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Cardiac Spill: Rooting Interests

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It's the season finale, and I went overboard with it: Pitt is in the NIT, which answers the normally impossible "Who do I root for in the NIT?" question. But now you have to pick a tournament bandwagon, Panther Fans. What to do? I've taken the liberty of sorting the field of 68 for this purpose.

nIGHTMARE mAN
nIGHTMARE mAN
Brian Spurlock-USA TODAY Sports

Category 1: Totally Cool, Totally Cool, Totally Cool

  • Crimson Quarry (the Indiana SB Nation blog) has been inexplicably shouting me out all season, which is really cool. They are clearly people of fine taste and good moral fiber and should be treated as such.
  • Staying with the Big Ten, you may be familiar with my recurring references to "Maryland Shouting," my friend who is a big Maryland fan and I don't think is aware that I from time to time share his information with strangers. If you're not, here's a conversation I just had with dude about Corey Manigault and this tweet:

The schools on that list are Maryland, Pitt, Xavier, Miami, and Wake Forest. Maryland's been good again for four months now. Know that and read the conversation again. And besides that, dude was salty when they got the four seed yesterday. I want to see where his head goes if Maryland makes noise this month, so I'm totally rooting for the Terps. This isn't to say I'll share/have permission to share what he says when that time comes... but I might.

  • Let's show Michigan State that we're good people who won't abuse or mistreat the Pat Narduzzi we adopted from them by cheering them on for their thing.
  • We both hate Wichita State... and hey, they're also the Panthers! They're our Panther buddies! Yay, Panther buddies! Let's go, Northern Iowa! Yeah! U-N-I! Teacher's colleges! Wheeeeeeee! "Tuttle" is so fun to say! I'm a regular Tuttlemaniac! Northern Iowa to the Final Four, baby! Please show us how to be ranked again.
  • San Diego State, for RPI reasons.
  • We all have to like UAB now because their football program was murdered in cold blood and now they're being sent to live with their grandparents in a town where they don't have any friends.
  • Speaking of cupcake-seeded schools we sort of share a city with, one time I was on a Megabus with a bunch of Robert Morris fans desperately trying to monitor an in-progress NEC semifinal game as the data coverage cut in and out across the Laurel Highlands, and it was just adorable. They were all, "Oh, we're the one seed! We're going dancing for sure!" and then they were like, "Oh no, it's too close for comfort, this game!" and then they were like, "Oh no, we were upset by Mt. St. Mary's! This is awful!" and then they were sad. Man, I'm so glad I went to a consequential school. Actually, now that I think about it, how about we just say
  • Pretty much any team with a seed line 13 or worse. Come on, now, don't be a jerk. Be nice to Lafayette, for once.
  • And finally, any ACC team after the Sweet Sixteen besides Duke, because no one calls my brother a loser except me.

Category 2: Probably Fine

  • One day, Arizona, we are going to steal Sean Miller from you. We are going to sneak into your house under the cover of darkness and take him from you. We are going to take him back to our house and when you put out a press conference asking desperately for any information we are not going to respond. Then our hick neighbors are going to recognize him and blackmail us, our prison buddies are gonna rob a bank with him, and then we're gonna have a kickass fight with a bounty hunter in the desert. In the end, we'll realize that he was where he needed to be in the first place and return him, but not before having a heart-to-heart with you about fatherhood. And then we'll slip into a nice dream...
  • You ever ate popcorn balls and drank tropical punch with BYU fans at a Las Vegas Bowl watch party? It's the most fun you'll have while not actually having fun. True story.
  • If they're good this year... then we beat them next year... that'll be good. Yeah. It's decided, then: it's alright for us to cheer for Gonzaga. Great. Cool. Let's go get lunch.
  • Maybe Ohio State will get so good they don't compete with us for recruits ever! Maybe they get so good that they shoot off into the stars to play basketball with the astronauts, and we never see them again! Maybe they get so good they get tired of basketball and just go away forever! I don't know, I thought this was how we chose loyalties now! Go Buckeyes! And hey, while we're here, please stop posting that box score from 1996. We all know the latter-era Majors teams were garbage.
  • Connecticut rigged the AAC tournament this year in an attempt to sneak into the field of 68.
    Just when we thought all was lost, SMU emerged to strike them down.
    Keeping UConn out of the Dance is always worth a few points.
    For doing so, I say:
    Here's to you, Mustangs!
  • Wisconsin stole Chryst, but they also got Smiley fired. Think about this one, y'all.

