If you were to make a list of the best sports venues in the world, there’s no doubt that some college basketball arenas would be included. Sometimes the buildings themselves are amazing, but more times than not, the passion, energy and intensity that fans bring to those buildings are what makes them special.
Perhaps the most amazing thing about college basketball arenas is how unique each one is. With hundreds of them scattered all across the country, each one is special in its own way. Some are designed to host massive crowds such as the Carrier Dome or Rupp Arena, while others like Cameron Indoor or the Palestra can only hold so many people but create an atmosphere that’s hard to match anywhere else. Granted, comparing different venues of different shapes and sizes isn’t easy, but here is our up-for-debate ranking of the best college basketball arenas in the country.
20. Payne Whitney Gym, Yale
The exterior of the Payne Whitney Gym on the Yale campus is enough to be one of the best venues in the country. It seriously looks like a cathedral on the outside, so much so that it’s shocking that it’s actually an arena. The seating around Yale’s home court is limited and unique, but that’s part of what gives the venue its charm.
19. Memorial Gym, Vanderbilt
In fairness, the unique design of Memorial Gym is what makes it stand out compared to other venues. It’s the only place in the country where the benches are positioned on the baseline. Also, until recently, the shot clocks were below the backboard rather than above it. Being in Memorial Gym takes some getting used to, but it’s easy to appreciate the beauty of the place that’s sometimes called “the Fenway Park of college basketball.”
18. UD Arena, Dayton
There are reasons why the NCAA always has the Big Dance get underway every March at UD Arena in Dayton. Even if the Flyers only occasionally enter the college basketball spotlight, Dayton is always toward the top of the country in attendance. While it remains vastly underrated, both coaches and broadcasters have hailed UD Arena as one of the best venues in the country.
17. Williams Arena, Minnesota
Few college basketball arenas can match the history of Williams Arena, which has been around since 1928 but kept in good shape by multiple renovations. The raised court at Williams Arena is a unique feature that sets it apart from most other college basketball arenas. Plus, there aren’t too many buildings that have earned a nickname like “The Barn.”
16. Bud Walton Arena, Arkansas
It’s easy for an arena to develop a mystique when the home team wins a national championship in its first season in the building. That’s exactly what Arkansas did in the 1993-94 season. Since then it’s been hard not to put Bud Walton Arena on a list of the best venues in college basketball. It ranks fifth in seating capacity among on-campus arenas and is often referred to as the “Basketball Palace of Mid-America.” Even if the Razorbacks don’t win like they used to, they still attract large crowds, turning Bud Walton Arena into an intimidating fortress.
15. Dean Smith Center, North Carolina
In terms of size, the Dean Dome is near the top of the list among college basketball venues. At times, the fans at UNC have been criticized for being too much of a “wine and cheese” crowd. But for the big games, they pack the Dean Dome to capacity and make it one of the loudest arenas in the country.
14. Breslin Center, Michigan State
The Breslin Center has just about everything you could want in a college basketball venue. It has a killer floor design, a statue of Magic Johnson outside the entrance and a wild student section called the “Izzone” after longtime coach Tom Izzo. The Breslin Center also received a $50 million renovation in 2017 to upgrade the facilities and make it look and feel brand new.
13. Assembly Hall, Indiana
The passion that the people of Indiana have for basketball is undisputed. That excitement combined with the unique design of Assembly Hall makes it one of the most raucous environments to play a college basketball game. The Arena opened at the same time that Bobby Knight took over as head coach at Indiana, so the venue has seen plenty of winning over the years.
When the Hoosiers are winning, the atmosphere is as good as any in the country, which is why Gus Johnson dubbed it “the Carnegie Hall of college basketball.”
12. Finneran Pavilion, Villanova
Granted, Villanova plays a lot of games at the Wells Fargo Center to attract larger crowds, but even with those bigger crowds, it’s hard to beat the home-court advantage that the Wildcats get on campus at Finneran Pavilion. Even after receiving a major renovation to update the facilities, the Pavilion still has an old-school feel to it, giving the venue some of its unique character. While capacity is only around 6,500 fans, about one-third of that is made up of Villanova students, so the intensity level in the arena is high for every game.
11. Petersen Events Center, Pitt
Soon after it opened in 2002, the Petersen Events Center quickly became one of the toughest venues in college basketball. The student section is called the Oakland Zoo, which more than lives up to its name with the environment it creates for opposing teams. It’s actually one of the more creative student sections in the country when it comes to taunting opposing players. More importantly, the Pete sells out virtually every game and creates the kind of atmosphere that would make most college basketball programs jealous.
