College Basketball: 15 Arenas You Don't Want to Play in
Look, it’s hard enough to put a ball through a small hoop that is 10 feet off the ground with an athletic defender draped all over you.
Try doing it with tens of thousands of people, many of whom are college kids that are fueled by the consumption of certain types of liquid (I’m talking about soda of course), screaming their most intimidating and sometimes inappropriate chants at you.
Basically, it’s never easy to go on the road in college basketball. But, whether it is the passion of the fans, the creativity of the cheers or the sheer volume of the arena, certain road trips are just more difficult.
You may want to shield your eyes if your alma mater is playing at one of these 15 stadiums.
Cameron Indoor Stadium
Everyone reading this list had to know that Duke’s Cameron Indoor Stadium would appear somewhere, so I won’t keep you on the edge of your seat.
Cameron may not be the biggest venue (it seats less than 10,000 after all), but the mere fact that the students basically sit (rather, stand) right on top of the players makes it one of the most intimidating arenas in the entire country.
You would think that after braving freezing temperatures in tents all week that the Cameron Crazies would be tired by the time the actual game rolled around. In actuality, they release any pent-up energy they have via 40 minutes of nonstop raucous screaming.
If you’re lucky (or, more accurately, unlucky) you may even see one of the Crazies in a Speedo.
You don’t win 69 consecutive home games between the years of 2008-11 if you don’t have a daunting home arena.
That is exactly what Kansas did at Allen Fieldhouse before the Texas shocked the Jayhawk faithful with an upset victory in January of 2011.
Despite that singular loss, Allen Fieldhouse must be included in any discussion concerning the biggest home-court advantages. With more than 16,000 fans, the retired jerseys of legends such as Wilt Chamberlain and Danny Manning looming from above and the goosebump-inducing “Rock Chalk” chant echoing through the rafters, it doesn’t get much more intimidating.
And in case opposing players forget where they are, there is an oversized image of a Jayhawk at center court just to remind them.
McCarthey Athletic Center
The McCarthey Athletic Center may not be as flashy or historically relevant as Cameron Indoor Stadium or Rupp Arena, but neither is the program that plays in in.
And that’s just the way Gonzaga likes it.
The Zags may be the ultimate underdog and Cinderella story, but they are definitely the favorite almost anytime they lace it up in Spokane. In fact, Gonzaga boasts the best home-court winning percentage in all of college basketball, according to rpiratings.com.
That tally is at a gaudy 93 percent.
You can say that number is boosted by a weaker WCC slate, but, unfortunately for opponents in the McCarthey Athletic Center, you still have to play the games.
The noise level at a Grateful Dead concert may be closer to the noise level that emanates from the “Grateful Red” student section than you might think.
The tens of thousands of Wisconsin fans that pack the Kohl Center every night are led by these students, which is a big reason why the Badgers win about 90 percent of their home games under head coach Bo Ryan.
Perhaps the most impressive thing about Wisconsin’s prowess at home is the types of opponents they regularly defeat there. Marquee programs such as Michigan State, Illinois, Indiana, Marquette and Ohio State all regularly struggle in front of the Badger fans.
Then again, pretty much everyone does.
Unfortunately for North Carolina State fans, their program always seems to be in the shadow of in-state counterparts Duke and North Carolina.
Don’t tell that to opponents who take the floor in Reynolds Coliseum though.
If you don’t want to take my word for it, that’s fine. Just ask Jay Bilas and Hubert Davis. Both Bilas, who played at Duke, and Davis, who was a Tar Heel, said that Reynolds Coliseum was the hardest stadium they ever played in.
In fact, Bilas paints quite the picture.
“Reynolds was loud, edgy and intense. The Wolfpack under Jim Valvano were a tough out and the games were always fistfights, but the thing I remember most is coming back to a huddle and seeing lips move, but not being able to hear what was said. It was so hot and loud that your head would spin.”
Any stadium that can make the opponents head spin belongs on this list.
*NC State no longer plays at Reynolds, which is unfortunate from an atmosphere standpoint.
More than 15,000 fans, often all decked out in white, is quite an impressive sight. But the overall noise level that the Michigan State faithful bring every time the Spartans take the floor is even more striking.
It is no accident that Michigan State has the seventh-best home winning percentage in the nation.
The combination of the raucous “Izzone” (perhaps the most creatively named student section on the list) and the physical style of play the Spartans bring every game is enough to break almost 90 percent of the opponents that dare enter the Breslin Center.
Between trips to East Lansing, Madison and Bloomington, among others, it’s a wonder Big Ten road teams ever win.
Peterson Events Center
There is a reason the student section at the Peterson Events Center is referred to as a zoo.
In fact, Pittsburgh’s students are dubbed the “Oakland Zoo,” and they were a major reason why the Panthers won 31 consecutive home games from 2008-10.
In a manner similar to Duke, the fans are incredibly close to the court at the Peterson Events Center, making life even more difficult for opposing teams.
Despite some unusual struggles from Pittsburgh last season, the Panthers have the second-best home winning percentage (89.6) in the nation, behind only Gonzaga, which is even more impressive when you consider the fact that Pitt is putting up those numbers against the deep Big East.