Category 3: I Don't Care, It Doesn't Matter

  • Hey, most of the Big XII, you know what you have to do to get right in my book. Nothing else really matters either way. You do you.
  • And hey, most of the SEC? Good try good effort this year. I look forward to LSU being decent enough next year to give your conference one or two meaningful games.
  • Did Oregon make it? Are you sure? Or did I just make that up to make you think about what you're reading? What about Boise State? What about Illinois? Are you sure? Yeah? You better check again.
  • The government has been scheduling Pitt and Iowa in football for the past few years as part of a radical, invasive agenda to make you care about Iowa. This is big government at its worst and should not be taken lying down. Resist and rebel by continuing to not have an opinion on Iowa.
  • I'm starting to get the sense that Texas is the Pitt Football of college basketball (collapses, wasted potential, wasted opportunities) and I can't decide whether the sentiment "I am excited to see them collapse in a spectacular and exciting way" means I am rooting for or against them. Discuss.
  • Wyoming.

Category 4: Produces A Skeevy, Uncomfortable Feeling

  • The Atlantic 10 teams are collectively form a fun bunch of bracket-busters and Cinderellas that make every March a bit more exciting. VCU and Davidson are oodles of fun to watch, and you probably know someone who likes Dayton. But an A-10 title would give Duquesne fans any sort of bragging rights over us, which is never okay.
  • The MAC is the least basketball conference in the country. Buffalo is this year's MAC Champion. Discuss.
  • On the one hand, the death march of inevitability that was this season could only be redeemed by anyone other than Kentucky winning. On the other hand, BLOOD FOR THE BLOOD GOD. BLOOD FOR THE BLOOD GOD. ALL MUST BE MISERY; ALL MUST BE ANGUISH; IT IS THE ONLY TRUE ORDER OF THE UNIVERSE. BLOOD FOR THE BLOOD GOD NOW. BLOOD FOR THE BLOOD GOD FOREVER. HAIL.
  • Let's be real, folks. Let's keep it "one hundred." Let's have a rap sesh, okay? Just chat, honestly, man-to-man, friendo-to-friendo, bud-to-buddy. Let's keep it straight, talk the straight chat, spit the REAL truth. And that is: even if Oklahoma was a one seed you'd still feel uncomfortable picking them to win a game this year.
  • When your co-worker who doesn't watch basketball does the cursory research necessary to put together a bracket, they're going to inevitably reach the "potential upsets" part of the article and see Stephen F. Austin over Utah. Which means it won't happen, because chaos reigns, so don't even bother trying to like them.
  • But with that in mind... did you know that Utah had a year with both Alex Smith AND Andrew Bogut? And now they have Delon Wright???? Talk about spoiled! Give someone else a chance, Utah, jeez! No thank you! I'm sick of Utah fans acting so dang entitled, y'know? It's enough already!!!! UTAH!!!! CUT. IT. OUT. CUT IT OUT. Cut it out.
  • Ghosts of Christmas Past: Butler, obviously, but probably Wichita State and Xavier too. After that, it gets a bit more fuzzy about who to dislike - Michigan State? I'm ambivalent. Oklahoma State? That's up to you. What about Wisconsin, who knocked Pitt out of its first tournament (and only Final Four) in 1941?
  • You know what? Hell yeah! Wisconsin! Screw 'em forever! Hate is the fuel that keeps my body young and my flesh strong!
  • Not saying we should root for them, but I think we need to let go of lesser former rivals like Georgetown. We can hate West Virginia for a long time without playing them, and maybe Villanova too, considering. But at a certain point we need to let go, y'know? No one's going to remember or understand why you're talking smack about St. John's in ten years. Providence was never good, and anyone who argues otherwise is part of a terrifying, dangerous conspiracy. And Cincinnati is just kind of sad now in their sad little fake conference they made up after no one wanted them.

