Home-court advantage goes out the window during tourney time. As the spotlight grows brighter, the setting switches to a neutral location and the nation's best fanbases rise up.
College hoops' most passionate followers provide the vibe that makes March Madness so special. Drama on the court surrounded by a fanatical frenzy of face-painted undergrads and screaming alumni.
An array of elements go into the evolution of a great fanbase. Historical relevance helps; so does sustained program success and traditions shared by the masses.
This isn't a knock on any of the other 58 fanbases that have dreams of this tournament ending in a national championship celebration on their campus. There's no doubt alums from every participating school are digging out old college apparel from the closet and walking around with an extra portion of pride this week.
Here are 10 fanbases that stand above the rest for what they bring to the bleachers and beyond. Remember, the door is closed for fans of teams that were left out of the tourney (yes, I know Kentucky has stellar supporters).
The Oakland Zoo reigns in Pittsburgh.
A 12-year effort to increase the intensity of the team's fanbase resulted in one of the nation's most feared cheering sections. What started as a movement involving hundreds of fans now features thousands of passionate Panthers supporters, who stand out in a variety of ways.
Zoo members make sure to post gravestone cutouts of opponents who met their demise at the Petersen Events Center. Pittsburgh enjoyed another successful season at the Pete, compiling a 16-3 record on its home court.
“The Zoo has been unbelievable; it just keeps getting bigger and better,” Pittsburgh coach Jamie Dixon told Syracuse.com reporter Donna Ditota. “We are thankful for the support they have been giving all the way through.”
Creighton is often an underrated squad, so it's fitting the team's fans also fly under the radar. The program began competing in 1916 and has appeared in 18 NCAA tournaments in seven different decades.
Aside from an expansive basketball history, the school annually boasts some of the top attendance numbers in the nation. Creighton ranked sixth in the country last season with an average of 16,665 fans per home game.
That mark set a Missouri Valley Conference record.
Creighton is the only mid-major team listed among the top 15 college basketball attendance totals in the country for the 2011-12 season. Bluejays faithful also follow the team from campus to campus for matchups throughout the Midwest.
The bandwagon is growing bigger every year. Creighton experienced an uptick of more than 3,000 fans per home game between 2011 and 2012, one of the most substantial increases in the country.
Michigan State's return to national prominence under head coach Tom Izzo also welcomed in another one of the latest student section phenomenons. The "Izzone" has been known to camp out for tickets, a trait shared by many fanbases on this list, and keeps the Breslin Center rocking throughout games.
Over the years, the team's fanbase has included several memorable characters, including the Green Man Group (using paint, not the suit) and Spartan Pope. The Spartans have always been able to count on supporters packing neutral sites during March Madness, which is a key qualifier for any great group of crazed college hoops fans.
Throughout decades of frigid winters in upstate New York, Syracuse fans have flocked to the Carrier Dome. The arena is one of the most unique settings in the sport and also houses the Orange football team.
Set against a cavernous backdrop, the Carrier Dome provides a a big-time feel for any game. Syracuse supporters have no problem filling the basketball facility on a consistent basis.
The team drew the second-most fans in the nation last year, averaging 23,618 attendees per game. Loyal Orange enthusiasts are sprinkled throughout the Northeast.
Although I live more than 350 miles south of Syracuse, I saw at least six people donning Syracuse apparel Saturday in advance of the Big East title game. This fanbase is more familiar with the face of their program than most.
Hall of Fame coach Jim Boeheim has been a member of the Syracuse staff since 1969. He previously suited up for the Orange as a guard from 1962-66.
The connection between Boeheim and his team's abundant fanbase creates a unique situation at Syracuse.
There are a lot of brutally corny nicknames for student sections across the country. Critics be damned, "The Grateful Red" is not one of them.
This collection of Badgers fanatics does a great job of creating one of the most adverse road environments you'll find in college sports. Wisconsin fans can routinely be seen in the arenas of conference opponents as well, many sporting the trademark tie-dyed T-shirts.
