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Ranking the 25 Best College Basketball Towns in America

Thad NovakCorrespondent IJanuary 13, 2017

Ranking the 25 Best College Basketball Towns in America

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    With 347 teams in Division I, there’s no shortage of places to find college basketball. Some towns, however, provide a much more impressive experience than others when it comes to on-court action and off-court craziness.

    Unsurprisingly, Kentucky—long a hoops mecca and home to the last two national champs—has a couple of serious contenders for top honors. Both Lexington and Louisville have grand traditions on the hardwood, but will either one claim the top spot?

    Read on to see which cities top the charts as the best in college hoops. Each locale is rated for the quality of its team (or teams), the devotion of its fanbase (especially when it comes to giving the home team an edge) and the ease with which college basketball outshines the other local sports options.

25. New York, NY

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    Teams: B+

    St. John’s headlines group of mid-level programs. The real reason the Big Apple makes this list, though, is Madison Square Garden’s time-honored role as host of the NIT finals (preseason and postseason) and the Big East tournament.

     

    Fans: B+

    New Yorkers know hoops like few others, but they’ve been at their most vocal—as pictured—in support of out-of-town Syracuse in the Big East tourney (now a relic of the past, unfortunately).

     

    Competition: D

    Pro sports epicenter makes it tough for college hoops to take center stage.

24. Los Angeles, CA

3 of 26

    Teams: A+

    It doesn’t get better than the tradition at UCLA (still a major contender despite two down years), and USC has had occasional strong teams of its own.

     

    Fans: B

    Notoriously fickle town has been of little help to the Bruins during their recent slump.

     

    Competition: D-

    Not only are there two NBA teams to worry about, but USC football overshadows many of the local pro squads.

23. Indianapolis, IN

4 of 26

    Teams: B

    IUPUI makes little impact here, and Butler (though one of the nation’s hottest programs) lacks the tradition of the power schools on this list.

     

    Fans: A

    Surrounded by the best high school hoops in the country, Indiana fans know their stuff.

     

    Competition: C

    NBA Pacers and NFL Colts frequently steal the spotlight.

22. Tallahassee, FL

5 of 26

    Teams: B

    Florida State lacks the tradition of many ACC rivals, but it’s been a consistently solid program in recent years.

     

    Fans: A-

    The Seminoles enjoy a strange version of home-court advantage that only seems to show up at full strength against Duke.

     

    Competition: B-

    No pro alternatives, but this has always been a football school (and town) first.

21. Philadelphia, PA

6 of 26

    Teams: A

    Villanova and Temple lead a deep group of longtime contenders.

     

    Fans: A+

    Devotion to the Big Five tradition hasn’t wavered, even as some of the teams have faded in and out of second-tier status.

     

    Competition: D

    No college football to speak of, but pro options in various sports abound.

20. Cincinnati, OH

7 of 26

    Teams: A-

    Neither Xavier nor Cincinnati is at the absolute top level of basketball acclaim, but both are strong programs with long histories of success.

     

    Fans: A-

    The fans showed more sense than the players in 2011’s ugly on-court brawl between the Musketeers and Bearcats.

     

    Competition: B

    Bearcat football keeps trying to catch up to its hoops big brother, but the real battle here is with the NFL’s resurgent Bengals.

19. Gainesville, FL

8 of 26

    Teams: A- 

    Florida’s 2006 and 2007 national titles solidified Gators’ place as a program that expects Final Four teams every year.

     

    Fans: B+ 

    The O'Connell Center doesn't yet have the reputation to match its high-powered tenants.

     

    Competition: B+

    Even Billy Donovan hasn’t put Gator hoops on same exalted plane as football team, but UF dominates local landscape otherwise.

18. Richmond, VA

9 of 26

    Teams: B+

    Richmond’s Spiders have a proud tradition of NCAA tournament upsets, but it’s Virginia Commonwealth that’s in the ascendancy right now.

     

    Fans: B

    A relative newcomer to big-time hoops, Richmond hasn’t yet built up the level of insanity that the nation’s top fanbases display.

     

    Competition: A+

    No in-state pro teams and no significant football in town put the spotlight squarely on the Rams and Spiders.

17. Manhattan, KS

10 of 26

    Teams: B+

    After decades in the shadow of the rival Jayhawks, Kansas State is coming into its own.

     

    Fans: A- 

    Bramlage Coliseum lags behind top Big 12 home courts.

     

    Competition: A

    Little Apple has just one team, and it draws just as much passion as the football program.

16. Madison, WI

11 of 26

    Teams: B+

    Wisconsin has become a perennial Top 25 competitor but still has just one Final Four in last half-century.

     

    Fans: A+

    Facing Badgers on their home floor is a titanic challenge.

     

    Competition: B+

    Badgers hoops rarely outshines beloved football team, but lack of pro options within the city helps.

15. Ann Arbor, MI

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    Teams: A-

    Michigan has been a very good team historically, but this year’s tournament finish tends to summarize Wolverines’ tradition: close but no cigar.

     

    Fans: A 

    Crisler Center is good but not great home court by Big Ten standards.