Category 5: No

  • Duke, because there will forever be a week in March where we are all extreme Lehigh. Notre Dame, because they're one of maybe one schools with a worse recent tournament history than us and I'd like that to keep going. Every other team in the ACC before the Sweet Sixteen because I want to see them fall on their fat faces and then we can at least argue that getting bonked by Northeastern in the "second" round of the dance is more embarrassing than an NIT loss to Tulsa.
  • It doesn't matter what country you live in or how old you are: your life is probably worse than it would have been otherwise because of something a Harvard alum did, somewhere.
  • Iowa State coach Fred Hoiberg made Jamie Dixon look like an idiot by ambushing him into a dance contest he was in no way mentally prepared for. Jamie Dixon is a beautiful man and you misled him because you are a criminal. In a fair fight would win easily with one hand tied behind his dancing back. Your are a treacherous bastard, Fred Hoiberg, and I do not like you anymore and also I never liked you.
  • I'm still pissed they didn't spot us those last five points, so screw you, North Florida. I live for triple-digit scores. I hope you get a bad deal on a hotel in Dayton because they realize you're a basketball team and have nowhere else to go and collude the shit out of you, Ospreys. I hope your big spring concert on campus is Lloyd. Go Go, Bobby Mo!
  • "My favorite Big Ten mascot is Purdue Pete!" he said, putting mayonnaise on his hot dog. "I can't wait to see him before every commercial break." He takes a bite of the hot dog. "Now if you excuse me, I have tickets to The Lazarus Effect. I heard it was this generation's A Sound of Thunder, which is my favorite movie.Want a ride?" He jingled the keys to his Kia.
  • Could you imagine if Pitt was a bubble team and UCLA got a spot instead? Well, that actually happened to Temple fans. Have some empathy for once in your miserable life and stay away. (Plus I had a bunch of awesome jokes written for the Temple entry of this article that I had to scrap, which is such a waste.)
  • Wofford? Nah, sorry. I don't much like Pokémon.
  • And, of course, the obvious ones: Villanova, who will hopefully forever be the only team with three strikes to their name (Philadelphia, former conference rival, heartbreaker); West Virginia, because some things can't ever change, ever, and no one would ever want them to; and SyracuOH WAIT THAT'S RIGHT! NOW I REMEMBER, THEY CAN'T EVEN DREAM OF THE TASTE OF THE SMELL OF THE DANCE FOR A HUNDRED YEARS. HEY, GUESS WHO HAS A READERSHIP IN THE HIGH HUNDREDS, A MODERATELY POPULAR ALTER-EGO, AND TWO YEARS WORTH OF UNUSED PENN STATE PROBATION JOKES READY TO GO? THIIIIIIIISSSSS GUUUUUUUUUUUYYYYY!!!! I WILL MAIL JIM BOEHEIM PICTURES OF SAD CHILDREN AND MELTED ICE CREAM AND DEEP DOWN HE WILL UNDERSTAND WHY, I ASSUME.
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.





Secret Bonus Column

Here's what could have happened, instead of what did.

The 2015 Final Four was surprisingly exciting. Indianapolis, for all the jokes, is actually extremely well set-up to host major events and conventions like the tournament, and all involved had a wonderful time. For a few days, the inevitable seemed like it wouldn't happen: Gonzaga had a certain team-of-destiny vibe after finally getting over the hump; Northern Iowa had a Cinderella charm, despite being a #3 seed; Texas, an #11 seed, would probably have been a more rousing underdog story, if not for the fact that they are Texas and no one is ever shocked when Texas does well at anything. People thought maybe, maybe, one of them could beat Kentucky.

"Forget it," said the eventually-proven-right Jay Bilas. "They're unstoppable. Pitt shot 17/18 from three in the Elite Eight, and even that didn't work somehow."

***

Durand, smile.

I'm trying to. It's just weird, y'know?

There's nothing weird about posing with a trophy, Durand. Sixth Man of the Year is a major award.  Smile. This picture's going to be everywhere next season.

It's a weird award, though.

No it isn't. You're the best bench player in the ACC.

It's proof Coach was wrong about me.

I don't follow.

I'm the best sixth man in the country, right? So I'm better than the best bench guy on these stacked teams... do you really think that big white dude from Virginia couldn't start here?

I don't really watch basketball, Durand. I leave work at work.

He would. He would start here.

I believe you.

So if I'm better than him... shouldn't I start?

Maybe...  Jamie wanted you to win this award? Maybe you're a good... bench guy?

Maybe he doesn't like me.

