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Basketball Madness Charges Into City

Each school sells tickets to the top donors, so, for most fans, the only shot at a ticket will come outside the arena on game days.

UNC has more than 8,000 alumni in the area. Virginia Tech has more than 25,000, and U-Md. has close to 150,000 in Maryland, Virginia and the District.

The Florida State dance team gears up for the ACC tournament, which starts Thursday at MCI Center. It will be the first time in nearly 20 years the tournament will be held here. (Sarah L. Voisin - The Washington Post)

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Laine Thomas, a Wake Forest alumna who helped organize the ACC party at Dream last night, said: "For the casual fan in the D.C. area, it's coming at a good time. . . . It's making D.C. a more well-rounded sports town rather than just a football town. . . . It's going to be a tremendous spring for D.C."

Every spring is a tremendous spring in North Carolina, where, it seems, there are no casual fans. "Everything pretty much stops for the ACC tournament," Taylor said.

Taylor arrived at the Crystal City Sports Pub three hours before the UNC-Duke game Sunday to get a table -- and he's an N.C. State fan.

At Duke, students camp out in tents for days to get tickets; at UNC, an elaborate lottery system with numbered bracelets brings sleepy students out at dawn for a chance to buy a seat.

Even Sundays are no exception, Thomasson said; ministers have been known to do quickie sermons so folks can catch a big game's tip-off.

During halftime of Sunday's televised game, people in Carolina blue Converse high tops and matching baby-blue cashmere got up to get more beer at the Crystal City Sports Pub. They were in the heart of Northern Virginia, but their blue cups were shipped in from a legendary Chapel Hill, N.C., bar called He's Not Here.

Lindsay Mather shook 75 $100 raffle chips in a bucket; the prize was two luxury box seats for the entire tournament. With her hands clasped and her eyes closed, Cori Ahrens said: "Come on . . . come on . . ." and then yelped along with everyone else when the winning number was called.

"I'm devastated," Ahrens said, drooping. Then she smiled. "That's okay. I'll get some somehow." After all, she said, "when's it going to be in D.C. again?"

Then everyone was watching the game again, yelling, pleading and, with a dramatic win by UNC at the end, jumping up and down and hugging.

Even Taylor, who, ever the loyal N.C. State fan, hates both teams, was smiling. It's March. It's tournament time. And he'll find some way to get into the ACC tournament. "I've been excited about this for years," he said. "I've been counting down."

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