It’s early December, which means Big Ten campuses are slowly shifting their focuses from football to basketball. Fans are back in the basketball stands, and they’re already beginning to flock to Big Ten arenas to back their teams.
Big Ten basketball is home to some of the best arenas in the country, but they’re not all created equally. Some have more history than others, some have better atmospheres than others, and some have better names, all things that will play a role in how I will rank them, from 14 down to one.
Disclaimer: I have not seen a game at every Big Ten basketball arena. I’ve seen games at Maryland, Ohio State, Michigan, and Purdue, and I’ve also been to Iowa, Illinois, Northwestern, and Indiana’s arenas. This will not be an exact science, but I have watched Big Ten basketball religiously for about two decades now, so I’m not shooting blindly. It’s also important for you to know that I don’t care about your feelings – this is my semi-educated opinion, and if it makes you angry, then you probably deserve to be mad.
Big Ten Basketball Arenas, Ranked
Before I go further, let’s outline the criteria I’m using for these very definitive rankings: atmosphere, home-court advantage, banners, history, and name. Yes, name – I believe the name of an arena makes a difference, and it will play a role in how I evaluate the Big Ten’s basketball arenas.
14: Bryce Jordan Arena (Penn State)
If this surprises you, then you probably don’t watch a lot of Big Ten basketball. No Big Ten school supports its basketball less than Penn State, both in fan support and in athletic department support. There aren’t banners, there isn’t history, and the hollow halls of Bryce Jordan are the most menacing aspect of playing a road game there.
I’ll at least give this arena a nod for the name, because it’s named after someone and not a faceless corporation, but that’s literally all it has. It’s an easy pick for last place.
13: The Schottenstein Center (Ohio State)
The Schott is a NBA arena masquerading as a college one, and it doesn’t work. The ceiling is way too high, which means that what little noise the fans make just disappears into the rafters, and those in attendance probably have an average age of 60, so the noise isn’t especially strong to begin with.
I grew up in Columbus and have seen a lot of games in this arena. The atmosphere is ranges from crickets at worst to decent at best, but that’s only for the absolute biggest games when the team is very good. There’s a good number of banners, but considering how good Ohio State basketball is, you can only consider this arena to be a disappointment. Also, the naming is really weird (it has two names, what?)
12: Crisler Center (Michigan)
The student section placement isn’t great, the lack of a balcony level means a good portion of the arena is seated pretty far from the action, and the atmosphere isn’t amazing (yes, it can get rowdy when Michigan is good and a big game comes to town, but who cares, that’s true for almost everywhere).
It does feel a bit harsh to put this arena this low, because I don’t think it’s a bad place to catch a game. But this conference is full of high-level arenas, and this just isn’t one. Also, naming a basketball arena after a past football coach is slightly insulting (even if he was also AD), but at least it’s named after a person and not a sponsor.
11: Welsh-Ryan Arena (Northwestern)
No history of winning, no banners, and not known for its amazing atmosphere. Why is Welsh-Ryan above Crisler and the Schott?
Because there’s something charming about how small and cute it is, plus the new renovation has brought the arena into the modern age while still maintaining it’s old-school charm. Welsh-Ryan feels much more like how I want college basketball to be than Crisler or the Schott do, and for that reason, I give Northwestern the nod. But it’s still No. 11, don’t get too excited.
10: Pinnacle Bank Arena (Nebraska)
I will begin by saying that Nebraska doesn’t have the 10th-best atmosphere in the conference. In fact, especially when considering how lackluster the program is and how much more important football is to the fans, Nebrasketball has a pretty good atmosphere.
But there is no history, no banners, and no cool name to give this arena a boost. Instead, it’s just a solid atmosphere that this arena has going for it, as well as being new and nice. But we’re not here for new and nice, we’re here for the best overall arena, and I personally prefer and old, gritty arena to a modern, updated one every time.
9: Jersey Mike’s Arena (Rutgers)
Rutgers would be higher on this list if it didn’t get sell its soul to mediocre sandwiches.
The RAC is tiny but powerful. The atmosphere Rutgers fans bring to it, especially when the team is remotely competitive, can make it one of the most difficult road trips in the Big Ten. But it doesn’t have a history of success, and now it has by far the worst name in the entire league.
Come on, Jersey Mike’s Arena, are you for real with this? The RAC was a cool name, and it fit with the ugliness of the outside of the arena. And Rutgers ruined it for a buck. Enjoy ninth place.
