Louisville is running toward a Big East crown led by Peyton Siva

To say the Big East is pretty tough is like saying Wiz Khalifa smokes a little weed sometimes.

While the company line going into this college basketball season said the Big Ten was the strongest conference in the nation, the Big East has reclaimed its rightful place: At the moment, nine of the Big East’s 16 teams are ranked in the Associated Press Top 25 poll, from No. 3 Syracuse to No. 25 Cincinnati.

Running right in step with the Big East thoroughbreds is a surprising Louisville squad (15-3 overall, 4-1 conference) that is ranked 19th in the country. The same squad that, during preseason prediction time, many prognosticators had headed to the NIT.

Rick Pitino‘s Cardinals are winning with speed. Louisville ranks 15th nationally in scoring, dropping 81.1 points per game, and 4th in steals with 10.1 per game. Their pressure defense creates fast-break opportunities on offense and the threat of a quick-strike run at a moment’s notice. Case in point, on Jan. 15, Louisville trailed Marquette by 18 points with just under six minutes left and rallied to win the game in the final seconds.

On the Cardinals’ sprint relay team, Peyton Siva runs first leg. The sophomore starting point guard, who was a backup last season under current overseas pro Edgar Sosa, is averaging 10.9 points, 5.2 assists and 2.4 steals. In a UL win over St. John’s on Wednesday, Siva posted 10 points, 10 dimes and 7 steals, and had a season-high 29 points plus 8 assists to help beat Western Kentucky in December.

Siva comes from a fast pedigree. He was a 2009 McDonald’s All-American at my alma mater Franklin High School (Seattle), our first All-American since Aaron Brooks in ’03. Franklin is known for producing defensively tenacious guards who are quick and have straight-line speed. Siva, and explosive athlete who contest-worthy dunks while standing just 5-foot-11, fits the prototype as much as any alum.

After a freshman year spent backing up Sosa and learning under the senior’s wing, Siva was given the keys to the shiny red car this year, and so far he hasn’t gotten caught breaking the speed limit. Here, Siva talks about how speed kills:

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“We’re gonna get out there and run and gun, get up a lot of shots, and play defense. That’s a big emphasis — Coach has us using a 24-second shot clock in practice, and we have to get the ball past half-court in three seconds.

“Last year we had a dominant post player in Samardo Samuels, so we didn’t run as much. This year we have another great post in Terrence Jennings (8.6 ppg, 4.8 rpg), but his speed allows us to get up and down the court.

“My job is to run point guard and distribute. I have to get everybody involved and make sure everybody knows what to do, and make decisions in the open court in transition. I learned a lot from Edgar. I was playing under a very good senior who’s a pro overseas now. I watched what he did and learned what to do and what not to do.

“At times last year I felt I was going too fast and needed to slow down. I worked on that over the summer. You have to learn to calm yourself down and play under control in an up-tempo system. I think we’ve all adapted very good. As long as we’re in condition and play together, we’ll win games.”