The Grateful Red razzes visiting rivals but isn't afraid to call out fellow Wisconsin supporters when the Kohl Center becomes a little too quiet. Student sections across the country should take note of one Wisconsin chant in particular—"Old people, stand up!"
It isn't just students who make Wisconsin's fanbase elite. The school packs its basketball arena to the brim, ranking fifth nationally in 2012 with 17,181 fans per home game.
It's rare to find a persistently raucous crowd like the one that awaits opponents at Assembly Hall. Highlighted by the "Orange Krush" cheering section, the Illini are bolstered by a devoted fanbase that travels well for tournament games.
A 2006 Sports Illustrated feature recalls the time Orange Krush members bought a large portion of tickets for a road game at Michigan, posing as a Chicago youth group until tipoff. This year, fans invaded Evanston incognito and stunned the crowd at Northwestern.
Sneak attacks like that set this bunch apart.
The Illini basketball community has also raised more than $1 million through the Orange Krush Foundation, which receives a donation from each member with each made three-pointer. It presented a $50,000 scholarship to the Jimmy V Foundation in 2005.
Beyond the heckling, this group gets it done.
First off, who doesn't love that Carolina blue? Aside from looking good in team colors, Tar Heels fans truly belong to a nationwide congregation.
North Carolina has churned out superstars and championships for decades, producing more fans with each generation. Let's face it, unless you're raised in a house with hardcore alumni fans, you're probably going to lean toward the country's most successful squads.
The Tar Heels' national presence perennially puts the team in good position to garner support along the tourney trail. During the regular season, fans flood the Dean Dome and demonstrate what it means to attend a "big-time" basketball school.
North Carolina has run the table at home four times since 1985, carrying the team to a slew of high seeds in the NCAA tournament.
Canada holds hockey holy above all sports. Texas treats football like a religion. Indiana has basketball.
The Hoosiers brand spans more than a century and hit its crescendo when coaching legend Bobby Knight led the program to three national titles between 1976 and 1987.
Assembly Hall (not to be confused with the arena of the same name in Champaign) should be a stop on any pilgrimage of a die-hard college hoops fan. The building has hosted some remarkable basketball history, and Indiana fans pack the place.
Indiana has ranked among the nation's top 15 in attendance since Assembly Hall opened its doors in 1971. It's always amazing to watch Hoosiers faithful work their way into a frenzied state during the final stretch of a tight Big Ten battle.
All schools have the support of their students. The Hoosiers have an entire state behind them.
No fanbase is more revered or reviled than the collection of supporters known simply as the Cameron Crazies. Duke is recognized as an institution for students who excel in the classroom, but they are equally effective in the department of taunting.
The Blue Devils are backed by a storied student section known for its tendency to camp out days in advance for first dibs on tickets. Duke fans have routinely been deemed as one of the most offensive welcoming parties for opposing players and coaches.
The Crazies seem to embrace the title, and it's been great for the game's entertainment value over the years. Duke has gained a nearly unrivaled national following during recent decades, as Coach K has continued his onslaught of college records and collected four national championships.
Blue Devils fans across the country are once again riled up for the promise of another deep NCAA tournament run. A notoriously relentless student section and a crowded bandwagon make Duke's fanbase one of the best every season.
Kansas is the most historically relevant hoops program in the country. James Naismith, who founded the team while serving as the school's chapel director, is credited with inventing the sport and wrote the original basketball rulebook.
The head start enabled Kansas to build one of the nation's most successful programs and arguably the largest fanbase in the land. The Jayhawks claim more winning seasons than any NCAA squad and have reached the Final Four on 14 occasions.
Opposing teams can forget about capturing a road win at Allen Fieldhouse, the 58-year-old hoops shrine that packs in an average of more than 16,000 fans each game. The Jayhawks enjoyed a 69-game win streak in the building under coach Bill Self, setting a Big 12 record.
Kansas also claims one of the nation's longest sell-out streaks.
Fans deservedly earned their reputation as a boisterous bunch by maintaining a variety of traditions. None rank higher than the time-tested "Rock Chalk Jayhawk" chants that shake the Fieldhouse and fuel the basketball team.