Ranking the Big Ten basketball arenas

In college basketball, the people make the venues.

The challenge of ranking college basketball venues is this: They're always changing. And, no, we're not talking about adding a Dippin' Dots station.

Think of it like the scene from "Sideways" when Maya speaks of her love of vino: "I like how wine continues to evolve. If I opened a bottle of wine today it would taste different than if I'd opened it on any other day, because a bottle of wine is actually alive."

What makes a great college arena isn't the number of chair-back seats or food options or HD video boards (although that helps). It's the people.

"You want great students and great fans," Michigan State coach Tom Izzo said. "You can have a nice facility, but what you really want are rabid, hard-nosed fans close to the court."

Purdue modernized Mackey Arena in 2007, adding 36 concession areas and nearly tripling the width of the concourses. All that's great, but the place was never better than in the '80s and '90s, when more than 14,000 packed the joint to see Gene Keady's comb-over.

Indiana's Assembly Hall remains, in the words of broadcaster Gus Johnson, "the Carnegie Hall of basketball" despite Tom Crean's 27-27 record there in Big Ten games. Its legend is built on the sound of 17,000-plus people losing their lungs, with one Big Ten coach saying: "Their 80-year-olds are like students."

"I like arenas that are loud and crazy," Michigan coach John Beilein said. "It's so loud in Crisler that I have to practice for home games with loud music. When we have the ball, we can't hear each other in our huddles."

Big Ten fans certainly aren't toning it down. The conference has led the nation in attendance for 38consecutive years, while setting a league record last season with an average of 13,534 fans per game, including the Big Ten tournament.

"Most of them, if not all of them, are sold out," Illinois coach John Groce said. "It's not like that in every league. Every night it's that way. That makes our league really special."

So keep this in mind while you peruse this list: You, the fan, are far more responsible than the architect, the player-intro music and the quality of the hot dog bun.

1. Assembly Hall, Indiana: The court is so simple. Other than the outline of the state of Indiana with an interlocking IU logo, it's just hardwood and lines, like Jimmy Chitwood might have designed it. Basketball is a religion in Indiana, and this is where 17,472 come to congregate. There's minimal seating behind the baskets, but the rows of seats between the end lines seem to go to the moon.

2. Kohl Center, Wisconsin: The cleverly named "Grateful Red" student section is one of the most ravenous and devoted in college basketball, helping build the 17,206-seat home of the Badgers into the toughest of Big Ten arenas. An 87.5 home winning percentage is as intimidating a statistic as any hot shooter's scoring average. The arena has witnessed merely 33 Wisconsin losses. With two overhanging balconies, the Kohl Center is unique yet modern with fantastic sightlines for fans.

3. Breslin Student Events Center, Michigan State: There's so much green, including the seats and padding of the basketball stanchions. The university could make more green from donors if it moved the 1,500 primo "Izzone" seats upstairs. The fired-up students, quality of the home team and smart design (corners cut on an angle for added intimacy) make this 15,000-seat arena a gem.

4. Williams Arena, Minnesota: On frigid winter nights, there's not a better place in Minneapolis to cozy up than "The Barn." Before 1992 renovations, fans all but rioted over the sacrilege idea of building a new arena. You have to appreciate old-school charm to put up with limited amenities and obstructed views in an arena constructed in 1928. But the raised court, tight seating and arched roof make for a one-of-a-kind atmosphere.

5. Mackey Arena, Purdue: A much-needed renovation in 2012 added wider concourses, four times the amount of concessions and a gigantic sports medicine facility. But Boilermakers faithful would show up to watch their team play H-O-R-S-E in a local YMCA. The last few down years proved the level of fan devotion as they still crowd the 14,264-seat arena. When Purdue is rolling, few arenas are as noisy.

6. Crisler Center, Michigan: "The House that Cazzie Built" is now a palace, thanks to a 2012 renovation that added 63,000 gross square feet of additional retail, private club space and, yes, an indoor waterfall. Students, often wearing highlighter-yellow shirts, wrap around the two benches.

7. State Farm Center, Illinois: When the $165 million renovation project is complete on the 17,000-seat spaceship-like dome, the Illini might boast one of the league's nicest arenas. Until then, give all credit to the rowdy and creative Orange Krush for earning Illinois a top-10 atmosphere. Sellouts are hardly common in Champaign, but the front-row student section adds an element of intimidation.

8. Xfinity Center, Maryland: Big Ten fans will quickly learn the Terrapins bring with them one of the nation's best home-court advantages. The animated student section lines the first 10 rows on all sides of the 17,950-seat arena. The steep seating on the west end is known as "The Wall." No opponent wants to shoot second-half free throws in that direction.

9. Pinnacle Bank Arena, Nebraska: The newest of Big Ten arenas also is the most posh. If the Cornhuskers can annually replicate last season's success, expect this $179 million dazzling arena, which is divided into upper and lower bowls, to consistently sell out its 15,000 seats. Part of the trendy Haymarket District that opened last year makes the arena a local hot spot. The state's football-obsessed fans are coming around.

10. Carver-Hawkeye Arena, Iowa: This is the Michigan Stadium of basketball venues, a single-deck sunken bowl where the big-money donors have a decent walk to their seats. Sunlight pours in during day games thanks to a tent-like section of the roof. The fans have returned following a dip from 2007-2011: A full house of 15,400 showed up for the Hawkeyes' second-round NIT game in 2013.

11. Value City Arena, Ohio State: It's technically called Value City Arena at the Jerome Schottenstein Center, a hideous amalgamation of words that speaks to the venue's lack of hominess. If you favor comfortable seats and clean bathrooms, "The Schott" is for you. Nothing about it represents college basketball.

T-12. Welsh-Ryan Arena, Northwestern and Louis Brown Athletic Center, Rutgers: Describe one, and you might as well be talking about another: About 8,000 seats. Inadequate parking. When the team is bad, the fans care more about the pros. Few modern amenities, though both recently joined the 21st century by adding state-of-the-art scoreboards. When the team is good and the opponent is compelling, the atmosphere is sensational. Jim Calhoun once called the "RAC" the "toughest venue in the Big East", and Izzo said of Welsh-Ryan: "It can be a raucous place."

14. Bryce Jordan Center, Penn State: The 15,261 seats here are about 11,000 too many. The school's annual charitable dance marathon brings more of a crowd to Bryce Jordan — rightly so — than basketball games do. During the Big Ten season, those empty seats in a cavernous arena are just sad reminders for Nittany Lions fans that football season still is months away.

Copyright © 2017, CT Now
57°