There might not be a better experience for a sports fan than catching a college basketball game at a campus arena. Regardless of the team, the atmosphere has the potential to be electric, especially if the matchup is right.
Of course, there are several, gyms, stadiums, arenas or domes that stand out in the college game. Some are steeped in tradition, while others offer modern-day amenities but still remain a pain for the opposition.
The criteria to determine college basketball's elite arenas are endless, but here are the top 25 that seem to cover the basics: history, look, volume and then some.
At just under 18,000 capacity, the home of the Terps is one of the bigger venues in college basketball. However, it still offers a somewhat intimate atmosphere near the court when filled. Thanks to a devoted student section that seats about 4,000, the noise level can be an issue for the opposition. The building continues to provide a strong home-court advantage for both Maryland's men's and women's programs.
Dayton's home arena is not flashy, but it's the place where the madness of March officially begins with the First Four. According to the school, no arena in the country has hosted more NCAA Tournament games than UD's 125. When packed, the building rocks and the dark seating corners add a nice touch to the experience.
"The World's Most Famous Arena" has been a college basketball staple for decades. From being the part-time home of St. John's basketball to hosting the Big East Tournament (and even the Big Ten Tournament in 2018) and the final rounds of the postseason NIT, MSG has just about seen it all. It's a historical venue in the middle of the most exciting city in the world and can elevate the games of those fortunate to play there.
It's consistently one of the most well-attended arenas in the Pac-12, and why not? The Wildcats are a perennial national power. It's the house that Lute Olson made famous and one that continues to provide a daunting challenge to opponents on Sean Miller's watch. Since Miller took over the program in 2009-10, Arizona has won more than 140 home games.
It's loud...real loud — thanks to a famed student section known as the "Oakland Zoo." Though the Panthers have been down the past three years (but off to a 7-2 start in 2019-20), the students are still at their creative best, tastefully (of course) finding ways to mock the opponent. It provides a solid combination of comfort and intimacy, which makes for quality basketball viewing.
The circular configuration of Koch Arena has provided a huge home-court advantage for the Shockers, especially in recent years when they've ranked among the nation's best. When filled to capacity of more than 10,000, the noise level surrounds the floor, leaving little room to escape for the opposition.
The Musketeers boast one of the nicer and more multifunctional venues in the college game. It's also been a quality home for the team to thrive in. Since Xavier began play there in 2000-01, it's won more than 250 games in the building. In 2017-18, the Musketeers set a single-season home record with 17 victories.
Talk about a true home-court advantage, try visiting the home of the Aggies in Logan, Utah. Seating roughly 10,200, there's only one level, so even those at the highest points of the arena are still not too far from the action. The Aggies are ignited by that "Spectrum Magic," which has been responsible for only 18 non-conference home defeats since the 1996-97 season.
The Razorbacks are celebrating the 25th season of basketball at their arena named after Walmart's co-founder. Arkansas won a national championship in the building's first season, and though the school's recent teams have not enjoyed that same elite success, the program still ranks among the national leaders in home attendance. Opponents can attest to the fact that the arena seems smaller and more intimidating when all 19,300-plus seats are filled.
This venue is renowned for its raucous game-day environment and multipurpose availability. The cushioned seating is a nice touch while still not taking away from the intense atmosphere that's usually associated with Cyclones basketball. Since Jan. 28, 2012, Iowa State has a winning percentage of 70-plus at home against Top 25 opponents.
Considered one of the rowdiest places to watch college basketball, Oklahoma State's arena is named for two of the school's greats: basketball coach Henry Iba and legendary wrestling coach Hank Gallagher. It opened in 1938 and underwent a major renovation in 2001. How historic is this building? Its first game pitted Iba's Oklahoma A&M (the school's name at the time) squad against Kansas, coached by Phog Allen.
Villanova doesn't play all of its home games at the quaint, 6,500-seat on-campus court, as the glitzier Wells Fargo Center in Philadelphia also plays host to the Wildcats. A recent renovation has the Pavilion looking good while still maintaining the intense atmosphere that visiting teams find far from inviting.
The "Izzone" is one of the most active and genius student sections in the game. Confined within the multipurpose home of the Spartans, the group dresses up, brings props and uses mini-megaphones that make great souvenirs for the kids. Breslin also has played host to some of the world's greatest musical acts, including Aerosmith, KISS, Pearl Jam and The Beach Boys.
