Super Seven: Ranking best Big Ten hoops arenas

When it comes to the best hoop arenas in the nation, places like Kentucky’s Rupp Arena, Duke’s Cameron Indoor Stadium, UCLA’s Pauley Pavilion and Kansas’ Allen Fieldhouse often are mentioned. But the Big Ten has its share of iconic venues, and I rank the conference’s seven best in this week’s Super Seven.

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1. Assembly Hall, Indiana. The place has been rocking since it opened in 1971. This iconic edifice has been home to three national titles and countless big wins over the years and was at its best with Bob Knight prowling the sidelines. With its steep side stands and end zone seats, few venues are as intimidating. And players inbounding the ball can literally and figuratively feel the breath of fans behind them.

2. Mackey Arena, Purdue. When the Boilermakers are playing well and this place is packed, there is no louder or hotter arena in the Big Ten on a cold, wind-swept winter night. And kudos to the school for maintaining the integrity and intimacy of Mackey during a recent multi-million renovation that was completed in 2011. There isn’t a bad seat in a place built in 1967 that has kept its age fabulously.

Nov 27, 2012; Bloomington, IN, USA; A general view of the opening tip of the game between the Indiana Hoosiers and the North Carolina Tar Heels at Assembly Hall. Mandatory Credit: Brian Spurlock-US PRESSWIRE3. Williams Arena, Minnesota. A.k.a. “The Barn,” walking in Williams Arena is like walking back into a black-and-white era. And, it’s awesome. The venue was opened in 1928 and has undergone renovations in 1950, 1993 and 1997, but it’s starting to show its age. And that has some calling for Williams to be razed. If the place can’t be preserved, here’s hoping a new arena is built in its likeness. We don’t need another generic edifice that mimics an NBA arena.

4. Carver-Hawkeye Arena, Iowa. The place looks funky from the outside. But inside, it’s all business. To walk through the doors and look down into the “pit” toward the court is a neat experience. Iowa recently renovated the arena, which opened in 1983 and has held its age well. And now that Fran McCaffrey has the hoop team on the rise, Carver-Hawkeye soon figures to explode with excitement as one of the most intimidating atmospheres in the Big Ten—just like in the 1980s.

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5. Kohl Center, Wisconsin. I loved the hot-box intimacy of the old Wisconsin Field House. But the Badgers have a sparkling home in the Kohl Center that was opened in 1998. In fact, for a newer venue, few arenas are more intimidating, thanks to a raucous student section. How tough is it to win in Kohl? Bo Ryan is 166-15 in Kohl for a .917 winning percentage since taking over in 2001-02. Bottom line: No Big Ten arena is a better combination of creature comforts and chaos.

6. Breslin Center, Michigan State. I hated to see the Spartans leave Jenison Field House, but the Breslin Center is nice. Opened in 1989, the Jack Breslin Student Events Center is typically a house of horrors for the opposition. Several upgrades have taken place over the years. But it’s the proximity to the court—and the presence of the zany “Izzone” student section—that makes the Breslin Center a brutal place for visitors. How brutal? From 1998-2002, Michigan State won 53 consecutive games in the Breslin Center, which was a Big Ten record. All-time, MSU is 214-21 at Breslin (.911). Enough said.

7. Assembly Hall, Illinois. Illinois’ version of Assembly explodes with energy when the Fighting Illini are playing well, with a rowdy student section dubbed the “Orange Krush” pumping up the volume. From the outside, it looks like a giant flying saucer, as its profile arches high in contrast to the flat backdrop. Yes, Assembly Hall opened in 1963 and is showing its age, but a renovation is coming that I hope will preserve the intimacy of this classic structure that is standing the test of time.

About Tom Dienhart senior writer Tom Dienhart is a veteran sports journalist who covers Big Ten football and men’s basketball for and BTN TV. Find him on Twitter and Facebook, read all of his work at, and subscribe to his posts via RSS. Also, send questions to his weekly mailbag using the form below and read all of his previous answers in his reader mailbag section.

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Your Opinion?
Show Comments (12 Comments)
Derek on 12/18/2012 @ 4:31pm EDT Said:

The Breslin Center 6th?? Behind Carver-Hawkeye??? Like Dicky V would say….ARE YOU SERIOUS?!?!?!

