With the college basketball season in full swing, students, alumni and fans of the game are turning out in force nationwide to cheer their teams. Author, sports commentator and basketball aficionado John Feinstein gives his list of favorite venues for watching college hoops to Tim Smight for USA TODAY.
Allen Fieldhouse University of Kansas Lawrence
With the arena named for legendary Kansas coach Phog Allen and the court named for the game's inventor James Naismith, 53-year-old Allen Fieldhouse is steeped in basketball history. The Rock Chalk chant before each game is one of the signature cheers in all of college sports. "You haven't lived until you've heard 'Rock Chalk Jayhawk' in Allen Fieldhouse on a cold winter night," Feinstein says. 800-344-2957; kuathletics.com
Rose Hill Gym Fordham University New York
"Rose Hill, home of the Fordham Rams, is the oldest facility in the country being used for Division I basketball, and it feels that way inside," Feinstein says. "The gym has been in continuous use since it opened in 1925. It's tiny — seating just 3,470 — but has a wonderful ambience. If you're a college hoops fan, it's definitely worth the trip." 718-817-4300; www.fordham.edu/athletics
University Arena University of New Mexico Albuquerque
Home to the New Mexico Lobos, University Arena — affectionately known as The Pit — was opened in 1966. The nickname is a reference to the facility's unique subterranean construction — the floor sits 37 feet below ground level. The steeply tiered arena seats more than 18,000. "It's a truly unique place with a highly charged atmosphere," Feinstein says. "When the players walk on to the court in The Pit, it's like watching Roman gladiators emerging into a wall of sound." 505-925-5858; golobos.cstv.com
Hart Recreation Center College of the Holy Cross Worcester, Mass.
"This is another tiny gem, seating just 3,600," Feinstein says. "When it's packed, it really rocks — the student section is called The Hart Attack, which tells you all you need to know. Hanging from the rafters are championship banners from 1947 and 1954, a reminder that this is the school where Bob Cousy and Tom Heinsohn played before going on to the Celtics and the Hall of Fame." 508-793-2573; goholycross.cstv.com
Mackey Arena Purdue University West Lafayette, Ind.
"Forty-year-old Mackey is one of the last of the old Big Ten arenas," Feinstein says. "The team benches are actually situated below the court — the coaches have to jump up to give their players instructions." The arena's domed aluminum roof makes the crowd noise reverberate to mega-decibel level. "When the Boilermakers are on a run, you literally can't hear the guy next to you talking." 800-497-7678; purduesports.cstv.com
Cassell Coliseum Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University Blacksburg, Va.
Opened in 1962, Cassell Coliseum is now one of the oldest arenas in the Atlantic Coast Conference. Although relatively large, seating more than 10,000, the arena is an intimate basketball showplace. "From the floor, the stands appear to go straight up to the ceiling," Feinstein says. "Walking into Cassell on a cold night, surrounded by Hokie fans, you'll feel like you're exactly where you should be." 800-828-3244; hokietickets.com
O'Connell Center University of Florida Gainesville
Known on campus as the "O-Dome," the O'Connell Center was built in 1980 and renovated in 1998. "It's the newest building on my list of favorites, but it doesn't feel that new," Feinstein says. "With the Gators a national contender in recent years, the O-Dome is a great place to watch college hoops. The student section — dubbed the Rowdy Reptiles — really lives up to its name. This isn't just a football school anymore. Two straight national championships will do that for you." 352-375-4683; oconnellcenter.ufl.edu
The Palestra University of Pennsylvania Philadelphia
Opened in 1927, the Palestra has hosted more NCAA basketball games than any other facility in the nation. The small arena is famed for its intimate atmosphere, with the bleachers extending right up to the court. "The Palestra just oozes basketball tradition," Feinstein says. "Walk in the front door and read the plaque — 'To play the game is great; to win the game is greater; but to love the game is the greatest of all' — and you get chills." 215-898-6151; pennathletics.com
Cameron Indoor Stadium Duke University Durham, N.C.
Home of the Duke Blue Devils, a perennial college basketball powerhouse, Cameron has a reputation for being one of the toughest places for a visiting team to play. One reason is the highly vocal student section, affectionately called the Cameron Crazies. "The students are loud and raucous, and they create a great atmosphere," Feinstein says. "When you walk in, it almost feels like you're entering a high school gym." 919-613-7575; goduke.com
Pauley Pavilion UCLA Los Angeles
Although it may lack the character and charm of other premier college basketball venues, UCLA's Pauley Pavilion does not lack for history or tradition. "Just count the 11 NCAA Championship banners hanging from the rafters," Feinstein says. "Listen to the band play the famous Bruin fight song, and look for legendary coach John Wooden (age 97), who still attends most games. That's all you really need." 310-825-2101; uclabruins.cstv.com