, Siva finished with 18 points, six boards, five assists and three steals.

And in the end, it’s exactly the kind of performance that we should have expected out of Siva.

MORE: Now this was a game for the ages

Here’s the thing about Siva: throughout his entire career, all anyone has ever talked about is what Peyton Siva isn’t. He’s not a great shooter. He’s not big enough to be a superstar in the NBA. He makes dumb decisions and he gets into too much foul trouble and he turns the ball over too much.

But he’s a leader. He’s a winner. He’s everything that a coach could dream about at the point guard spot. “The two greatest people I coached in my life,” Pitino said last month, “were Billy Donovan and Peyton Siva.”

That’s what makes seeing Siva win a national title to end his collegiate career so special, because he’s the epitome of what makes college basketball so special. He’s the face of one of the most popular college basketball programs in the country, but he’s not above babysitting the grandchildren of his head coach. He’s the leader of a team that just one the national title, and after the buzzer sounds in the most important game of his life, he makes a point to seek out Trey Burke and congratulate him after the game. When asked what this win means for the rivalry between Kentucky and Louisville, siva sidesteps the question and says that this wasn’t about anything other than his team.

His brothers.

“We don’t look at it as who won it last year. We’re living in the present,” Siva said. “We got this win for our team.”

“This is really what a team is. This is really what college basketball is about, a group of guys who are like family. With Kevin Ware going down like that, everybody rallying around him, it showed how much we love each other, that we are a family.”

MORE: Rick Pitino had the best week ever

Is it any wonder that he’s the leader of this group?

If anything, that’s the best part about this title.

If anyone deserved to have their college career validated with a national title, it was Peyton Siva.

You can find Rob on twitter @RobDauster.

Bluiett back to Xavier for senior season

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Xavier lost one significant piece to the professional ranks this spring, but will return another.

Trevon Bluiett, the team’s leading scorer last year, announced via social media that he will be back to play his senior season with the Musketeers.

Chris Mack will return the bulk of a roster that struggled February only to make a run to the Elite Eight, but getting Bluiett for a final season makes the Musketeers especially dangerous. The 6-foot-6 Bluiett scored a team-high 18.5 points per game last year while also putting up 5.7 rebounds and 2.1 assists per night. He shot 37.1 percent from 3-point range, the second-best mark on the team. His return, even with point guard Edmond Sumner going pro amid his ACL tear recovery, makes Xavier one of the top teams in the Big East heading into the 2017-18 season.

Bluiett himself is enough to keep Xavier relevant in the league, but when he’s coupled with the likes of returners JP Macura, Sean O’Mara and Quentin Goodwin, plus a recruiting class featuring two four-star prospects, it’s not difficult to see a path for Mack’s group to a place where they can compete with the likes of Villanova and Seton Hall atop the league.

Welsh and Holiday returning to UCLA

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UCLA sustained some major, though expected, attrition from its roster this spring. On Tuesday, the Bruins announced a pair of significant contributors that will be back.

Thomas Welsh and Aaron Holiday will both return next season to the UCLA program, according to the school.

Welsh, a 7-foot center, averaged 10.8 points and 8.7 rebounds as a senior last year for the Bruins. He shot 58.5 percent from the floor and blocked 1.2 shots per game, and decided to declare for the NBA Draft without an agent before ultimately deciding to return to Westwood.

“Thomas has worked hard all spring,” UCLA coach Steve Alford said in a statement. “We supported him testing the NBA waters and are excited to have him returning for his senior year. He simply continues to develop each and every season.

“Thomas will be one of the top centers in college basketball next year and, undoubtedly, has a great chance to be a first-round pick in next season’s draft.”

The 6-foot-1 Holiday averaged 12.3 points and 4.4 assists last season while sharing a backcourt with Lonzo Ball, whose departure, along with those of TJ Leaf, Bryce Alford and Isaac Hamilton will leave UCLA with a very different look next season. The positive results, however, may not fluctuate too significantly with Welsh and Holiday coming back to play alongside two five-star recruits, Kris Wilkes and Jaylen Hands, as well as Lonzo’s younger brother LiAngelo.

