Ranking the Best Student Sections in NCAA College Basketball
The environment at college basketball games is something that can't truly be described without experiencing it in person. Television can only do so much to portray how electric the atmosphere is inside an arena, with fans hovering around all sides of the court cheering on the home team and jeering at the visitors.
And the best of these basketball venues all have one thing in common: great student sections.
A dedicated area for the most devoted of hoops fans, the basketball student section is a place where craziness and passion are manifested into one large swell of emotion and excitement, which serves as both an energy boost for the good guys and a headache for the villains.
We've searched for the 10 best student sections in Division I college basketball and ranked them based on their noise level, organization, creativity and the impact they have on their team's performance.
Venue: Alaska Airlines Arena
Student section name: Dawg Pack
Washington's 10,000-seat arena is one of the smaller ones occupied by a power-conference team. But with the Dawg Pack taking up one side of the facility's lower bowl, it sure feels like there are a lot more people in there.
Clad all in purple and equal parts supportive (of the Huskies) and confrontational (with opponents), the Dawg Pack have undergone a renaissance along with the Washington program since coach Lorenzo Romar resurrected the program in the early 2000s. It's become more fun to attend games there now that Washington wins more often than it loses and now that the students have bought into the experience.
The Huskies have struggled the past few years, going 17-14 this past season, but they won 14-of-18 games in front of the Dawg Pack.
Venue: Allen Fieldhouse
Student section name: None
Nearly a quarter of the 17,700 seats in Allen Fieldhouse go to students at Kansas, making it one of the largest student populations in the country. While it's not all concentrated into one area, the overall student presence gets the Jayhawks onto this list.
In fact, the unnamed student section would probably be ranked higher if not for the uncertainty of what will happen to the atmosphere in light of news that Kansas plans on co-opting some courtside student seats for higher-paying boosters and other benefactors.
According to Jesse Newell of the Topeka Capital-Journal, about 120 seats behind Kansas' bench (known as Section U) are being converted to a donor section to help offset a $350,000 athletic budget hit stemming from the school reducing its student athletic fee from $25 to $7 per semester.
While such news is sad to hear, from a student/fan standpoint, don't expect it to make playing in Allen Fieldhouse any easier. Kansas won 68 straight nonconference home games there until falling to San Diego State last December and has won 47 of the last 48 games played against Big 12 competition.
Venue: John Paul Jones Arena
Student section name: Hoo Crew
Many college fans might not have been aware of how big a deal basketball was at Virginia until the Cavaliers had a breakout season in 2013-14 by winning the ACC regular-season and conference tournament titles. But the fans have flocked to games for years, especially the students, who have made the Hoo Crew so well-known it won a national award.
In March, the Hoo Crew was named as the Naismith Student Section of the Year, an honor based on fan votes, a video submission and other social media campaigns. It brought national attention to a student section that formed in 2005 and has made games at the 14,593-seat John Paul Jones Arena extra special to take in.
The Hoo Crew was honored on the same day that Virginia crushed Syracuse to clinch the team's first ACC title since 1981. It was the Cavaliers' 11th straight home win, the longest streak in Charlottesville in several years.
Venue: McCarthey Athletic Center
Student section name: Kennel Club
The smallest venue on our list, with just 6,000 seats, the McCarthey Athletic Center also features one of the most rowdy student sections. Fitting of its name, the Kennel Club features more than 2,500 members who turn this relatively new facility in Spokane, Wash. into one of the toughest places to win.
Since opening in 2004, a few years after Gonzaga made a splash by reaching the Elite Eight and establishing itself as the standard among mid-major programs, the MAC has been feared by visiting teams not just because of the Bulldogs on the court but the canines in the crowd.
The Kennel Club formed 30 years ago, but has become more prominent in the new arena. It's an all-sports organization, but basketball is the backbone. Since the MAC opened 10 years ago, Gonzaga has lost only a handful of games there, the last coming in 2011-12.
Venue: Petersen Events Center
Student section name: Oakland Zoo
Not every zoo has a panther as part of its collection, but at the Oakland Zoo there are 1,500 of them. Panthers fans, that is.
Making up only about one-eighth of the 12,508-seat Petersen Events Center, The Oakland Zoo is as imposing as student sections twice or three times its size and provides the Panthers with a huge home-court advantage. Named for the Oakland neighborhood where the school is located, the Zoo is such a fixture at the Petersen Events Center that a version of Pitt uniforms included it on the back of the jersey.
