NEW YORK – Decked in a sleek black suit with a piece of paper in hand, Louisville guard Peyton Siva walked up to the podium on the ninth floor of the New York Athletic Club.
Siva unfolded the piece of paper, looked up at the audience and grinned.
“I wrote a very long speech today, as you can see,” Siva said, revealing a completely blank piece of paper and drawing a laugh from those in attendance.
Siva, the Big East preseason Player of the Year, thanked the coaches for the recognition, but didn’t want to take all the credit.
“I’m very humbled by this award,” Siva said. “But I know that there are three other players on my team who could easily be standing in my spot right now.”
The Cardinals are ranked first in the Big East preseason coaches’ poll. After catching fire in March last season en route to a conference championship and a trip to the Final Four, expectations are high for U of L.
That top ranking is an honor for Siva, but he said his team will have to work hard to match those expectations and build off last year’s run.
“It’s a blessing and a curse for us,” Siva said. “You have that bull’s-eye on your back. We’re just going to have to keep that work ethic we had toward the end of last year.”
Louisville head coach Rick Pitino said Siva has improved considerably from his junior to senior year and is a top-five point guard in the nation. He expects Siva to lead the team and be the go-to guy for the Cardinals.
“He’s improved more from his junior to senior year than any other time in his career,” Pitino said. “Usually you see the biggest improvement from freshman to sophomore year.”
Siva can’t do it alone, though, and he’ll look to center Gorgui Dieng to be dominant for the Cardinals.
Dieng was named to the Preseason All-Big East First Team after averaging 9.1 points and 9.1 rebounds for the Cardinals last season.
Siva said Dieng has bulked up during the offseason and is stronger than he was last year.
Reaching to his left and squeezing Dieng’s muscles, Siva jokingly said the Senegal native is “kind of skinny still,” yet he believes Dieng’s length and strength will be key for Louisville this season. After totaling 128 blocks a season ago, Siva believes Dieng has a chance to lead the country in blocks this season.
While many other Big East coaches voted for Siva as Preseason Player of the Year, Cincinnati head coach Mick Cronin had a different player in mind.
“You have two guys who received votes for player of the year,” Cronin said. “I voted for Gorgui Dieng. That tells you how good those guys are.”
Siva remembers last season when the Cardinals lost four out of six games. Everything unraveled for a few weeks and the players were down. Then, Louisville embarked on an eight-game winning streak, including a 50-44 Big East championship win over Cincinnati.
That run helped propel the Cardinals to the No. 2 ranking this year, but Dieng isn’t focused on that ranking.
“Rankings don’t mean anything to me,” Dieng said. “Rankings are for the fans. We want to win every game. This year we want to win it all.”
Head coach Rick Pitino said Louisville’s schedule is much more difficult than it was last year. He said his team will be tested to maintain that lofty ranking as one of the country’s elite teams.
Northern Iowa and Stanford or Missouri will present early challenges in the Battle 4 Atlantis. Pitino’s squad then travels on the road to College of Charleston and Memphis before facing off against Kentucky Dec. 29.
That’s all before entering Big East play.
If Louisville is able to make a run deep in March, one reason will be the depth of this year’s team. Pitino called this year’s team the deepest and most athletic team he’s ever had at U of L and said a variety of players can step up in crunch time.
“If they stay humble they’re going to have a great season,” Pitino said. “If they believe what they read, they’re going to fall into the trap. I know these two guys will stay humble. If we can get every single guy on this team to stay humble, we’re going to have a heck of a year.”