West Virginia’s Macon forgoing final year

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West Virginia’s attempt to dethrone Kansas atop the Big 12 took a bit of a hit Tuesday.

Elijah Macon, a 6-foot-9 forward, announced his decision to forego a fifth year in Morgantown in order to pursue a professional career.

“First things first I would like to say thank you Bob Huggins and Erik Martin for believing in a young 15-year-old boy growing up from the Southside of Columbus, OH losing my mother and still having you guys push me to be the man I have become,” Macon said according to the school. “I can do nothing but thank you for all you and Mountaineer Nation (have) done for me. Unfortunately, I will not be returning for my senior season at WVU and instead sign with a(n) agent and play professional basketball. Thank you guys for all the love and support!”

Macon wasn’t a major contributor for the Mountaineers last season, averaging 6.3 points and 4.2 rebounds in 16 minutes per game, but he was an experienced and tough player who was well-versed in Huggins’ style and demands. Given the pace that the newly-fashioned Press Virginia plays at, depth is also paramount for them as a program.

Macon’s departure, though, may have been expected or at least partly anticipated by West Virginia. The Mountaineers signed five players in its most recent recruiting class, putting them one over their allotment of 13, so something had to give. West VIrginia will stay have interior depth, anchored by junior Esa Ahmad, so the loss of Macon is one they likely can weather, even if it may take some time to acclimate the newcomers.

“Elijah is in the process of completing classes during this summer school period that ends June 2 and will graduate with a bachelor’s degree in August,” Huggins said in a statement released by the school. “I respect his decision to become a professional basketball player and to go make money to support his family. He had a great four years with us, and we wish him nothing but the best.”

Key returning to Alabama for sophomore season

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Alabama’s top scorer is returning to school.

Braxton Key has withdrawn his name from the NBA draft and will be back with the Tide for his sophomore season, the school announced Tuesday.

“I spoke to coach Avery (Johnson) just over a week ago and informed him of my decision to withdraw my name from the NBA Draft and return to the University of Alabama for my sophomore season,” Key said in a statement. “I made that official when I sent my paperwork to the NBA league office Monday morning. I want to express my appreciation to my teammates, Coach Johnson and the entire coaching staff for giving me their full support while I went through this process.

“I am excited for the future of the Alabama basketball program and looking forward to getting to work as we prepare for next season. Roll Tide and Buckle Up!”

The 6-foot-8 forward averaged 12 points and 5.7 rebounds per game while shooting 43.3 percent from the field as a freshman. He gives Alabama four returning starts to pair with one of the country’s highest-regarded recruiting classes, headlined by five-star guard Collin Sexton. The Tide will also have an eligible Daniel Giddens, who previously transferred in from Ohio State.

Key didn’t seem likely to stay in the NBA draft, especially after he wasn’t invited to the combine, but his ultimate decision is a huge one for Avery Johnson as he looks to break through in his third season in Tuscaloosa with his first NCAA tournament appearance. 

Report: Justin Jackson to return to Maryland

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Maryland forward Justin Jackson is expected to return to school for his sophomore season, according to a report from FanRag Sports.

Jackson is an intriguing talent, a 6-foot-7 combo-forward with a 7-foot-3 wingspan that shoots 44 percent from three. But he’s also still developing his offensive game and consistency on the defensive end of the floor, which is why he was projected as a second round pick in this year’s draft.

With Jackson back in the fold, Maryland is a borderline top 25 team. They lost Melo Trimble to the professional ranks, but that’s something that Mark Turgeon has prepared for. With a sophomore class that also includes highly-regarded point guard Anthony Cowan and sharp-shooter Kevin Huerter, the Terps have a promising season ahead of them.