As an Indiana native, I grew up knowing that March means one thing: college basketball. Whether you cheer on the Hoosiers, Irish, Boilermakers, or Bulldogs, there’s at least one home-state team in the tournament nearly every year.
For basketball aficionados and fair-weather fans alike, March is undoubtedly an exciting time of year coast to coast. While I’m clearly biased about basketball in the Hoosier state, I know there are other states—and schools—who are just as passionate about the game as Indiana.
This hardwood itinerary takes you to eight of the most electrifying basketball arenas and student sections in the U.S. From the Cameron Crazies to the Rock Chalk chant, these gyms are rich in history and ready for tip-off during both the regular and postseason.
1. Cameron Indoor Stadium, Durham, North Carolina
Home of the Duke Blue Devils, Cameron Indoor Stadium is arguably one of the most iconic basketball arenas in the U.S., if not the world. A bucket-list destination for basketball fans everywhere, tickets to watch a game in this gym can be expensive and hard to acquire—depending on Duke’s opponent. This year, some tickets even went for more than $5,000 for Coach K’s (Mike Krzyzewski) farewell game against the University of North Carolina—a longtime rival of the Blue Devils.
The stadium itself is unsuspecting, small, and seemingly dated compared to other universities, but the intimate, almost high school-like environment is what differentiates Cameron from other gymnasiums. That, and the fact that its student section (the Cameron Crazies) has reached noise levels higher than 121 decibels, and fans camp outside the stadium for weeks leading up to a major game, just to ensure they get a seat. While the departure of Coach K will bring a new era of basketball to Cameron Indoor, there’s no doubt that this gym will remain a basketball sanctuary for years to come.
2. Allen Fieldhouse, Lawrence, Kansas
With a capacity of more than 16,000 fans, Allen Fieldhouse is one of the toughest courts to play as a visiting team. While the University of Kansas is known for its successful basketball teams, fans of the Jayhawks are often credited with creating a difficult environment for opponents. The fans are ranked by ESPN The Magazine as the loudest crowd in basketball, and in 2017 they broke the Guinness World Record for loudest indoor “roar” during a game against West Virginia. When the crowd isn’t screaming at the opposing team, you can usually catch them reciting the “Rock Chalk, Jayhawk” chant, a fan-favorite at the University of Kansas.
Aside from the stellar fan base, Allen Fieldhouse is home to some of the biggest names in basketball history. Wilt Chamberlain, Paul Pierce, Danny Manning, and Joel Embiid (for one season) have all worn a Jayhawk jersey. The court itself is named after James Naismith, the inventor of basketball and the first basketball coach at the University of Kansas.
3. Breslin Center, East Lansing, Michigan
Known for another dedicated student section, the Breslin Center is home to Michigan State University’s basketball teams. Named after the current men’s team coach, Tom Izzo, the school’s famous “Izzone” is frequently referenced by sports commentators during games at the arena. In the Izzone, you’ll find students decked out in school colors and fun costumes cheering on their beloved Spartans.
Recent updates to the facility include the Tom Izzo Basketball Hall of History, which displays trophies and tributes to former players from both the men’s and women’s programs. Golden State Warriors player, and former Spartan, Draymond Green recently donated a new weight lifting room to the stadium.
If basketball isn’t your thing, the Breslin Center hosts other events throughout the year. Previous acts include the Red Hot Chili Peppers, Aerosmith, Taylor Swift, and Cher.
4. Pauley Pavilion, Los Angeles, California
Pauley Pavilion, the former home of legendary coach John Wooden, is a must-visit gym for basketball enthusiasts. From the trophy cases and memorabilia displayed in the concourse to the 11 NCAA Mens’ Basketball Championship flags (the most in college history) hanging from the banisters in the arena, stepping into Pauley Pavilion is like visiting a living basketball history museum. Even with a multi-million-dollar renovation in 2010, the stadium still holds a sense of nostalgia that’s difficult to dismiss.
