College basketball’s toughest venues
As if battling a roster full of future pros isn’t tough enough, opponents face another obstacle each time they enter Kansas’ Allen Fieldhouse.
“You’ll look at your coach, and his lips are moving, but you can’t hear him,” former Texas forward Gary Johnson said. “I’ve never experienced anything like that before. It’s just so, so loud.”
Perhaps that’s why the Jayhawks won a national-best 69 straight games before Texas ended the streak in January. From the ear-piercing shrieks of 16,300 fans to the goose-bump-inducing pregame video to the retired jerseys of Wilt Chamberlain, Paul Pierce and others that hang in the rafters, no college basketball venue in the country is as intimidating as Allen Fieldhouse.
That’s not to say there aren’t other arenas that deserve to be in the conversation.
Here’s my list of the 10 toughest road environments in college basketball. Remember, this list could change from year-to-year based on the current state of a program. Oklahoma State’s Gallagher-Iba Arena, for example, would’ve been a lock to appear in this ranking several years ago. But it hasn’t been quite as daunting in recent years. Then there are the venues such as Rupp Arena that will always been on this list no matter what.
Allen Fieldhouse, Kansas – The Jayhawks have won 75 of their last 76 games in the historic barn, which has no doubt played a role in Kansas claiming seven straight Big 12 titles. The “Rock Chalk” chant is an age-old tradition, but the most impressive thing recently is the pregame video featuring highlights from some of Kansas’ greatest players and most memorable games. Worried that his team would be awestruck and rattled by the video, Baylor coach Scott Drew once pulled his team off the court as it played.
Cameron Indoor Stadium, Duke – The Blue Devils’ home arena may not get as loud as Allen Fieldhouse – heck, it only seats 9,314 – but it comes close. Duke’s venue is equally intimidating in a completely differently way. Instead of wealthy donors, the prime courtside seats are occupied by students who make it their mission to mercilessly taunt opposing players. Diehards often brave sub-freezing temperatures to camp out in tents outside the arena in an area known as “Krzyzewskiville.”
Carrier Dome, Syracuse – The Sea of Orange is a site to behold at an arena that seats 33,000 fans. The Carrier Dome is the nation’s largest on-campus basketball venue. A total of 34,616 fans flocked to the arena in 2010 to see the Orange defeat Villanova. It was the largest on-campus attendance ever for a college basketball game.
Kohl Center, Wisconsin – The Badgers have been one of the most consistent programs in the Big Ten during the past decade. Their arena is one of the main reasons why. The Kohl Center has sold out its last 138 games and the Badgers are 152-11 there under Bo Ryan. That includes a 78-6 mark in conference play. Usually games aren’t even close, as 108 of Wisconsin’s last 138 home wins have been by double digits. The “Grateful Red” student section is one of the most notorious in the league.
The Pit, New Mexico – The Lobos’ program may not have the tradition and history of Kansas, Duke or Kentucky. But its arena, which opened in 1966, can be just as menacing as the ones in Lawrence, Durham and Lexington. More than 55,000 cubic yards of dirt were removed when The Pit was dug before 28,000 yards of concrete was poured to construct the venue. The unique design helps elevate the noise level.
Rupp Arena, Kentucky – Nicknamed the “Cathedral of Basketball,” Rupp Arena is the largest arena in the United States built specifically for hoops. The venue’s 23,500 seats are often filled by celebrities such as Ashley Judd, which gives Wildcats’ games a “big-time” feel. Kentucky is 460-60 all-time at Rupp Arena, which was built in 1976. Historic and awe-striking as the building may be for fans, it’s not quite as intimidating for opposing players as the aforementioned arenas.
Comcast Center, Maryland – The Terps’ program has struggled a bit in recent years, but that hasn’t damaged the environment at the Comcast Center, which is home to some of the rowdiest fans in all of college basketball. Student seating is based on a points system that rewards loyalty, which means the most passionate fans get the best seats. No wonder Maryland upsets so many highly ranked teams at home. The Comcast Center has a capacity of 17,950.
Petersen Events Center, Pittsburgh – Almost any Big East player will tell you that “The Pete” is one of the toughest places to play in the league. Pittsburgh won 31 straight home games from 2008-2010 and is 149-12 at “The Pete” since it opened in 2002. One of the toughest things about the arena is that the fans are so close to the court.
Mackey Arena, Purdue – The Boilermakers home isn’t as flashy or gaudy as some of the more modern, updated venues. But that gives it character. Purdue’s student section is highly underrated in terms of rowdiness and passion. The Boilermakers went 16-0 at home last season and defeated a pair of top 10 teams (Ohio State and Wisconsin) in the same week.
Bramlage Coliseum, Kansas State – A straw poll of Big 12 coaches indicated that the Wildcats’ arena has surpassed Oklahoma State as the second-toughest place to play in the conference – at least for now. Even though he was only in Manhattan for a year, the hiring of Bob Huggins rejuvenated interest in Kansas State’s program, and fans became even more passionate when new coach Frank Martin and star forward Michael Beasley led the Wildcats to the NCAA tournament the following year. The buzz has yet to die down at Bramlage, which has been nicknamed “The Octagon of Doom.”
Also in the conversation: The Dean E. Smith Center, North Carolina; Gallagher-Iba Arena, Oklahoma State; The Pavilion, Villanova; The McKale Center, Arizona; The Breslin Center, Michigan State; Assembly Hall, Illinois; Memorial Gymnasium, Vanderbilt; Frank Erwin Center, Texas; Marriott Center, BYU; FedEx Forum, Memphis.
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