If Duke’s Cameron Indoor Stadium is as automatic as you can get for a list like this, then Rupp Arena is right behind it.
More than 23,000 rabid Kentucky fans, dressed head to toe in blue, pack the seats every night no matter the opponent. After all, there’s a reason they call themselves Big Blue Nation.
In fact, the “Cathedral of Basketball” is the largest arena in the country built exclusively for hoops. And, with the fourth-best home winning percentage in the nation, the Wildcats have not disappointed all those fans.
With John Calipari guiding the ship, I fully expect that winning percentage to continue to climb as Kentucky builds what could be the next college basketball dynasty.
Some things are deemed too big to fail. Well, the Carrier Dome is too big to not be included in this list.
Kentucky may have the largest basketball-only arena in terms of seating capacity, but Syracuse seats far and away more people in the Carrier Dome. You can say that is only because the Orange share the arena with the football team, but the Syracuse basketball fans pack the arena almost every night.
The 33,000-strong sea of orange has propelled Syracuse to an 83.6 home winning percentage since 1980.
In terms of pure passion and even venom directed towards the other team (especially Duke), there may not be a better atmosphere than the Comcast Center.
First and foremost, the student seating is based on a loyalty system, meaning the most devoted of the 17,000-plus fans are the closest to the floor.
But Maryland’s home court advantage doesn’t stop with the final buzzer. There is plenty of lore regarding Terp supporters prank calling hotels that Blue Devil players were staying at throughout the night.
In fact, opposing players and their families have been forced to change their phone numbers as a direct result of Maryland’s students getting their hands on the digits.
The Comcast Center may not be the prettiest at times (one player’s mother was hit in the head by a water bottle), but it is certainly one of the most intimidating venues in the entire nation.
One of the biggest reasons, outside of the tens of thousands of screaming fans, that home-court advantage matters so much in college basketball is that 18-22 year old kids are familiar with their surroundings.
That familiarity may not play a larger role in any arena than it does in the unique Memorial Gymnasium at Vanderbilt.
With the elevated floor, the benches located behind the baseline and the front row of students basically sitting below the playing surface (allowing them to constantly bang their hands on the court), it is no wonder opposing players can occasionally become disoriented when visiting Vanderbilt.
Commodore students may visit the library more often than most on this list, but that doesn’t mean they use their inside voices when it’s time for basketball.
Most of the programs on this list are marquee names but that doesn’t mean a basketball arena has to host the likes of Duke, North Carolina and Kentucky to be intimidating.
Utah State’s Smith Spectrum holds more than 10,000 fans a night and is a major reason why the Aggies have won more than 80 percent of their home games since the Spectrum opened.
But Utah State doesn’t only find itself on this list because its basketball program wins a bunch of games at home. The Smith Spectrum hosts one of the craziest and most entertaining superfans in the nation. That person is “Wild Bill.”
For those of you who don’t know, “Wild Bill” is the robust student who stands behind the basket in an effort to distract opposing free-throw shooters with a wardrobe that includes Winnie the Pooh, Nacho Libre, Peter Pan, Batman and, my personal favorite, the Little Mermaid.
“I love to be as close to naked as possible without going to jail,” he once said.
Good luck making free throws with that behind the basket.
I would bet there are even some New Mexico fans that that don’t know their program’s arena is deemed University Arena.
That's because everyone simply refers to it as “The Pit.”
And there’s a reason people call it that. Opposing players literally feel as if they are in the center of a pit with towering rows of incredibly steep bleachers surrounding them on each side. As if that isn’t intimidating enough, the sheer volume in the building can be deafening at times.
Despite mixed results on the basketball court, the Lobos have won better than 80 percent of their home games at University Arena.
My guess is that 17,000 screaming fans (something a lot of non-power conference teams aren’t used to) certainly help.
If you have any doubt that Indiana boasts an impressive home court advantage, go back and watch the game against Kentucky last season. Or Ohio State for that matter.
The Hoosiers beat the No. 1 ranked Wildcats and No. 2 ranked Buckeyes merely weeks apart.
The one constant in both of those games? They were played in Assembly Hall.
From the legions of Hoosier faithful dressed in cream and crimson (not red) to the national championship banners hanging from the rafters, Indiana’s home court is one of the most intimidating in the Big Ten and entire nation.
Even though the Hoosiers fell off the map for a bit after Kelvin Sampson’s fiasco, they have still won approximately 84 percent of their home games in Assembly Hall, good enough to rank in the top 20 of all time.
Considering the fact that they are playing host to teams such as Kentucky, Michigan, Michigan State, Ohio State and Illinois every season, that’s fairly impressive.
Dean E. Smith Center
North Carolina has won better than 85 percent of its home games at the Dean E. Smith Center.
But North Carolina wins everywhere. Just the winning percentage alone does not account for how difficult it is for opponents to play here.
From the Tar Heel Blue surrounding the playing court to the jerseys of legends such as Michael Jordan and James Worthy looming over the game from the rafters, there is just something special about North Carolina’s home arena.
With more than 20,000 screaming fans packing the arena nightly, it doesn’t matter if you are Duke or an easy directional school in the nonconference slate. You probably aren’t coming out of the Dean Dome unscathed.