As we continue to trudge through the Summer by profiling the best of the best around Mid-Major hoops, today we step away from players and look at some the venues that make college basketball special.
Tenants: Penn, Philadelphia Big 5 (Penn, LaSalle, Saint Joseph's, Temple, Villanova)
The Palestra is the grandfather of college basketball in terms of venues. Built nearly ninety years ago, Philadelphia's gym has become hallowed ground. No other arena in the nation has hosted more regular season or post-season NCAA men's basketball games, more visiting teams, or more NCAA tournaments.
When most think of the ancient venue they usually think of the annual round-robin Big 5 competition between the city's heralded basketball programs. All the games aren't still played on 33rd Street, but the annual event is still synonymous with the arena.
McCarthey Athletic Center
Gonzaga fans still lament about missing the "Kennel", but the 6,000 seat MAC is a unique venue on its own. No one wants to head up to Spokane to play the Zags and the nearly ten year old arena is routinely the toughest ticket in town.
Since moving to the new arena, Mark Few's squad has a staggering 122-9 record in their new digs. If anyone should have the "Abandon All Hope" sign it should be the Bulldogs and their great fans in the Pacific Northwest.
Charles Koch Arena
Tenant: Wichita State
The nearly sixty year old building is nothing to write home about itself, but its the crazy atmosphere inside the "Roundhouse" that makes the Wheat Shockers home a special place. Wichita State has long been known as one of the nation's toughest venues to play and it shows in a 645-219 record all time at Koch Arena. Hostile, loud fans make all the difference in college basketball and the Shockers have them.
The arena did go through a $25 million renovation in 2003 featuring a new concourse and updated seating and video boards.
Stuart C. Siegel Center
In the same vein as Wichita State it isn't the building that makes the Siegel Center special, rather the Rams' fans inside. The"Stu" is home to the 2013 Naismith Student Section of the Year in the "Rowdy Rams" and also features a top notch college pep band in the "Peppas".
VCU is 178-29 all-time in the building and it's not getting any easier when you add in Shaka Smart's HAVOC with the continued growth and passion of the Rams' fanbase.
Tenant: Murray State
Only in Kentucky would you get an arena where fans wearing UK or Louisville gear are called out on the Jumbotron and forced to change into the home team's gear. The Racers passionate, intelligent fans makes "The Bank" one of college basketball's best venue. Did we mention the Racers 182-32 in this building? There's a reason why.
Corbett Sports Center
Tenant: North Carolina A&T
"The Dawg Pound" features one of the nation's most hostile environment and an environment that has been nationally recognized and produced a home court advantage for not only the men's team but the women's team too.
Stadium Journey sums up a night in the "Pound" quite well:
The Aggies average over 4000 fans a game and that is far more than any other school in their conference. Those fans include the students standing at each end just 2-3 feet from the court. It is very intimidating to have fans that close. Twice during the game there was an announcement to stay off the court and out of play. But tonight the students were well behaved and they stayed off the court.
Music is front and center at this venue. When the action stops the very good pep band swings into action. If it is not the band, then they crank up the rap music or sometimes some jazzy R and B music.
But rest assured it will not be quiet.
I remember listening to a game on the radio when my Longwood Lancers visited a couple of years back. I had to cut off the radio because it wasn't even worth trying to decipher what the play by play guy was saying.
I can't assure that if you visit Lexington, Virginia that you'll be greeted by a full house of fans, but if you catch VMI in the midst of conference play or against a inter-state rival then you're in for a treat. Like most military institutions, VMI alumni are full of pride and have a special bond. This bond shows in the passion they show for the basketball program.
In Cameron Hall you'll find knowledgeable, fanatic alumni and a corps of cadets ready to let loose. For big games it seems as if the corps are...well lets just say strongly encouraged to attend and they show up ready to cheer and let some steam off. The most unique feature may be the upperclassmen who have already received their class rings bang mercilessly on any metal object they can find in the arena. At times the chime of rings can be deafening and distracting.
Valpo's home is another case where it's not the building, it's the fans. The Brown and Gold continue to show up to make the ARC one of the nation's most loud and hostile venues. Horizon League teams cringe every year when they see a road trip to face the Crusaders pop up on their schedule.