Why would he not like you? He brought you here specifically because he liked you, I thought.

[prolonged silence]

Take the picture.

***

You'd think no one would dare drink out of an Aquafina bottle they just found at a Chipotle with the label ripped off and "The Opposite Of The Space Jam Magic Water" written in red sharpie. You'd think that especially no one would do this if they were, say, a 90s kid who plays basketball on scholarship at a major basketball school. You'd think that even within that subset, there'd be a group of people who are also emerging young stars who are fighting for minutes, and they definitely should not be drinking out of that bottle for so many reasons.

But I had to stop Newk from drinking out of that very bottle the other day. Could you imagine? I mean, it probably wasn't real or whatever, but why would he ever do something like that?

***

"Okay, this is the physical and mental evaluation for Pitt basketball recruit #364-2270, Tyrone Haughton."
"D-1 is nuts, man. In JuCo I just had to show up in a jersey and bring my own ball."
"Oh, there's no need to stress, buddy, don't worry about it! This is just a formality. We do this for every recruit just for record keeping. You'll do fine."
"Sure..."
"Okay, so first we're going to do some basic info. Name?"
"Tyrone Haughton."
"Good job!"
"I know my name."
"It was a joke! Relax, like I said, it's just a formality. Okay, height and weight we measured as six-foot-nine and 220 lubs... permanent mailing address?"
"It's the Miami one on the card."
"Ah, yes. Great going so far. High school?"
"Dr. Krop in Miami."
"Do you have the address handy?"
"Nah."
"That's cool, I can look it up later, don't worry about it.  Major?"
"Social sciences."
"Very good. Do you know how to play basketball?"
"Nah."
"...Tyrone?"
"I don't."
"Seriously?"
"Yeah, like I said, JuCo is pretty chill about everything."
"How did you..."
"I dunno."
"My god, we almost gave you a scholarship for basketball."
"Haha, yeah. Honestly didn't expect anyone to ask me that, actually."
"It was a joke! It's not even on the form! Everyone just assumed... oh my gosh, we need to start asking people this stuff..."

***

November 14th was turning out to be a lucky day for Durand. The vending machine didn't eat his dollar, his leg felt fine when he woke up, and his stroke was there in the morning warm-ups. A few of his teammates had actually warned him about that - I don't like wasting all my makes before the game starts - but on this day, he was sure he had enough threes in him to go around. He was still riding that high heading into the locker room after what he jokingly called a "very late breakfast" when he saw Coach was waiting for him at his locker.

"Johnson, can I ask you something?" This was a new approach, Durand thought.

"Yeah." said Durand, said Cam. Coach turned around to face the freshman.

"Cam, go get ready. I was talking to Durand."

Cam Wright stopped lacing his kicks for a moment and looked up. "I'm already getting ready. I've been here for half an hour now." Coach set a mental reminder to stop recruiting any kid with a common name for a few years.

"Durand, let's say one day, after your career is over, you buy a nice house for you and your family. You do a whole interior redesign when you get it - Durand, pay attention."

"I am."

"And you have these nice white carpets in the living room, let's say. And so you tell your kids to take their shoes off before they walk into the living room. What does it mean if you catch them once?" Durand shrugged. "Well, Durand, it might be that they didn't listen to you. But maybe it just meant they forgot. What does it mean if they do it every day for a week?"

"It means they're not listening."

"Right - it means you have to do whatever it is you have to do to get them to learn. Punish them. Ground them, take some toys away, an early bed time, freeze them out of the starting lineup for the year-" The metaphor wasn't subtle, but it didn't matter. "Durand, what does it mean if your kids keep breaking your rule after that? What happens then?"

Durand didn't say anything.

"Durand, my Reese's Puffs."

"What about them?"

"You took them again. You took my goddamn Reese's Puffs again. I told you, I told you Durand, it was a team meeting, everyone on this unit was there. I told you that if you ate them again you were suspended for a year. And now... Durand, exhale for me." Durand obeyed.

Coach frowned. He expected peanut butter, but what he got was peppermint.

"Alright. I was wrong, but you have to know how thin your ice is sometimes. Suit up, we're taking the court for warmups in fifteen minutes." Coach walked away. The second he left the room, Durand felt every muscle in his body relax at once.

Thank God I brought mints today.

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.