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Cardiac Spill: The Most Disappointing Season

Pitt basketball is a machine that breaks your heart. It's high time we think about what that machine is really capable of.

Brian Spurlock-USA TODAY Sports

After the Wichita State NCAA tournament loss in 2013, Fear T. Stache crunched some numbers and was able to quantify that Pitt was nigh-incapable of meeting expectations in the NCAA Tournament. If you're reading this, you probably didn't need the numbers to tell you that. You, a deeply damaged soul, probably wouldn't challenge the notion that Pitt lately is basically only capable of disappointment. Now think: Even with the recent string of wins, what's the ceiling for this team this year? Probably just making the NCAAs would be nice, yeah?

But when has this team ever hit its ceiling?1

The reality is, this is going to be a rough ACC season. Maybe ten ACC wins gets you a bid, maybe the conference squeaks seven or eight teams into the field, maybe Pitt clears that bar, probably not. But you know what? It's more about the destination than the journey, and the journey is going to hurt so very, very much. So it's time to stop pussyfooting around this! I'm jumping into this with both feet and asking you to take my hand, you beautiful creature. Let's temper no expectations and try to give our nightmares a face.

In doing this, I made a few assumptions:

  • Ten ACC wins is probably good for a tournament bid. Nine wins likely requires a decent showing in the conference tournament (like NC State last year) for a bid. Eight and fewer wins means the only route is winning the conference tournament.
  • lol pitt is not winning the dang conference tournament silly :) stop teasing :))
  • If Pitt played a home-and-home with every ACC team, it looks right now that Duke, Virginia, Louisville, and UNC would win both, Syracuse, Notre Dame, NC State, and Miami would split the games, and all other ACC teams would probably lose both, assuming everything went to expectations.
  • Pitt is going to, as they do, fall just short of expectations.
  • Pitt is going to drag things out this year slowly. They are not going to just lose every game because then you'd tune out by the end of February. To maximize the heartbreak, your expectations have to be toyed with and you will be put on a wild and wacky roller coaster ride of emotions.

So with all that in mind, here are six nightmare outcomes and how much hurt they'd bring you.

This scenario is designed around roughly what the Pomeroy projections say, and if things go this way it'd be a pretty good facsimile of last year's regular season: no alarms, no surprises, no real upsets in either direction.

The year starts out with a perspective-creating road loss. "Well, we can't beat NC State," you say, "time to start rending some garments." But then, four straight wins are rattled off, three at home, against the ACC's soft, chewy underbelly, and you stop rending your garments. Pitt's heading into Cameron with the wind at its back, you think! And if any team is equipped to handle the atmosphere in Durham, it's surely Pitt!

That doesn't happen, of course, and you deflate a little bit. The next few games go roughly as expected, capped off with a pleasant home win against the Orange. You think, "Hey, we're 6-4! If we can get just even one win the next four, that wouldn't be so bad."

That doesn't happen, of course, and you deflate a bit more. You've seen this movie before, and you're ready for the letdown. But it doesn't happen against Boston College. And it doesn't happen against Wake. And it doesn't happen against Miami. And then Pitt is 9-8, and just need a win against Florida State to punch a dance ticket.

That doesn't happen, of course.

Disappointment Level: Oof

January 18th, after the Georgia Tech game: "Whoa, 5-0 out the gate? They figured it out! Dixon's a genius as usual, and I'm sorry I ever doubted him. Watch out, Blue Devils, we're headed to the top!"
February 1st, after the Notre Dame game: "Yeah, that sucked, but 6-3 in the first nine games is still completely fine by me this year. But we've got Syracuse at the Pete up next, and that's where things are gonna change!"
February 22nd, after the second Syracuse game: "I've never known joy, only darkness."
March 2nd, after the Wake Forest game: "Alright, alright, I've snapped out of it and am no longer a threat to myself or those around me. Maybe this team is okay enough to dance after all. All we need to do is beat Miami or Florida State at the Pete for that ninth win, and then who knows what'll happen in Greensboro! And if we beat both we don't even have to worry about that! This seems doable."

Disappointment Level: Jeez

Like I said, I'm here to make nightmares.

Rattling off eight wins would put the Panthers at 18-3, including two so-called "signature wins" against Duke and Louisville. Certainly, they'd be ranked, and have a good chance of a top ten spot at that. And then... something goes wrong. Maybe one of the major contributors goes down; what would hurt even more would be a few bad breaks in the games against Notre Dame and the Orange spiraling into team dysfunction, spiraling into suspensions, spiraling into problems with the program that takes years to fix. And yet the whole time, you're just begging for one, maybe two more wins in ten games, in eight games, in three games just to give a little glimmer of life through Selection Sunday...

Good programs don't just happen, but bad programs do. Remember that, Fire Dixon crowd.

Disappointment Level: [a prolonged sigh, followed by an uncomfortably long silence]

There needs to be a name for the sort of season where the team wins just enough to keep you interested but never nearly enough to compete, convincing the fans and no one else that they're about to turn the corner. I tried to create the perfect version of that here: three losses, followed by a "maybe this'll start something" win, followed by two more losses to convince you it's time to throw these bums to the curb, followed by a string of wins that make you pick them back up off the curb, followed by a crash to earth, followed by a pretty but ultimately misleading win, followed by an obvious loss, followed by an even more misleading win over a team significantly more broken than ours, followed by three losses in games that could've clinched a decent season. Your expectations go bad team, maybe not, definitely bad, hey maybe they're late bloomers, maybe they're okay, they're okay, they're not okay.

It's the sort of season that creates trust issues.

Disappointment Level: Hercules

But why make ten cuts when three will do the trick? Here, the Panthers open the season by convincing you, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that they suck and are not worth your time anymore. "I'm not wasting my life anymore this year with these jerks," you say to the TV. "There's nothing they could do they could change my mind."

Then they go on a run where they look unbeatable, and after eight wins in a row you almost, almost forget how bad they looked to begin. And you, who had promised yourself that you'd never believe again, have no choice but. Surely, you're watching a miracle!

You are not watching a miracle. Well, not the one you're thinking of.

This is exquisite hurting. But it's not quite perfect.

Disappointment Level: These Things

This... this... is perfect. This is the evilest thing I can imagine. This is maximum sadness.

Let me explain my masterpiece: eight wins in-conference is not enough to do anything with; it's still a losing record. But by merely swapping a Virginia Tech win with a Syracuse win between the two scenarios, I've created a theoretical 2014-15 Pitt Panthers basketball team that has proven, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that is completely able to hang with some of the toughest teams in the nation (Duke, Virginia, Louisville) but either completely unable to do anything with or extremely unlucky against some of the worst teams in the league (Virginia Tech, Clemson, probably Bryant). It is a team that if it just one time got itself together could eke into the tournament and wreak havoc getting itself together no times. This is a team that you'll watch every game of because they can win, and just... don't.

It'd be the best 8-10 team ever. They'd lose in the first round of the NIT to Denver.

Disappointment Level: My Father

1. I am aware that in 2014 the team met expectations by winning one game as a nine seed. Considering the heart-wrenching overtime games we had no business winning and Newkirk's once-in-a-lifetime game saving steal, I am inclined to believe that last season was the result of some sort of very poorly used magic wishing stone. 

Be sure to join Cardiac Hill's Facebook page and follow us on Twitter @PittPantherBlog for our regular updates on Pitt athletics. Follow the author on Twitter: @N_THEYSTAYTHERE.