Ranking Arenas I’ve Attended Games At Part 2 (1-25)

By: Ethan Hennessy

I’ve had the opportunity to attend lots of college basketball games over the years at many different venues. I’ve seen division one games at 56 arenas and this is part two of a two part series in which I rank the arenas I enjoyed most. The first part can be found on HappeningHoops.com, in that post you will find my 26-49 arenas as well as the honorable mentions.

25. Charles E Smith Center – George Washington

Congratulations to the Charles E Smith Center for cracking my top 25. The Smith Center is a good place to see a game. The configuration is unique with only upper deck seating on the baselines, but the student section called George’s Army is placed right at half-court and engaged. The concourses are tight, but the building is bright, clean, and updated.

24. Wintrust Arena – DePaul

Its ashamed DePaul isn’t a better program because this building would be rocking if the Blue Demons had a good team. The arena itself is beautiful. It was just built in the past few years right in downtown Chicago. They filled the building pretty good for this game but it was against national defending runner up Texas Tech. I’ve been there when the crowd is thinner. This arena has the ability to be higher on the list if DePaul can ever become a contender in the Big East.

23. Welsh Ryan Arena

In the words of Georgia Tech coach Josh Pastner “There’s a lot of purple in here”. I’ve been to Welsh Ryan Arena in Evanston three times. Once prior to the renovation with the old wooden bleachers and twice after the new renovations. The old Welsh Ryan wasn’t bad, but the new Welsh Ryan is an incredible improvement. It is one of the sleekest arenas I’ve been in; everything from the videoboard to the stands to the media room Northwestern has a top of the line arena. However, just like DePaul their crowd holds them back from being truly elite. The student section is probably the weakest out of all of the high major places I’ve been to, and the wildcat fans are sometimes outnumbered by fans of visiting Big Ten teams.

22. Carver Arena – Bradley

If you know me you know I’m not very high on off campus arenas that are a city’s primary multipurpose arena. Typically these venues do not make for great basketball environments, but Bradley’s Carver Arena is the rare exception to this. In my lone trip to Peoria Bradley filled the building for a Wednesday night game against my Valparaiso Crusaders. There was a cool season ticketholder club along one of the baselines and they drive a motorcycle on the court pre-game to pump up the crowd.

21. Memorial Hall – Delaware State

Interestingly enough Memorial Hall was a place I wanted to see a game at for a while. In pictures I had seen it looked interesting because it was so small. When I attended a game there this past February it did not disappoint. DSU’s gym had a fieldhouse feeling to it as it was super long and skinny. Along the sidelines the bleachers only go eight rows deep. It technically wasn’t the smallest gym I’ve seen a game at both Knott Arena and Reitz Arena have smaller capacities, but it feels like the smallest gym I’ve been in. The honeycomb design in the three-point arc and red and blue color scheme give the building character as well. Overall Memorial Hall is part of the reason why I love this sport because no two venues are the same. Memorial Hall is truly one of a kind.

20. Emile and Patricia A Jones Convocation Center – Chicago State

On the topic of one of a kind I present to you Chicago State! I recommend every college basketball fan try to get to a game at the Jones Convocation Center at some point because it does not feel like any other arena on this entire list 1-56. The arena itself is nice it seats about 7,000 and opened only 15 years ago. The thing that makes this place unique though is the crowd… or lack thereof. I attended as a fan/covered a dozen games at Chicago State over my four years living in the Midwest because it was the closest division one (other than Valpo to me) and because the cougars were in the Western Athletic Conference where I got the chance to see teams from the other side of the country that I otherwise wouldn’t have seen. Not once was this arena even 10% full. The very first game I went to my friends and I came out of the tunnel and the then head coach Tracy Dildy came over shook our hands and thanked us for coming to the game. At that moment I knew this would be interesting. Other than the home and visiting team radio broadcasts I was the only media member ever covering games there despite CSU being a D1 team in the third largest media market in the country. Shortly after the game tipped off I often liked to count the spectators by hand and usually wound up with a number somewhere between 70-120. With almost every game I attended there were inevitably more opposing fans than CSU fans which might make sense if all of their rivals are local or it can be understood the times when they play Grand Canyon, but the wild thing was these were teams from over 1,000 miles away in Texas, Utah, California, New Mexico etc. bringing more fans than Chicago State. Now you may think I’m ripping on CSU here, but hey I was the one who went to 12 games at the JCC I wouldn’t have kept going back if I didn’t like it. I’m not sure you will find many people in the college basketball world who can say they’ve been to 12 Chicago State home games. They never won any of the games I was at, and it usually wasn’t close, but I found myself pulling for the underdog. I actually had a ton of fun going to games there because it is such a different experience from seeing a game anywhere else in division one.

