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Brisk ticket sales, national polls & watch lists reflect high expectations
It didn’t quite fall under the category of a “stampede,” but “mad rush” adequately describes what transpired last week when tickets for Syracuse’s home men’s basketball game against Duke went on sale.
Mike Waters, Orange beat writer for the Syracuse Post-Standard, reported that single-game tickets for the Feb. 1 contest were gone in a matter of minutes. Those quick sales, combined with season ticket holders, virtually guarantees a sold out game and shattering of the Carrier Dome basketball and NCAA on-campus attendance mark of 35,012 set last season against Georgetown.
Less than 2,000 seats remain for Syracuse’s Jan. 11 home game against North Carolina, meaning the Orange will draw close to 70,000 fans for two playing dates.
“We're in the ACC. We're excited about it,” Syracuse head coach Jim Boeheim said. “Our fans are obviously excited about it. We're selling more season tickets than we've sold in a long time.
“There's more excitement about Duke, Carolina, these schools coming in. The players are excited to be in this league. I think the coaches are. It's just a tremendous challenge. It's a great league. You want to be in the best league you can be in. This is, I believe, the best league.”
The excitement at Syracuse is shared by alumni and fans of fellow ACC newcomer Notre Dame, which also reports a dramatic rise in ticket sales over this point in time last season. Ticket sales have also been steady at Pitt, which is on the verge of selling out all of its home games for a 12th straight season.
But the excitement isn’t confined to the ACC’s newest teams. Defending champion Miami’s ticket sales are also up dramatically, and nine other conference schools reported sales either increasing slightly or matching what were already impressive 2012 totals.
Florida State head coach Leonard Hamilton predicts buyers will be getting their money’s worth.
“You're going to have Final Four-type atmospheres in a competitive nature unlike what you've seen,” Hamilton said in reference to the arrivals of Notre Dame, Pitt, Syracuse and, in 2014, Louisville. “I think the new teams bring that aura to our league that is going to make a great conference amazing.”
The USA Today Preseason Coaches Top 25 ranks Duke fourth, Syracuse seventh, North Carolina 11th, Notre Dame 22nd and Virginia 25th. Pitt placed eighth among the teams also receiving votes.
“The teams that we brought in are great programs, they're not just good teams,” Clemson coach Brad Brownell said. “Notre Dame, Syracuse and Pitt aren't just good every once in a while. They're good every year. They have established basketball programs with great coaches and they're at schools that are committed to it. They're committed to basketball. They put money into it. Their fans support it. It's important to them. They're good every year. When you add that with the kind of programs we already have here, it makes for a lot of excitement. It makes this what we all think is the best league in college basketball.”
With ticket sales, polls and critical acclaim providing a trifecta of favorable early returns, Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski stressed that the new-look ACC still has to prove itself once the games begin on Nov. 8 – and beyond.
“I think right now we are the best conference,” Krzyzewski said. “We need to do what we should be doing to make sure we feel that way in January and in April and two years from now. Instead of just saying it, I think we now need to do it.
“It will be interesting to see how that all develops. But the potential is here for some greatness. The instant rivalries that are being created as a result of that expansion for basketball in the ACC is remarkable.”
WOMEN’S GAME UP AS WELL
ACC men’s basketball doesn’t have a monopoly when it comes to high expectations Five ACC squads (Duke, Notre Dame, Maryland, North Carolina, Georgia Tech) are ranked in at least one preseason media poll by USA Today, Lindy’s Sports, Athlon Sports or Sporting News. Duke, Notre Dame, and Maryland are all ranked in the top 10 of all four preseason polls.
"There are seven ACC teams, including Notre Dame and Syracuse, that reached the NCAA tournament last year, and we could easily top that number this year with the development that every team in the league has shown,” said Notre Dame head coach Muffet McGraw.
The ACC led all conferences with six student-athletes named to the 2013-14 preseason “Wade Watch” list of candidates for the sport’s Player of the Year honor by the Women’s Basketball Coaches Association.
Two-time ACC Player of the Year Alyssa Thomas of Maryland was among the 25 players on the list, along with Duke senior guard Chelsea Gray and junior center/forward Elizabeth Williams, Georgia Tech senior guard Tyaunna Marshall, and Notre Dame senior forward Natalie Achonwa and senior guard Kayla McBride. The ACC also leads all conferences with nine student-athletes named to the 30-member John Wooden Award preseason watch list.
“There's a reason why the ACC is the best conference in the country, and it's because the competition and quality of play you're going to see every single night and in every single ACC game is going to be just outstanding,” McGraw said.