     

    Competition: B+

    As much as fans love this basketball team, the often-superior football squad tends to take precedence.

14. Ames, IA

13 of 26

    Teams: B

    Iowa State has been up-and-down, but it’s never been a national power on the level of conference rival Kansas.

     

    Fans: A+

    Cyclones enjoy a home-court edge far beyond their typical talent level.

     

    Competition: A 

    College sports are king throughout the state, and Cyclone football rarely reaches the heights of the hoops team.

13. Stillwater, OK

14 of 26

    Teams: B+

    Oklahoma State has a rich tradition, even if some recent Cowboys teams have struggled to live up to it.

     

    Fans: A+

    This is largely the same rabid fanbase that convinced the NBA to move a team to small-market Oklahoma City.

     

    Competition: A- 

    OK State football is a factor, and the Thunder also get their share of attention, even if there’s more than enough basketball passion to support both teams.

12. Albuquerque, NM

15 of 26

    Teams: B

    New Mexico has generally been good but not great as mid-majors go.

     

    Fans: A+

    The Pit is one of the most intimidating road trips for any opponent.

     

    Competition: A+

    No pro teams anywhere in the state, and Lobo football isn’t nearly up to the standard of the hoops program.

11. East Lansing, MI

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    Teams: A

    Final Fours galore have made Michigan State the class of the Big Ten in recent years.

     

    Fans: A 

    Breslin Center is never an easy place to win, but it's not quite on the top tier nationally, either.

     

    Competition: A-

    Spartan football is becoming more of a presence, but basketball still rules here.

10. Spokane, WA

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    Teams: A-

    Gonzaga is going on 15 years as the face of the nation’s mid-major powers.

     

    Fans: A

    Bulldogs’ home-court advantage at the Kennel has been tough to overcome.

     

    Competition: A+

    Western Washington isolation and no Division I football make the Zags the only option in the vicinity.

9. Tucson, AZ

18 of 26

    Teams: A

    Only UCLA can beat Arizona for success in the Pac-12, traditional or recent.

     

    Fans: A 

    Home crowds don't see many losses at McKale Center, conference's toughest building.

     

    Competition: A

    Phoenix pro teams aren’t really a factor, and Wildcat football hardly ever outshines the hoops program.

8. Louisville, KY

19 of 26

    Teams: A+

    Defending national champion Cardinals have been a hoops powerhouse for decades.

     

    Fans: A

    There’s no faulting the devotion of the Cards' fans, but the sadly named KFC Yum! Center hasn’t matched predecessor Freedom Hall for home-court advantage.

     

    Competition: A

    With no pro teams to worry about, the only competition comes from occasional bouts of competence by the football team.

7. Storrs, CT

20 of 26

    Teams: A+

    After a year on probation, UConn will bounce back as one of the best (and most storied) teams in the new AAC.

     

    Fans: A

    Gampel Pavilion doesn’t instill quite as much fear as the absolute most daunting home courts in the country.

     

    Competition: A+

    Only attraction that tops Huskies men’s hoops is the national champion women’s team.

6. Syracuse, NY

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    Teams: A+

    Syracuse has history’s second-winningest coach for a reason.

     

    Fans: A+

    As ACC will soon learn, Carrier Dome is as tough a road trip as any in the nation.

     

    Competition: A+

    Football team is a non-factor, and Orange are the only game in town (especially when the snow starts falling).

5. Bloomington, IN

22 of 26

    Teams: A+

    Big Ten’s best basketball tradition getting a worthy successor again after Tom Crean’s rebuilding effort.

     

    Fans: A+

    Hoosier fans have grown up on basketball, and any group that can remain loyal to Bob Knight for so long clearly has intensity to spare.

     

    Competition: A+

    Isolated enough from Chicago and Indianapolis to keep the focus on college sports, and this is decidedly a basketball-first campus.

4. Lexington, KY

23 of 26

    Teams: A+

    Nothing short of a national championship is good enough at Kentucky.

     

    Fans: A+

    Rupp Arena is SEC’s toughest road win by leaps and bounds.

     

    Competition: A+

    Football team is a sideshow on this campus.

3. Chapel Hill, NC

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    Teams: A+

    North Carolina was winning championships years before Michael Jordan was even born.

     

    Fans: A+

    Dean Dome gets revved up for more than just the annual visit from Duke.

     

    Competition: A+

    No pro teams on the radar, and even a solid Tar Heel football program can’t beat hoops on Tobacco Road.

2. Lawrence, KS

25 of 26

    Teams: A+

    From Phog Allen to Bill Self, winning tradition at Kansas is top of the line.

     

    Fans: A+

    Very few opponents leave happy after visiting Phog Allen Fieldhouse.

     

    Competition: A+

    Jayhawks hoops are biggest draw for entire state.

1. Durham, NC

26 of 26

    Teams: A+

    Duke is in the select group of programs synonymous with college basketball.

     

    Fans: A+

    Cameron Crazies are nation’s most famous spectators.

     

    Competition: A+

    Blue Devils football is a perennial joke.

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