Survivorman: Syracuse style

In anticipation of one of the biggest games of the year, students have been camping out at the Carrier Dome for the best seats at Saturday's SU-Villanova showdown.

There is a buzz surrounding the SU campus this week, and it’s not because students are back for spring semester classes. Saturday, the third ranked men’s basketball squad will welcome seventh ranked Villanova into the Carrier Dome.

More than just a Big East conference game, this matchup has proven to be a record breaker. Last February at the Dome, Syracuse and Villanova played in front of 34,616 people, an NCAA record for the most people to watch an on-campus basketball game. It was also the first sellout basketball game in Dome history.

Photo: Nate Shron
While not as cold in freezing outdoor temperatures, Syracuse student bundle up inside the Carrier Dome Thursday as they plan to stay the next two nights leading up to Saturday's game vs. Villanova.

Players and coaches are not oblivious to the one factor that makes this matchup a memorable one – the fans. Students have been camping out all week – some started as early as Sunday – with hopes of getting floor seats. Wednesday night, junior forward Kris Joseph decided to mingle with students and get a little taste of what their week has been like.

“He’s an awesome guy,” senior Louis Milman said of Joseph. “He came by last year after their practice. He just stopped by to thank the fans for being out here and see what it was like. He actually took a test run of the tent we were staying in. He came by with coach (Rob) Murphy. It was a lot of fun, we do it to show the loyalty that we have. For the players and coaches to know, that’s a lot of fun.”

Fun is not a word most would use to describe sleeping in the frigid Syracuse elements for multiple days, let alone an hour. The 160 students, divided into groups, were able to bring their pillows, blankets and heaters into the Dome Thursday morning. All involved are part of Otto’s Army, a student based fan club.

Not only are they showing loyalty to the Orange, but they remain dedicated to the classroom. A working rotation is planned so they can attend class and shower before taking their post.

Freshman Alicia Collins – a Massachusetts native – has completely immersed herself in the Orange hoops craze.

 “I have a couple cousins here and they always talk about how the basketball games are and I’m really into basketball and I followed Syracuse basketball before I even came here,” Collins said. “I definitely wanted to get really good seats for the Nova game.”

But is this really all worth it?

Freshman Samantha Weidman, who is in Collins’ group, said she is still on the fence.

“I’ll tell you if it’s worth it after the game,” Weidman said. "If they don’t win maybe not as worth it.”

As far as the game itself is concerned, this is just another test for two teams in the juggernaut of a conference that has seven teams in the ESPN/USA Today coaches poll. Syracuse (18-1, 5-1) is hoping for a much better start on Saturday after putting itself in a 19-0 hole in the first half at No. 5 Pittsburgh. The expected return of Joseph from a concussion, and his team-leading 14.6 points per game, should help.

The Wildcats are also looking to bounce back after falling victim to the electrifying Kemba Walker and No. 8 Connecticut Monday, 61-59. As usual, Villanova has a talented group of guards with seniors Corey Fisher, Corey Stokes and sophomore Maalik Wayns. Fisher and Stokes lead the team with 16.1 and 15.8 points per game, respectively.

Along with great guard play, the Wildcats also have a solid frontcourt, which should be an interesting battle with Rick Jackson and Fab Melo down low for SU. Sophomore Mouphtaou Yarou, at 6-10 and 250 pounds, grabs seven boards a game. Steady senior Antonia Pena also provides valuable minutes.

Syracuse officials said more than 33,000 tickets have been sold for this much anticipated contest, there is a good chance a record could be set once again. The first record was set March 5, 2006, when 33,633 showed up to watch former Orange standout Gerry McNamara play his final home game.

Meanwhile, student campers patiently wait for Saturday in the comfy confines of sleeping bags.

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