SYRACUSE, N.Y. -- When Villanova (No. 8 ESPN/USA Today, No. 7 AP) enters the Carrier Dome for Saturday night's game against No. 4 Syracuse, the Wildcats will be caught in an orange wave bigger than any other in the building's basketball history.
A crowd of 34,616 is expected, the largest on campus for an NCAA game, and would mark the fourth time in the past seven years that Syracuse has set an attendance record. Fans will be given orange minitowels when they step through the turnstiles.
"We just want the fans to get in their seats and wave them," said Juli Boeheim, wife of Orange head coach Jim Boeheim.
Capacity for basketball in the Carrier Dome is listed at 33,000, but on March 9, 2003, 33,071 fans attended the final game of the regular season against Rutgers as part of an attempt to convince freshman star Carmelo Anthony to stay in school another year.
A month later, Anthony hoisted the national championship trophy inside the Louisiana Superdome after leading the Orange past Kansas in the title game. He left for the NBA anyway.
Nearly two years later -- on Feb. 5, 2005 -- that mark was eclipsed when 33,199 showed up for the Syracuse-Notre Dame game.
"That was my first game. I thought, 'Am I at the Final Four?"' said Syracuse athletic director Daryl Gross, who had been on the job for just over a month. "I just loved it."
When ESPN announced it would bring College GameDay to the Carrier Dome for that game, the university marketing department began a "Break the Record" campaign and fans responded. It was the 60th basketball crowd of more than 30,000 since the Carrier Dome opened in 1980, and that number should rise to 68 this weekend.
The current record of 33,633 was set in Gerry McNamara's final home game, also against Villanova, on March 5, 2006. The Orange lost that one, 92-82.
McNamara was one of the most popular players in school history, beloved as much in Syracuse as in his hometown of Scranton, Pa. Scores of busloads from the Scranton-Wilkes-Barre area regularly made the two-hour trip north several times for games during his impressive career.
Gross has envisioned moving the basketball court to the 50-yard line of the football field and attracting a crowd of 50,000 or more for a game some day. It's a possibility, but advance planning is a necessity and so far the school hasn't taken that step.
The game Saturday night is termed a sellout, with tickets capped at 34,616 because the university didn't want to sell seats that don't have a full view of the court.
Tickets are still available online. According to Stubhub.com spokesperson Joellen Ferrer, the company was logging nearly double the average number of page views for the game. Sales were three times greater than the previous top-selling Syracuse home game, against Georgetown on Valentine's Day last year.
"We have seen the ticket demand steadily rise all week, to heights we have not seen [for a Syracuse game] in our company's 9½-year history," Ferrer said Thursday. "It shows the fans are still looking for tickets."
Ferrer said the overall average price fans had paid was just over $160, with the top ticket at $750 for a seat in Section A124 near the center of Jim Boeheim Court. She said normal prices for a Syracuse game range from $8 to $160.
"Some fans bought tickets as early as September," Ferrer said.
"They certainly got a deal."
Entering the 2009-10 season, Syracuse had attracted more than 11.6 million fans to the Carrier Dome for basketball, an average of 22,875 per game. The top home crowd this season was 31,053 for Louisville on Valentine's Day.