Tom Thompson on 12/18/2012 @ 4:55pm EDT Said:

The only reason Williams Arena has lost any of it luster is because the last couple head coaches have not understood the power of “The Barn”. Through the 70’s, 80’s and the Clem Haskins teams of the 90’s no team could come into the Barn and win without their very best effort. Dan Monson and Tubby Smith have not demanded the hard play it took to defend the raised floor against anybody. Ask Lou Henson and his undefeated #1 ranked Illini. Ask the Fab Five how their first trip to The Barn was. Ask Tom Izzo when he was coaching with Jud Heathcote. We blew out Bob Knight’s Indiana teams there a couple times.

This is Tubby Smith’s best Gopher team. If they play with real heart this year the Barn will be rockin’ like it hasn’t been in many years. No one will say it is showing it’s age or needs to be razed.

Dean on 12/19/2012 @ 4:18pm EDT Said:

Carver Hawkeye, meet Tom Izzo, losses to Iowa there in 2011,2008,2007, 2006 to rotten Iowa basketball teams…… tell me.

ILLINIwiley on 12/19/2012 @ 4:34pm EDT Said:

Okay, I will totally give you Assembly Hall in Indiana because of the three national championships and I’ll give you the Breslin Center, But seriously Assembly Hall in Champbana below Mackey Arena and Carver Hawkeye Arena? Are you freaking serious!?!?

Also, the Kohl Center is very nice but new and just packed full of money. What about the classic FLYING ILLINI and the history of ILLINI bball?

Good choice on The Barn tho!!! Cool place!

Doug on 12/19/2012 @ 7:25pm EDT Said:

Hey Dean that’s great that Iowa beat MSU at home those years, now how about you list how many times Iowa has lost at the Breslin? That’s what I thought….

Chris Peterson on 12/19/2012 @ 8:17pm EDT Said:

Williams Arena is cool. I went to Mackey Arena in 2011 to see my Bucks take on Purdue. That place was insane loud that day. Our players even said it was the loudest place they’ve ever played. Cool environment, but the seats are really cramped and uncomfortable. Maybe it was because the Bucks lost.😦

steve behrendt on 12/19/2012 @ 8:37pm EDT Said:

What about the recently renovated Chrisler Center in Ann Arbor? Tha place is unbelievable!

mike on 12/19/2012 @ 11:35pm EDT Said:

Assembly Hall is a weird place. They turn off all the lights except those right over the floor. If you’re sitting halfway or further back, it’s eerie. The fans around the court are great, but beyond that, the flying saucer should be mothballed.

mike on 12/19/2012 @ 11:40pm EDT Said:

Asesmbly Hall, Indiana, is another story. The stands are so tall and steep, you need a sherpa to reach the top. But it’s true. There is NO more intimidating place to play. I’ve only seen it empty, and it was scary then. The few places remaining similar to this are where the game should be played. Yes, Carver-Hawkeye in Iowa City is nice, but the atmosphere, even in the ’80s, was never–and never will be– the same as it was in the old Fieldhouse. That place was hot, uncomfortable, messy, and the greatest place I’ve ever been to see a basketball game.

BoilerDVM14 on 12/20/2012 @ 10:02pm EDT Said:

Mackey Arena is insanely loud and the Paint Crew is relentless. Dickie V himself said it was one of, if not the loudest venue in the B1G. The place was crazy when College Gameday was there in 2011 and it wasn’t even half full. Very few can rival the place when it’s loud.

Dick on 12/20/2012 @ 10:38pm EDT Said:

Doug, you realize Iowa had one good team out of those years right? You realize Mich St. has been a tournament team every years since 1997-1998 season right? And your comparing bottom dweller Iowa losing at the Breslin center to top ranked Mich St. teams losing at Carver Hawkeye?

Dale on 1/15/2013 @ 10:18am EDT Said:

The only two Big Ten arenas I have been to are Mackey and Assembly Hall in Bloomington.
I have not been to an IU game, just inside the place, but the balcony is terrible. I don’t know anyone even close to unbiased that has been to both places that thinks that Assembly hall is a better place to see a game (including IU grads and fans)

Assembly Hall is probably great for those that have never sat in the balcony.

Mackey on the other hand has no bad seats at all. It is very well designed and with the new renovations very nice as well.