Gonzaga's new "Kennel" opened in 2004. Since then, the Zags have lost just 18 games (entering the week) at their 6,000-seat home. As if Gonzaga didn't need any more of an advantage, the student section's close proximity to the court and the building's overall cozy atmosphere continue to make playing there a daunting challenge for the opposition.
It's perhaps the most unique gymnasium in all of college basketball. From the team benches on the baseline to the expanded court area, the home of the Commodores is something to behold. As visiting teams will agree, it can be more intimidating than it looks — especially when filled to capacity — as the sound is contained well due to the building's configuration.
"The Barn" opened in 1928, and thanks to several renovations and upgrades over the years, it still upholds the strong tradition of Golden Gophers basketball. Williams remains one of the more unique arenas in the nation, particularly for the player seats below the raised court, meaning it takes some effort to check into the game and run the famous Minneapolis floor.
More than 35,000 people watched a single Syracuse basketball game at the largest domed campus stadium in the country. When the Orange are struggling, the arena can look cavernous with empty spots, yet when Jim Boeheim's program is playing well it truly is the "Loud House." The likes of Dwayne "Pearl" Washington and Carmelo Anthony have starred here, making it a one-of-a-kind experience for the college basketball fan.
When Gonzaga played at North Carolina last season, members of the school's athletic department made the trip to see one of college basketball's great facilities up close. It might not have the historical value or intimacy of its rival down Tobacco Road, but the "Dean Dome" can hang with any other in the game in terms of noise or intimidating the opponent.
Few venues can match the uniquely designed Assembly Hall when it comes to noise. The place can be downright deafening when the Hoosiers are on their game. Small sections of bleachers jet out from both baselines, while seats extend up the sides where balconies also exist — which might not cater to fans with height issues. It still remains one of college basketball's special gyms.
Consistently ranked among the best college basketball arenas in the nation in terms of attendance and overall acclaim, "The Pit," as it's more affectionately known, has housed the Lobos since 1966. Fans sit in a hole in the ground — literally — which makes even the farthest-away seats feel relatively close to the court. Who can forget Jim Valvano running around the floor of "The Pit" looking for someone to hug after North Carolina State's shocking upset of Houston in the 1983 national championship game?
The University of Pennsylvania dubs the grand room as the "most storied gymnasium in the history of collegiate athletics." That's not far off, as the school also boasts that no other arena has hosted more games or opponents than The Palestra. The "Cathedral," which seats roughly 8,700, opened in 1927, and even after recent renovations it has not lost its charm while remaining the trendsetter for other great college basketball venues that followed.
Nothing epitomizes the state of Indiana's love of basketball more than Butler's legendary fieldhouse. Come on: "Hoosiers" was filmed here. How much better does it get? It opened in 1928 but does not show its age thanks to renovations and impeccable upkeep. It's big but doesn't lose its roominess, especially when crowded. Just ask Jimmy Chitwood.
Named after famed Kentucky coach Adolph Rupp, the home of the Wildcats is one of the most recognizable arenas in all of sports. With a seating capacity of 23,500, it's the largest off-campus home for a Division I team in the country. In addition to providing Kentucky with a distinct home-court advantage, Rupp has hosted several NCAA Tournament games, most notably the 1985 Final Four when Villanova stunned heavily favored Georgetown for the national title.
"The Phog" exudes basketball history upon entrance and remains a must-see for any college hoops fanatic. It's big, but not mammoth, and can feel like a cigar box to opponents when 16,300 are packed in to root on the Jayhawks. The atmosphere is even more special during afternoon games when the daylight shines through the windows amid the throngs of spectators.
For the unbiased college basketball fan, it's a bucket list item, even to see it empty. For non-Duke fans, it's another reason to loathe the Blue Devils. From the "Cameron Crazies" on top of the action to the "Krzyzewskiville" commune outside, the intimate 9,300-seat venue offers the greatest home-court advantage in the country. (The team's 150-game non-conference home winning streak was ended earlier this season with a loss to Stephen F. Austin). It also helps that the Blue Devils are among the best in the land every season.
Jeff Mezydlo has written about sports and entertainment online and for print for more than 25 years. He grew up in the far south suburbs of Chicago, 20 minutes from the Mascot Hall of Fame in Whiting, Ind. He’s also the proud father of 11-year-old Matthew, aka “Bobby Bruin,” mascot of St. Robert Bellarmine School in Chicago. You can follow Jeff at @jeffm401.