19. Pinnacle Bank Arena – Nebraska

The Vault as Nebraska fans call it was the 9th Big Ten arena I visited. The band was good. I actually liked that the students were placed behind the scorers table it felt like they had more of an impact on the game in that location. Nebraska is known as a football school but I give them credit their fans support all athletic teams even when the teams are struggling like Nebraska basketball.

18. Allen Arena – Lipscomb

Allen Arena is a building most mid majors would like to call home. I was shocked to find out it was built in 2001 because it feels much newer. It feels just the right size for the bison, and when I was there for the homecoming game in November of 2018 they drew a really good crowd for their matchup with their other cross-town rival Tennessee State.

17. Chi Health Center – Creighton

I attended the annual Creighton pink out game this past January. It was so cool to see the entire arena wearing pink shirts for breast cancer awareness. Omaha loves the Creighton Jays. as they place the Chi Health Center towards the top of the attendance figures for the NCAA every season. The arena feels like an NBA arena but its still a good place to see a college game at.

16. Xfinity Center – Maryland

Despite going to three games at the Xfinity Center I have yet to get there for a Big Ten Conference game (I’ve seen Rider, Marshall, and Lehigh there). Even still I put Maryland’s Xfinity Center at #16 on my list because when the place is rocking like when Maryland was #3 and facing Rider my first time in the building in 2015 that place is something special. The towering vertical wall of rowdy students is one of the most intimidating things in all of college basketball. Additionally, it is cool how the giant state flag is lowered over said section at the under four media timeout in the second half.

15. Chesapeake Employers Insurance Arena – UMBC

The Chesapeake Employers Insurance Arena is about as nice as they come it just opened up in the past few years. The student section is usually good. The court is nice. The only complaint is its probably a little too big. The upper deck is not really utilized and there is some empty space on the other baseline. I think it was designed this way though for concerts as its trying become the second arena for musical touring acts coming through Charm City.

14. Knott Arena – Mount Saint Mary’s

Mount Saint Mary’s had a top five environment I’ve ever been in for the NEC Semifinals in 2017 (pictured above). Unfortunately in the three other times I’ve been there they haven’t been able to recreate that buzz, so I had to put them a little lower in the rankings. However, Emmitsburg Maryland is one of those towns that loves their college basketball. The fans show tremendous support of the program, and The Mount is the best mid major in the state over the past decade.

13. Hillard Gates Sport Center

Hello to Fort Wayne again! If you read part one of my arena rankings you know that I ranked the Allen County War Memorial Coliseum way back at 44. The on campus Gates Center is obviously much smaller, but I think it is a better home venue for a program of Fort Wayne’s caliber. As you can see in the picture above this was when South Dakota State and Mike Daum visited the Summit City. Not an empty seat in the building, great band, passionate student section. I returned once more for a game against Omaha and it wasn’t quite as packed as it was for the juggernaut Jackrabbits, but it was still a good turnout.

12. State Farm Center – Illinois

Illinois is one of the better venues I’ve been to in the Big Ten. All of the seats in the State Farm Center are padded chairbacks which is nice. The student section called the Orange Crush arrives early for the games and gets into it. Illinois fans are also very friendly when I was cheering for my home state Terps my freshman year of college nobody had anything bad to say.

11. Athletics Recreation Center – Valparaiso

See I’m not that bias! I didn’t put the ARC in the top 10. To some the ARC may be run down and the “worst facilities” in the Valley. To me it was a place where I could go an cheer on my team for two hours a week every winter. Not many places do you get to see MVC level basketball and stand with your feet on the actual hardwood floor five feet from the end of the visiting bench. When we had a better opponent or a weekend game we packed the student section. I’m also proud to say Valpo went 32-11 in games I attended at the ARC in my four years. That’s a pretty tough place to play if you ask me!

10. Reitz Arena – Loyola Maryland

From my one team to my other. For those of you who don’t know I am about the biggest Loyola MD basketball fan out there. I grew up going to games at Reitz Arena, and it is a thrill now to work for the athletic department keeping stats for the program. Reitz Arena is the second smallest arena capacity wise on list (Knott Arena is smaller), but as you can see from the photo it is pretty nice. A brand new court was put down prior to last season and the video boards are relatively recent additions. When the team is good the students turn out. The only negative thing I could possibly say about Reitz is there needs to be more banners in the rafters. Go Hounds!