10. Hinkle Fieldhouse, Butler
Few states embrace basketball more than Indiana — and Hinkle Fieldhouse is “Indiana’s Basketball Cathedral.” Butler has played there since 1928, and now that the Bulldogs are kind of a big deal, Hinkle Fieldhouse is an important venue. Aside from that, the history of the venue is too much to ignore, including scenes from the movie Hoosiers being filmed there.
Hinkle Fieldhouse became a National Historic Landmark in 1987 and thanks to recent renovations remains a great place to place college basketball.
9. Dee Glen Smith Spectrum, Utah State
Utah State has one of the most overlooked home-court advantages in all of college basketball. The Aggies rarely lose at home, which is the way it’s been for decades. While it has only one level of seating and holds just over 10,000 fans, the Aggies pack the house for nearly every game. The size of the Smith Spectrum creates an intimate atmosphere and puts all 10,000 fans close to the floor, creating what they call “Spectrum Magic,” which has helped Utah State become one of the most dominating home teams in the country for a long time.
8. The Palestra, Penn
It might be small and on an Ivy League campus, but the Palestra in Philadelphia is considered the "Cathedral of College Basketball.” When it opened in 1927, the Palestra was one of the biggest arenas in the world, even though it sits less than 9,000 fans. Since then, the Palestra has hosted more regular- and post-season college basketball games than any other arena. The history of college basketball is tied to the Palestra. To this day, it still hosts most of the games played between Philadelphia’s Big 5 schools, which are some of the most intense rivalry games in the country.
7. Rupp Arena, Kentucky
In addition to being one of the largest college basketball venues in the country, Rupp Arena is also home to one of the most passionate fanbases. Kentucky fans are a big part of what makes Rupp Arena special. Wildcats fans come out en masse for every game and make a ton of noise, regardless of whether it’s a rivalry game or a mid-November battle against some cupcake. Fans paint the arena with Kentucky blue every single game, giving the Wildcats a distinct home-court advantage.
6. Dreamstyle Arena, New Mexico
New Mexico isn’t usually regarded as a college basketball powerhouse. However, “The Pit,” as Dreamstyle Arena is typically called, is always mentioned as one of the best venues in the country. It gets its name from the unique design. This makes every seat in the arena feel like it’s right on top of the court. While the Lobos aren’t considered an elite program, they have averaged more than 15,000 fans per game for over half a century, turning The Pit into one of the loudest and most intimidating arenas in college basketball.
5. Allen Fieldhouse, Kansas
There are a lot of deafening venues in college basketball, but Allen Fieldhouse might be the loudest. In fact, it set a Guinness World Record in 2017 after reaching over 130 decibels during a game. In addition to the noise and the incredible environment during Kansas games, Allen Fieldhouse has been around since 1955 and is one of the most historic college basketball venues in the nation. It’s filled with banners honoring championship teams and great players, as well as the famous “Pay Heed, All Who Enter: Beware of the Phog” banner that lets opposing teams know that they’re in for a tough game.
4. KFC Yum! Center, Louisville
Yes, the name is a little silly, but Louisville’s home court is a gorgeous basketball palace. Fans enter through a beautiful glass facade that looks even better from the inside. There are also parts of the concourse that are glass on the outside and offer views of the Ohio River. The Yum! Center also has the second-highest capacity of any college basketball arena. More importantly, Louisville fans pack it to its full capacity regularly, making it intimidating for visiting teams and a joy to visit for fans.
3. Carrier Dome, Syracuse
There is literally no other venue in college basketball like the Carrier Dome. Jim Boeheim’s team has long played in a massive arena that also serves as the home to the Syracuse football team. That being said, there’s almost no limit to how many people the Orange can pack inside. Every year, Syracuse leads the nation in attendance because their stadium can fit 30,000-plus fans with the Orange breaking its own record for on-campus attendance every few years. Naturally, it gets loud in there, earning the Carrier Dome earnings its nickname of “The Loud House.”
2. Cameron Indoor Stadium, Duke
Whether you’re a Duke fan or you hate them with a passion (let’s be honest, there is no middle ground), everyone can agree that Cameron Indoor Stadium is one of college basketball’s iconic venues. While it’s a small venue that fits fewer than 10,000 fans during a game, the Cameron Crazies are loud and sit on top of the court to create one of the most intimidating atmospheres you’ll find in any sports arena. Most players dream of either playing for Duke or beating Duke, and Cameron Indoor is usually the biggest reason for wanting to do either.
1. Madison Square Garden
Sure, it might be used more often as an NBA arena than a college basketball venue, but the Garden is still the best place to play basketball in the world. While St. John’s likes to claim MSG as its home court, Madison Square Garden is more known for the incredible games it’s hosted during the Big East Tournament, early-season tilts between heavyweights and even NCAA Tournament clashes. Every college player dreams of getting a chance to play at Madison Square Garden and the atmosphere there for big games is like no other in the sport.
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