March Memories

Pistons Singler, Siva – recent NCAA champs – root for alma maters from afar

Peyton Siva, Kyle Singler
Peyton Siva and Kyle Singler both won NCAA Championships with their respective schools.
Kevin C. Cox/Streeter Lecka/Getty Images Sport
Among the 15 players on their roster, the Pistons count two American-born players who never spent time on a college campus and two Europeans who can say likewise. But there will be no shortage of Pistons keeping tabs on the NCAA tournament this week while the team treks through four Western states on a critical road trip as the NBA season hits the home stretch.

Most of the focus will be on the Midwest region, where three perennial powers – Kyle Singler’s Duke Blue Devils, Peyton Siva’s Louisville Cardinals and Josh Harrellson’s Kentucky Wildcats – were funneled. Duke and Louisville are the highest-seeded teams among Pistons alma maters, the Blue Devils a No. 3 and the Cardinals a No. 4.

Singler, Siva and Harrellson all wrung everything they could from March Madness, each of them playing all the way to the final Monday of the college basketball season with Singler and Siva winning it all and Harrellson’s Kentucky team losing to Connecticut in the 2011 championship game.

It was just a year ago now when Siva, as a three-year starting point guard for Rick Pitino, was about to embark on his last go-around. Louisville entered the tournament on a hot streak and as the overall No. 1 seed and clear-cut favorite. The Cardinals rolled into the Final Four, their four wins coming by an average of nearly 22 points a game, before needing come-from-behind wins over Wichita State and Michigan to win the title. Siva finished with 18 points, six rebounds, five assists and four steals against the Wolverines.

He admits, sort of, that he probably should have finished with 16 points. The two free throws he was awarded when Trey Burke was called for a foul on a chase-down blocked layup at a critical point of the game was, ahem, questionable.

“It wasn’t like I was going to air ball my two free throws or hand the referee the ball,” Siva said. “The ref called it. If he blocked it, he blocked it. I didn’t think it was a foul, but it happens.”

If Michigan and Louisville meet again, it would happen in the Midwest regional finals in Indianapolis, where the Cardinals would certainly have overwhelming crowd support from their nearby faithful.

“There would be a lot of trash talking going on on Twitter that day,” Siva grinned. “I’m looking forward to that matchup and I’m sure they are, too.”

Michigan might have to take down Singler’s Blue Devils first, though. If both get out of the opening weekend, the Wolverines and Blue Devils would meet in a Sweet 16 matchup. Singler’s girlfriend, Gaby McKee, is a first-year law student at Michigan. They hoped to get to a game at the Crisler Center this year but never did. Singler, though, will have no split loyalties if Michigan and Duke collide.

“I think it would be a great game to watch,” he said, “but, no, I’m for sure going for Duke. There’s no question about it.”

It was as a Duke junior that Singler led the Blue Devils to the 2010 NCAA title, beating Butler and future NBA lottery pick Gordon Hayward for the title. Singler was named Final Four Most Outstanding Player, putting up 40 points, 18 rebounds and seven assists while shooting 6 of 11 from the 3-point line over two games.

“It’s crazy to think it was four years ago,” Singler said. “It seems a little longer. When I was going through the tournament that year, there was something different than any other year. Going in as a team, and personally, we just felt confident of where we were. We knew we were going to get out of the first and second round. Once we hit the Sweet 16 – we beat Purdue and then Baylor – we just felt we had a roll going and felt we couldn’t be beaten. That was the feeling.”

Elsewhere, Chauncey Billups’ Colorado Buffaloes – who made the tournament despite a season-ending injury to star junior point guard Spencer Dinwiddie in mid-January – are seeded No. 8 in the South and play Pittsburgh with a possible second-round matchup with overall No. 1 seed Florida.

Connecticut, the only school that numbers two Pistons in Andre Drummond and Charlie Villanueva, lost three times to Louisville this season as members of the newly formed American Athletic Conference. The Huskies are the No. 7 seed in the East and play St. Joseph’s with a possible second-round matchup against old Big East rival Villanova looming.

Siva, who picks his Cardinals to repeat as champions, thinks the AAC affiliation hurt Louisville’s seed. Some thought the Cardinals would be a No. 2 seed or, perhaps a No. 3, even though Pitino lobbied for a No. 1 seed.

“Biggest joke ever,” Siva said. “When you see a team like (fellow AAC member) SMU not even make the tournament after being ranked in the top 25 at the end of the year, it definitely shows what they thought of the league. I feel we’re in a tough bracket and we’re already battle-tested. It’s really going to help us out.”