8: Kohl Center (Wisconsin)
The Kohl Center does have banners, it does have history, and it does have good atmosphere. It doesn’t have the same allure now that it did when Bo Ryan was head coach, but you can’t deny the power of the Kohl Center in the Big Ten.
But the name, oh the name. I have never liked the name. I know it’s named after Herb Kohl and not his department store, Kohl’s, but it only makes me think of Kohl’s, which becomes more lame by the year. If this were called Arena, I’d rank it higher, but instead it reminds me of that place I’d get clothes as a kid that had bags on wheels for shopping carts.
7: Carver-Hawkeye Arena (Iowa)
I’ve seen games at Iowa where the atmosphere is super rowdy, super hectic, and clearly has an impact on the contest. I’ve also seen games at Iowa where it feels like about five people are in the seats and contest’s location has zero effect on the outcome.
But the design of this one is cool, with the court built into the ground so the seats feels like they’re over top of the action, and I find the weird architecture on top of the building to be oddly charming. I also like the sound of the name and will always prefer non-sponsored arenas, so that’s a little bonus for Carver-Hawkeye.
6: State Farm Center (Illinois)
The name is awful. It’s terrible and stupid. But the arena itself is pretty awesome, and I couldn’t keep it out of the top half just because of its name.
Illinois is really a passionate basketball program, and now that the team is competitive again, we’re seeing it return. The atmosphere in Champaign can really be lively, and the student section placement lets the rowdiest in attendance have a strong influence on the game. I also like the UFO-like design of the building – unique aspects to arenas like that always draw me in.
5: Xfinity Center (Maryland)
This is the other arena I’ve been to the most, and I know its pros and cons very well.
Pros – student section location is outstanding, the students are more than willing to get rowdy, nice enough that it’s enjoyable but not so nice that it doesn’t feel like college basketball, decent history considering it’s just 20 years old, has some banners.
Cons – DMV traffic can mean the first few minutes of games don’t have a great atmosphere because so many people are stuck 10 minutes away, the name is abysmal.
For all of these considerations combined, I feel comfortable with a No. 5 ranking.
4: Williams Arena (Minnesota)
Minnesota doesn’t have tons and tons of banners, but you really can’t deny Williams Arena. It’s a true college basketball gem fit with everything you could want from a venue in this sport – intimate, unique, historic. The Barn, a top-tier arena nickname, lives up to its nickname in more ways than one.
The fans make it great, too. The Gophers haven’t been outstanding on the court lately, but you can always expect to see students dressed like barn animals and older fans decked out in a heavy maroon-and-gold coats just itching to boo something. Williams Arena is one of the best Big Ten basketball has to offer.
3: Mackey Arena (Purdue)
The top three are super close for me. The only thing that’s putting Mackey Arena at the bottom of the top is a relative lack of banners (tons of Big Ten ones, but not as many Final Fours and national titles) and less of a burning memory of its impact from my childhood.
Don’t get me wrong, Mackey Arena is elite not just in the Big Ten but nationally. It’s all concrete, and noise does not leave – it escalates. The game I saw at Mackey was one of the loudest experiences of my life. But there are slight things about the Breslin Center and Assembly Hall that I prefer. This is still a top-10 arena in the country, though.
2: Breslin Center (Michigan State)
My favorite thing about Breslin, which also makes it so terrifying as an opposing team, is the student section. I should say that The Izzone isn’t the same as it used to be a handful of years ago, but it’s still a great student section, and the location of their sections means the most insane and probably-not-sober members of the crowd nearly surround the enemy. It makes for an intense experience for the opposition.
The Big Ten title has gone through the Breslin Center for most of my life, and the banners are plentiful. This arena is iconic in the conference and nationally and is one of the best the Big Ten has to offer.
1: Assembly Hall (Indiana)
Banners, history, atmosphere, charm – Assembly Hall has it all. Well, it hasn’t had a basketball program that lives up to its standards for a while now, but otherwise, it has it all.
Even if Indiana hasn’t been the Final Four-contending team it aims to be for some time, Assembly Hall is still just as impactful as ever. The passion Hoosiers fans have for hoops is immeasurable, and it shows when any marquee matchup occurs in Bloomington. The aura of Assembly Hall doesn’t wane, even when the quality of the home team does. That’s when you know you have something special.