It's the 2017-18 season and the cupboard is bare. The recruits are there, the talent level is as it always has been, but after a season where seniors Jamel Artis, Mike Young, Sheldon Jeter, Chris Jones, Rozelle Nix, and Joshs Newkirk & Ko ate the majority of the minutes, it's time for either a new generation to learn the system or for Jamie to draw up a new system for this generation. Everyone's braced for an out of conference run like this most recent one, with losses to teams that should not be lost to, and bad losses against teams that should have been kept closer.
But it's worse. It's much, much worse.
It's that City Game Streak ending that really stings.
All hope is lost for the year; people debate whether another year of experience will even get this team into a bubble discussion. Things don't get better in conference play. Game attendance drops precipitously.
Meanwhile, Syracuse is having itself an awesome year. Think last year. Pretty much exactly last year. It's now early February, and the Orange come to the Pete rocking a 20-0 (7-0) against Pitt's sorry-ass 9-13 (2-6). The Zoo is half-full: it's a school night (lol), it's still legally football season, no one has five bucks to burn and three hours to waste on this, and who needs to be there when ThisTV is free?
Cut to: Cameron Johnson echoing the Ennis shot.
Everything gets a bit crazy after that.
Zoo Sleepover culture becomes an entity on the level of Krzyzewskiville or The Joe Paterno Good Feelings Smile Village and becomes a multi-night event a few times a season. Kids regularly set up shop for days in the Pete lobby; for a time it's forbidden by the administrators but after a student nearly freezes to death waiting for the doors to open four days out they decide to not risk the most lovably passionate of us let their endearing stupidity be their death. As most college students lack the capacity to feed themselves for four days straight just, y'know, in normal life, a system of massive food deliveries and meal couriers develop.
An early-January conference game against Louisville draws a particularly strong crowd by Friday; inclement weather that night, though, leaves a crowd of 300+ students up there with limited food and cell phone battery. Those who aren't real fans make the treacherous walk back down the hill to safety, and it's clear that trying to walk or drive up the hill (CARDIAC HILL, THAT IS) to the Pete is a fool's errand.
Monday comes, and a hungry pack of Oakland Zoovians have decided, collectively, that despite the fact that the weather has cleared and can go home they've come too far not to attend this game. So they shuffle in, starving but determined to make it through the next four or five hours, ready to boo the heck out of Rick Pitino and his crew when -
...oh, crap, I forgot to mention that this scenario takes place in a hyper-capitalist future where every single thing is up for sale and there is no space too small to cram an advertisement. That's really important for this because in this case Papa John's and Adidas, two major sponsors of Louisville athletics, have teamed up to do something innovative and insane and viral. That's right. The Louisville Cardinals emerge from their tunnel...
Wearing uniforms made of pizza.
Someone drops a big pile of money in the middle of the court just as the game ends. Like, accidentally, or whatever. Big pile of money, right there, for the taking. Are you telling me you wouldn't chance it for a pocketful of hundreds? I'd run onto the court for $20. I'd run onto the court for free. I'd pay the University $50 to let me run onto the court mid-game and not get banned from the arena like I would otherwise.
That'd be pretty interesting, right? If there was a rule which allowed high-level donors to interfere with the game now and again? Like, what if this was acceptable defense? Stay right there, I'll get the coffee brewing. We're gonna make this work.
After Coach K retires, Duke hires alum and noted supervillain Dr. Wolfgang Turmoil as its new head basketball coach. People feign outrage initially for human rights reasons but in time just can't argue with his on-court product. His exciting, highly quotable post-game pressers ("Alvin Plumlee reigned chaos and destruction all over the court tonight. He is but one example of the brighter tomorrow I will lead this diseased world into. You will all come to hail Turmoil. Hail.") also play into his increasing popularity. The Blue Devils start the season 19-3.
Before a low-consequence game between the now top-five Blue Devils and a particularly unexciting Pitt team, Coach Dr. Turmoil calls an impromptu press conference at his underground lair to announce his ironic intentions to, upon his 20th victory as a head coach, release an airborne strain of polio out of three dozen strategically-located Turmoil Fighter Jets ("The invisible, evil jet I designed as a grad student at Purdue") across North America ("It will be a celebration of Turmoil!").
The government is powerless to stop Coach Dr. Turmoil in time; it's up to Pitt to save the world. Star-spangled uniforms are fast-tracked by Nike and approved by competent, uniform-liking Athletic Director B.O. Kittens. Tickets scalp at Pens Stanley Cup levels. It's the first Pitt game to be covered by the BBC. Students camp out for like a week.
Pitt emerges to a deafening roar, with every player draped in an American flag and a headband that reads "FUCK POLIO" to match the wristbands the Zoo members are all wearing.
The game is close throughout. Dr. Turmoil goes deep into his bag of tricks: paralyzing lasers, on-court tornadoes, just straight-up shooting our players with a shotgun and then brainwashing the ref to no-call, the whole deal. Still, in the last five minutes, Pitt uses its inexplicable depth and pulls away. It's an upset, but not an especially dramatic one. "Expect to win," the seniors tell the freshmen, patting them on their heads. "The Pete is magic," the freshman reply, feeding the seniors grapes.
Upon the final buzzer, a loud cheer rings out across this great nation. The moment they hands clasp at the post-game handshake, Coach Dixon grabs tightly and snatches the activator out of Coach Dr. Turmoil's jacket pocket, smashing it onto the court. He is immediately awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom and named Ambassador to The Free Republic of Texas. The rejoicing commences. Dr. Turmoil shuffles backwards.
A shriek is somehow heard through the cheers. A Zooer in a banana costume points at the Duke sideline. "He's getting away!"
There is no fifth reason. Those are the only four reasons the Oakland Zoo should storm the court ever: (I) an exorcism, (II) survival instincts, (III) cash, or (IV) to save the day.
Thanks for your time.
POSTSCRIPT: If you haven't taken my WHICH PITT PANTHER MEN'S BASKETBALL PLAYER ARE YOU? quiz yet, please consider. The current results are thus:
I'd like to think that Ryan Luther is the one guy who got Ryan Luther.
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.