Safe at Home in Buffalo

Words by Thomas Chalmers
Photo courtesy of Alex Burns

Diehard Orange fan Alex burns shows
off his typical get-up before a Syracuse
basketball game.

Fueled by a home crowd atmosphere, the Orange avoids an upset-laden first two rounds of this year’s March Madness tournament.

Underdogs, buzzer-beaters, and general mayhem are the calling cards of an exciting NCAA Men’s Division I Basketball Tournament. With college basketball fans across the country following the rise of Ivy League member Cornell to the Sweet Sixteen and the fall of No. 1 Kansas to Northern Iowa, the 2010 NCAA Tournament has delivered more than its fair share of thrills and bracket-busting upsets.

Following a No. 1 seed’s journey through the tournament is a completely different experience because of this rising parity in men’s college basketball. In the one-and-done competition, nothing is guaranteed.

For sophomore computer science major Alex Burns, this year’s March Madness comes with both the exhilaration of potentially seeing a mid-major knock off a perennial powerhouse, and the pressure and anxiety in supporting a tournament favorite. As a hardcore college basketball fan, Burns traditionally pulls for David to shoot down Goliath, but this year it’s completely different. His loyalty for the Orange has him not just rooting for Goliath, but hoping to see him absolutely flatten David. A weekend of few-to-no surprises is exactly what Burns hoped to see when he traveled to Buffalo, N.Y., to see Syracuse’s first and second round games.

“With the Orange as a [No.] 1 seed, it almost would have been disappointing if they didn’t blow out their opponents because I wouldn’t have faith in the team going forward,” Burns said.

Much to the delight of Burns and the rest of the Orange crowd at HSBC Arena last weekend, Syracuse delivered a couple of blowouts, silencing any panic-inducing thoughts of an upset.

“The games both felt like home games, although without the large student section,” Burns said. “But we certainly tried to make noise like the crowd at the Dome.”

Orange fans immediately set the vibe of the two games, clapping to the traditional “Welcome to the Jungle” cadence at tip-off, even though the song was not played overhead. During their second round match-up against Gonzaga, the Orange received a Carrier Dome-like standing ovation at each timeout.

“The crowd was at least three-quarters Syracuse fans,” said Burns. “The team got individual shout-outs [after beating Gonzaga] from the main Syracuse fan section as they left the court. All of the players seemed to appreciate it.”

Because Syracuse fans dominated the stands, the other teams playing in Buffalo enjoyed a largely apathetic crowd, sticking around for the possibility of a legendary March Madness buzzer beaters. Of the other seven teams playing in Buffalo, only the West Virginia University campus, six hours southeast, was within a reasonable day’s drive away.

Even though Syracuse enjoyed two blowouts, and essentially home victories, the HSBC Arena experience for longtime NCAA bracket maniacs left something to be desired. Of the six games played at the Buffalo site, only one game was reasonably close. The Florida State Seminoles rallied in the last ten minutes of their first round game against Gonzaga to make the contest somewhat interesting for the pro- Orange crowd. There were no court-rushes, buzzer- beaters, or captivating upsets that has made the NCAA Tournament an annual national phenomenon.

“I really enjoyed the experience, and I think it was worth the $146 price tag, but it would have been enhanced if I was a fan of an underdog, especially one who pulled an upset,” said Burns. “I’m not going to claim it as anything super memorable, but as I said before, as a No. 1 seed I’d rather that the team go deep into the tournament and hopefully have a shot at the title.”

For Orange fans everywhere, this serves as a reminder that Syracuse’s madness is still to be enjoyed. With the team now four wins away from a national championship, an Andy Rautins game-winning, half- court three-pointer is still well within the realm of possibility. Just hopefully not until the Final Four in Indianapolis—a mere ten hours’ drive for Burns and the rest of the Orange faithful.

Diehard Orange fan Alex Burns shows off his typical get-up
before a Syracuse basketball game.

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