The Pete is Back to Being the Best Atmosphere in College Basketball

(Oakland Zoo)

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Watching Pitt's game against Syracuse this past Saturday led to a lot of nostalgia for me.  The basketball on the court has been great this season, something that us Pitt fans have been longing for for half a decade now.  Meaningful Pitt basketball in January, February and most likely March is great to have back in my life after being gone for what feels like forever.  However, the team's play isn't what caught my attention most during the game.  Rather, it was the Petersen Events Center being at full capacity and rocking all game long, just like it used to.

Syracuse has been a longtime rival of Pitt's, spanning back to their Big East days.  When I was growing up, every time the two faced off, it was appointment television.  Even as a student at Pitt, I remember Syracuse being one of the hottest tickets of the year to get into the Oakland Zoo.  I was selected in the student ticket lottery to go to one of those matchups and it was special (even if it did involve being behind the hoop where Tyler Ennis made a half-court shot to beat Pitt at the buzzer).  However, with both teams struggling these past few years, the once-heated rivalry hasn't really been reflected in attendance.

Syracuse coach Jim Boeheim changed that this year, after calling out Pitt in a post-game interview for "buying" their players.  The team, and fans, took offense to those comments and it showed during the game on Saturday.  The sellout crowd was into the game throughout and the Oakland Zoo felt like the old Oakland Zoo again.  They were loud and could be heard on TV all game long.  If I noticed it sitting at home watching the game, I can only imagine how it actually felt being at the game.

This type of atmosphere is what made me feel so nostalgic.  Sure, the Panthers being nationally relevant for their play is incredible, don't get me wrong.  But my favorite part about Pitt basketball growing up was how it felt to be at the games and how tough it was for opponents to play at the Pete.  When the Oakland Zoo is at its best, the Pete can be one of the toughest environments for opposing teams.  Saturday's game took me right back to those times.  

The most notable moment of this came in the waning seconds of the game.  On senior night, former team manager turned scholarship player, Aidan Fisch, came in with the game out of reach and scored on Pitt's final possession of the game.  The crowd erupted.  The Oakland Zoo was elated.  And the Pitt bench went absolutely crazy.  It was an all-around amazing moment for so many reasons. The emotions you see in that video are what makes having a good college basketball team again so much fun.  As the team progressed over the course of the season, so did the crowd at the games.  Pitt fans have fully bought back in to this team and it certainly showed on Saturday.  

With just two games remaining in the regular season, Pitt is currently at the top of the ACC standings.  They just cracked into the AP Top 25 rankings (which Pitt fans have felt was long overdue).  And best of all, Pitt fans and students are back to making the Pete one of the best college basketball atmospheres in the country.  It truly does feel like I'm watching a Panthers team from my childhood yet again.