No matter where they're seeded in the bracket, Duke is never a team you count out as a possible title contender.
That blend of intimidation and respect is also felt around NJBIZ Brackets, the tournament that pits Garden State executives against one another as they root on their almae maters.
In one of the earlier games this year, Leslie Prentice, an attorney with Cole Schotz, of Hackensack, is pretty confident her alma mater, Duke, will win Friday against Albany when the teams tip off at 12:15 p.m.
But owing to the time, "I'm probably going to have to miss the game," she said.
Prentice graduated from Duke in 2007, and during her freshman year she took part in a Duke basketball tradition: camping outside the arena in tents to keep a place in line for tickets to the game. She camped for the month of January; "it was cold, but it was worth it just to be with my classmates. It's a really great experience for freshmen to get to know each other and participate in that Duke spirit."
A number of her fellow Duke alums live and work the metropolitan area, and may get together to watch the Blue Devils compete in the tournament. She has something else to look forward to, also: her five-year reunion in April, perhaps with an NJBIZ Brackets trophy in tow.
"I'm looking forward to reconnecting with everyone — and hopefully celebrating a championship," she said.
Interestingly, she's not the only one cheering on Duke in our executive tournament. Wes Lang shed no tears when his Bucknell Bisons lost to the Butler Bulldogs on Thursday. While he has "great love" Bucknell, "I have to give my undying allegiance to the Blue Devils," said Lang, with WML Partners
The '79 Bucknell grad is married to Mary Margaret Lang, a Duke grad, and two of their daughters graduated from the North Carolina school while a third is enrolled there now. A fourth daughter went to Stanford.
"Anything I would say that is not utterly supportive of Duke would not go down well in a house of five women," he said.
But Lang appears to be a true Blue Devils fan, talking enthusiastically about watching one of the best rivalries in college basketball, Duke against UNC, at Cameron Indoor Stadium.
"They're fun to watch, a terrific program," he said. "It's probably one of the most enjoyable venues for a college basketball game."
That's a sentiment Prentice can echo.
"Basketball was something that everyone could get excited about and rally around," she said. "The excitement is really contagious. Everyone gets really excited, the whole campus gets involved and it's a great way to get to know your classmates and have a common interest."