Pitt surprisingly lost five of its last six home games this past season, after winning 33 of the previous 36 in front of the Oakland Zoo.
Venue: Kohl Center
Student section name: Grateful Red
Wisconsin's student section takes on a standard spot in Kohl Center, occupying the area behind one basket and then extending all the way up to the rafters. That's about where the norm ends and the Grateful Red begins.
The 2,100-person student section, which takes its name from the iconic band but incorporates the Badgers' red—synchronicity!—is by far the loudest part of the 17,230-seat arena. It's been known by this name since 2002, when after spending one last season paying homage to former coach Dick Bennett, it changed from being called Mr. Bennett's Neighborhood.
According to On Wisconsin magazine, the new name was the idea of Saul Phillips, who at the time was Wisconsin's director of basketball operations and then went on to coach North Dakota State before taking the Ohio job this offseason.
Though embodying the wholesome spirit that the upper Midwest is known for, the Grateful Red can still get rowdy and disruptive. It's part of the reason the Badgers are 59-10 over the past four seasons at home.
Venue: Stephen O'Connell Center
Student section name: Rowdy Reptiles
Step into the "O'Dome," and you'd have no idea the arena holds less than 12,000 people. And you can thank—or blame—the student section for making the Stephen O'Connell Center seem so much bigger because of how loud and raucous it is.
The Rowdy Reptiles student section, which got its name from ESPN basketball analyst Dick Vitale back in 2006, combines the school colors of orange and blue with volume, excitement and coordinated attempts to throw opposing teams off their game.
It also has its own app (because, why not?) that students use to check in and gain loyalty points they can use to help earn game-day gear or free non-alcoholic beverages.
Florida heads into the 2014-15 season on a 33-game home winning streak, having not lost in the O'Dome in two years.
3. Michigan State
Venue: Jack Breslin Student Events Center
Student section name: The Izzone
Black is supposed to be the combination of all colors, while white represents the absence of color. At the Breslin Center, the all-white student section known simply as The Izzone somehow manages to be colorful without displaying many hues.
Named for longtime Michigan State coach Tom Izzo, the student section is run by the aptly named Association of Future Alumni. Being part of the Izzone has become a right of passage at the school, but there's only room for about 4,000. That makes for nearly 30 percent of the Breslin Center's capacity.
The Izzone is so sought after for seating that it has a caste system of sorts, with priority seating in the lower bowl of seats going to upperclassmen and the more dedicated students in terms of past game attendance.
Whoever is down along the court, though, it still results in an overwhelming advantage for the Spartans. Though the Big Ten is one of those leagues where teams manage to win a lot on the road, MSU has won 45 of the last 51 games played in Breslin.
Venue: Cameron Indoor Stadium
Student section name: Cameron Crazies
Maybe the most famous student section in college basketball—you can thank ESPN for that, since it seems to air nearly every Duke home game no matter the opponent—the Cameron Crazies are what keeps Cameron Indoor Stadium from showing its age (it's 74, by the way) or appearing as small as it is.
The 9,314-seat sunk-in stadium has its students right on the court, taking up one whole side across from the benches. Though only about 1,200 strong, the Crazies more than make up for it with their OCD-level coordination when it comes to chants, claps, cheers and rhythmic jumping. The organization only enhances their work, which has been known to unsettle teams that haven't played there before.
A team outside the ACC hasn't won at Cameron since 2000, a span of 109 games.
1. San Diego State
Venue: Viejas Arena at Aztec Bowl
Student section name: The Show
San Diego is one of the top tourist attractions in the country, with great weather and scenic views in all directions. But if you're looking to do something indoors, particularly in the evening between November and March, you need to take in The Show.
Not a show. The Show, the student section for San Diego State basketball games at the 12,414-seat Viejas Arena that has developed its own reputation as the Aztecs program has risen to national prominence. Around since 2001, The Show does all the usual chants and cheers, but what made them stand out was by being the first to use giant cutouts of people's heads as distractions behind the basket.
How big of a deal is The Show? While SDSU's teams have been pretty good as a whole the last four years, it's really good at home: 64-5 since the beginning of the 2010-11 season. The students are so confident in their Aztecs that they've applied to trademark "I believe that we will win," a chant that became popular during the World Cup for U.S. Soccer but has been a staple of The Show's repertoire for several years.
Follow Brian J. Pedersen on Twitter at @realBJP.
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