Home to the men’s and women’s basketball teams as well as the school’s elite gymnastics program, several famous Bruins athletes have graced the gym floors at Pauley Pavilion including Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Bill Walton, Russel Westbrook, Ann Meyers, and Olympic gymnast Jordan Chiles.
5. The Palestra, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
Referred to as the Cathedral of College Basketball, the Palestra is the home court for the University of Pennsylvania (Penn) Quakers. Located minutes from downtown Philadelphia, it’s the oldest major basketball arena still in use for college athletics, and it played host to more regular and postseason NCAA men’s basketball games than any other facility. With a seating capacity of only 8,700, there really isn’t a bad seat inside the stadium, which gives it a more intimate feeling than most modern hardwood arenas.
The Palestra is known for hosting some of the best rivalry games within Philadelphia’s Big 5 Conference (Penn, Saint Joseph’s, Temple, La Salle, and Villanova), and still hosts nearly half of intra-city conference matches. This iconic building even has a feature-length ESPN documentary produced by former Penn basketball player Mikaelyn Austin. The film recounts the history of the Palestra, and its influence on the game.
6. Rupp Arena, Lexington, Kentucky
Home to the always-competitive University of Kentucky Wildcats, Rupp Arena holds more than 20,000 fans and is one of the largest arenas in collegiate athletics. The gymnasium’s name comes from famed coach Adolph Rupp who led the Wildcats to 876 wins during his time at the university. For visiting teams, the student section at Rupp is hard to ignore, but one thing that sets this fan base apart is that you’ll rarely, if ever, see them storm the court after a big win. Kentucky fans hold their basketball team to such a high standard, that no game is considered an upset in Lexington, no matter the opponent.
With the most successful competitive cheerleading squad in college sports and one of the largest pep bands in the nation, the Wildcat crowd knows how to make some noise on game days. Before the fans at Allen Fieldhouse stole the title, Kentucky was crowned the loudest indoor crowd by Guinness World Records. Concerts and other events are regularly held at Rupp, one of the largest venues in the state.
7. Dean E. Smith Center, Chapel Hill, North Carolina
Maybe it’s the Tar Heel-blue seats that fill the arena, or maybe it’s that the G.O.A.T., Michael Jordan, once sported a University of North Carolina jersey—either way, the Dean Smith Center (Dean Dome) is a force to be reckoned with when it comes to college basketball. Though it might be less nostalgic than Cameron Indoor Stadium, its archrival down the road, this monstrous gymnasium hosts epic hardwood battles and is home to some of the most celebrated names in basketball.
Aside from Jordan, players like Vince Carter, Jerry Stackhouse, and Tyler Hansbrough all played college ball for the Tar Heels; Roy Williams and the arena’s namesake both led the programs to several victories with a combined record of more than 1,300 wins.
The 300,000-square-foot facility is the third largest arena in college basketball and holds close to 22,000 spectators. At times, fans are criticized for their lack of enthusiasm inside the Dean Dome, but for major games, there’s no doubt that opposing teams know they’re there—especially when that rival is Duke.
8. Simon Skjodt Assembly Hall, Bloomington, Indiana
Circling back to the Hoosier state, Assembly Hall is the pinnacle of college basketball in Indiana. Home to the Indiana University (IU) Hoosier basketball teams, more than 17,000 fans fit into the facility, most of them sporting cream and crimson attire—including the student-favorite striped bib overalls. Known for its unique design, Assembly Hall was constructed with steep, theater-like seating that’s either loved or hated by fans.
Both men’s and women’s basketball teams have had notable success in this arena, most recently during the 2015 to 2016 season when both teams went undefeated at home with a combined 33 wins. Famous players like Isiah Thomas, George McGinnis, and Calbert Cheaney are just a few Hoosier stars who went on to play in the NBA. One name that always stands out is IU’s infamous head coach, Bobby Knight, whose wins were only outshined by his theatrics, which included a chair or two being thrown across the court.