Maybe the best team in the country. Maybe the best player in the country. Maybe the best coach in the country. Might Duke also have the best fans in the country? Even in Duke’s uncharacteristic 87-84 loss last Saturday, it was easy for Hoya fans to see why college basketball pundits are never lacking praise for J.J. Redick, Coach Mike Krzyzewski and the rest of the Blue Devil men. It was also hard to miss the presence of the many Duke supporters who made the 250-mile trek to MCI Center. For Blue Devil fans like Dave Craig, a Gaithersburg, Md. native who graduated from Duke in 1984, the game was “a great opportunity to watch Duke basketball with the whole family. It’s tough to get tickets at Cameron.” After all, Cameron Indoor Stadium, the home of Duke basketball for 66 years, is the quintessential college basketball arena. With a capacity of 9,300, Cameron provides an intimate locale for games but also a challenge for the multitude of Duke fanatics looking for tickets. The more than 20,000 seats at CI Center afforded many Cameron Crazies and Cameron Crazy-wannabes a chance to see their favorite team. Of course, a game at MCI isn’t exactly the same. “Cameron Indoor is pretty small and they pack people in, so the atmosphere is really electric,” Duke freshman Taylor Field said. “Plus, when people have been waiting in line for four or five hours, or sleeping in tents just to get in, they’re pretty excited once the game gets going.” At Duke, students regularly camp out in tents, in an area outside Cameron nicknamed “Krzyzewskiville,” for good seats to games. With the team barely into its conference schedule, Field says that “there are a lot of people `tenting’ already.” Many loyal Dukies displayed that hallmark enthusiasm by arriving early at MCI, and almost all were wearing some combination of Duke apparel and royal blue clothing. They were, for the most part, booed and chastised by the masses of Georgetown students who waited outside the arena to claim seats when the doors opened. Yet the echoes of the Hoya faithful were often matched by their blue-clad counterparts. An intermittent “Let’s go Duke” was surprisingly loud at points during the game, and an Associated Press writer estimated that the crowd was “nearly all Blue Devil blue in the upper deck.” Joey Link, Seth Weston and Sean Hess, all 16, were decked out head-to-toe in blue: jersey, face paint, sunglasses and wig. The three fans have no academic connection to Duke – “I’ve loved the team ever since I was little. Maybe I wore a Duke bib?” ponders Weston – yet they made the four-hour trip from Norfolk, Va. “It’s just so close to town,” explains Link. “We had to see them play.” Deb Bonser, a Duke alumna from Rockville, Md. was not surprised by the magnitude of Blue Devil representation at Saturday’s game. “When you’re a fan, your schedule revolves around watching the Duke basketball games,” she said. Yet this game was surely unlike any other. For one, Duke entered the contest undefeated and ready to make history by securing its first 18-game undefeated streak. “We came to see Duke win, their 18th win,” Bonser said before tip-off. And, of course, Duke lost. any Blue Devils fans made a quick exit out of the arena, avoiding the joyous maelstrom of Georgetown students and fans. A raised index finger was the typical response to antagonistic banter from the victorious fans, recognizing the team’s top ranking. Fans remained stoic. “If we were to lose, this was the best possible way,” said Jeffrey Harris, a Duke junior. “We made some critical `rookie’ mistakes that can be corrected with the good coaching that we definitely have.”For us, it’s all about the postseason. That’s why nobody is too distraught,” he added. “That’s the way college basketball is set up.”We had to lose sometime,” said Duke freshman Amanda Magli, “and it’s better now than in March.” Is it denial? Or is it simply a sign of the security of a fan base who have witnessed years of NCAA success? Do routine appearances on national television and 178 polls’ worth of top-25 rankings harden a team’s supporters? They’ve certainly made Duke easy to root against. A version of the anti-Duke sentiment that regularly rouses campuses at College Park and Chapel Hill was visible even at Georgetown in the days surrounding the game. Though Hoya fans were calmer than most, few could avoid seeing the “J.J. Wears Uggs” sign hanging prominently from a Copley Hall window, or an entire student section of THE HOYA`s “Beat Duke” signs at the game. While Duke may have its own well-defined and thriving college basketball legacy, Georgetown fans inevitably stirred up memories of its own team’s heyday and tradition. If last weekend was a sign of things to come, maybe Georgetown fans are closer than expected to the big-time college basketball culture of Durham, N.C.

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