9. Madison Square Garden – National Invitation Tournament

From this point on the list all of the remaining arenas are great and its just slight differences that will separate the final ones in the rankings. Madison Square Garden is the world’s most famous arena. I’m glad I decided to make the trip up to Manhattan this past March after there were rumblings this might be the final year the NIT was held at the Garden. It turns out it was which in my opinion was a money driven mistake on the NCAA’s part. Nevertheless it was so cool to be at the Mecca of Basketball (even if they sat me practically on the roof). I was assigned to the media seating on the 6th floor Chase Bridge. Most of the mystique about the arena is everybody that has performed or played there and the location in downtown Manhattan. The actual arena itself is a little underwhelming and run down.

8. Hagan Arena – Saint Joseph’s

Hagan Arena is one of the best mid major arenas I’ve been to. The configuration is interesting as there might be more seating capacity behind the baskets than on the sides. The fans are right on top of the court and in that endearing Philly way they aren’t afraid to tell you what they think. While they may be a bit blunt you can’t knock them for knowledge or passion. The student section was full for a 1 PM game against Mount Saint Mary’s early in the season. There are even some students who pound a base drum (seen in the front row in the picture above). I’m not quite sure that is allowed in the NCAA rules, but nobody stopped them… Had I known we could do that I would have secured a base drum for Valpo games. Of course who could forget the famous tradition of the Hawk mascot flapping its wins from the start of the game to the end. I highly recommend a trip to Saint Joe’s for any college basketball fan.

7. Purcell Pavilion – Notre Dame

You can tell Notre Dame has money when you walk into Purcell Pavilion. The lobby is extremely nice as are the concourses. The ushers wear blazers, and they don’t even charge for parking for basketball games because they’re Notre Dame and they’re swimming in NBC and ACC money. The arena is smaller than most high majors seating less than 10,000, but that means there isn’t a bad seat in the house. As usual it checks all the boxes about great fans, great band etc.

6. Diddle Arena – Western Kentucky

I’m here to give Western Kentucky its flowers. I feel like nationally Western Kentucky is known as a good mid major program, but they have a great environment. When I was in Bowling Green Diddle Arena was packed for a non-conference game against Tennessee Martin. The fans are loud, engaged, and super knowledgeable. Extra points for the mascot Big Red who was dancing around all over the place. Western Kentucky was phenomenal.

5. Jack Breslin Student Events Center – Michigan State

The Breslin Center is cool because in the concourse you can see all of their Big Ten and Final Four trophies. I always love when teams put that in areas where fans can acess it. There is also a huge section of court from the 2000 Final Four and a section dedicated to Tom Izzo’s accomplishments and former Spartan players. The Izzone is loud, but I would have liked to see them doing more specialized chants instead of just their generic yelling.

4. Assembly Hall – Indiana

The unique design of Assembly Hall makes it a fun place to see a game. You can sit in the upper deck and still feel like you are on top of the court. I’ve been there twice the first time was a Sunday night game against Howard and the second was an NIT quarterfinal game against Wichita State. The first time I went I was more taking in the arena (the configuration, banners, history etc. In the second game I could see this is what people talk about when they describe the electricity in the building for big games. When the Hoosiers made a big play the place just erupted. I was surprised to find out after the NIT game they allowed fans on the court. That was a thrill to walk around on the court and get to sit on the bench!

3. Hinkle Fieldhouse – Butler

Hinkle Fieldhouse in Indianapolis is one of the oldest arenas still used for college basketball. The best way I can describe it is when you go to a game there it feels like you are stepping back in a time capsule. There is so much history in the concourses. Everything from the skylights, to the history of success of the program, to the sellouts every game make Hinkle a must see arena.

2. Mackey Arena – Purdue

Mackey Arena is the only building I’ve been in that gave me literal goosebumps. The buildup to the game is unreal! From the welcome to Mackey Arena video to the whole arena doing synchronized clapping as the team takes the court to the pregame light show for the starting lineups. If you go to a game at Mackey you need to arrive at least 30 minutes before tip. It didn’t matter if the opponent was a Horizon League team like Cleveland State or Green Bay or if it was a ranked Big Ten team like Maryland or Penn State the place was sold out and off the chain. I cannot recommend seeing a game at Mackey Arena enough!

  1. The Palestra – Penn

The number one arena I’ve seen a game at is The Palestra! This place is incredible walking through the building is like a museum as all of the concourse is filled with basketball history. Every Philly Big 5 team has a section, and there are areas that talk about legendary players and coaches that have played and coached in the building. Spoiler alert it is pretty much everybody you can think of in basketball history. There is nothing better than seeing a game at The Palestra.

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