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Orange-gold fight for tickets ;Big contingent of Syracuse, West Virginia fans expected for games here due to short drive, boosting demand, price

Expect to see a Big Orange parade of basketball fanatics heading west on the Thruway all day Friday to watch their beloved Syracuse team wage battle in the first round of the NCAA Tournament.

And coming from the south, clad in gold and blue, will be a large continent of Mountaineers from West Virginia.

The fan bases from both schools will be flocking to Buffalo to celebrate their teams' respective No. 1 and No. 2 seedings in the NCAA Tournament. And they will be toasting the fortunate geography; people can drive here from Syracuse in 2 1/2 hours, from Morgantown in five.

And to think that this was a three-session basketball event that wasn't even sold out two weeks ago.

Each of the eight schools coming to Buffalo -- Syracuse, West Virginia, Clemson, Gonzaga, Florida State, Missouri, Morgan State and Vermont -- receives about 550 tickets for its team's games.

Those get gobbled up quickly, usually by team members, coaches, their families, university officials and large donors, before fewer than 100 typically are sold to students.

That ticket supply, at least for Syracuse and West Virginia, barely makes a dent in the demand.

"We could sell thousands of tickets if we had them," said Matt Wells, sports marketing director at West Virginia. "I think you will see a tremendous amount of [West Virginia] gold and blue. This is obviously an easy trip for a large portion of our fan base."

And Syracuse, whose fan appeal extends all the way across the Thruway, gets almost as close as it can to having a home game here. The pro-Syracuse crowd for Friday night's game is expected to include Syracuse's large local alumni, its considerable Western New York fan base and folks driving in from Syracuse.

"I wouldn't say it's a home game, but the reason I say that is that the [Carrier] Dome is such a special venue," said Pete Moore, Syracuse's director of athletic communications. "But I would definitely expect it to be a pro-Syracuse crowd."

And that's just for the crowd inside HSBC Arena.

True college basketball fanatics are known for following their teams around, on the slim chance they can score a ticket.

"There's definitely a large group of [Syracuse] people who will come just to be around," Moore said. "If they can't get a ticket, they'll go to the Anchor Bar, just to say, 'My team was there. I couldn't get a ticket, but I was there.' "

So how much are tickets going to go for, on the streets and in the new secondary market of online ticket sales?

The easy answer is that placing Syracuse and West Virginia in Buffalo will hike the resale value to at least double, triple or even quadruple the face price, experts in the field say.

Every regular seat in the arena sold originally for $219, or $73 for each of the three doubleheaders. That means some ticket holders might be able to attend two of the three sessions, sell the other doubleheader -- especially if it includes a Syracuse game -- and break even, or make a small profit.

"The fact that we're sold out immediately doubles the price on the secondary market," said John R. Sinclair, the Buffalo Sabres' ticket operations director. "When you look at the proximity of the teams coming here, the brokers know they can dictate the market."

"I would imagine they're going to take a $73 ticket and sell it for more than the $219," he added. "So one session will pay for all the sessions."

The roof may blow off the ticket ceiling if Syracuse and West Virginia both win Friday, putting them into the Sunday doubleheader, although not against each other.

"Sunday will be one of the hottest tickets we've ever had, assuming Syracuse and West Virginia both win," said Marty Maloney, the Sabres' box office manager. "If they both advance, I would think the 300 Level tickets would go in the $500 range."

Here are some basic facts about the tickets for this weekend's games:

HSBC Arena seats 18,907 people for basketball. That's a little more than 200 above the hockey capacity, because of the extra seats placed inside the hockey boards.

About 13,000 of those seats were made available to the public in a lottery, with the roughly 6,000 other seats going to the participating schools, the NCAA and its corporate partners, including CBS.

Everyone who entered the public lottery this year got tickets. Unlike the first three times Buffalo was host for tournament games, in 2000, 2004 and 2007, some tickets still remained after the lottery.

"We were probably sitting on the last 1,000 seats for a couple of months, but we were talking about the last few rows of the upper deck," said Daniel J. DiPofi, the Sabres' chief operating officer.

Those tickets disappeared after the blogging world disclosed that Syracuse was likely to be placed here as a No. 1 seed, partly because the Orange isn't allowed to play in the next two rounds in Syracuse.

Officials at both Syracuse and West Virginia explained why so few tickets are made available to students.

At both schools, the first group of tickets goes to players, coaches, their families and the university traveling party. The next goes to the highest level of athletic department donors who have bought season tickets. Then come the students. Wells estimated two to three dozen tickets would be sold to West Virginia students today, while Syracuse expects to sell 50 to 75 tickets to its students.

But that won't stop the Syracuse orange and the West Virginia gold and blue from getting on the Internet and paying the big bucks. Expect to see a lot of those colors in and around the arena this weekend.

e-mail: gwarner@buffnews.com

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