clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

A Decade in the Big Ten: Ranking League Basketball Arenas

Northwestern v Indiana Photo by Michael Hickey/Getty Images

It has been a decade in the Big Ten for the Nebraska Cornhuskers as of Thursday, July 1. With that in mind, we continue our tour of all things Big Ten nostalgia (okay, I saw that eyeroll, but it’s the offseason so just grit it out with us) with a look around the Big Ten at the most attended arenas in the country for over 40* years.
*Covid-19 does not count against that record in my view, no matter what is decided by others.

Now, most of these I am relying on reputation for as I have only been to The Breslin Center, Bryce Jordan Center, Pinnacle Bank Arena, and XFinity Center.

My Criteria:

  • Sightlines
  • Aesthetics
  • Crowd reputation/consistency
  • Banners
  • History
  • Miscellaneous such as name (aka writer’s bias categories)

14. Bryce Jordan Arena

(Penn State)

Bryce Jordan Arena, Dec. 2010
Kevin Knight

A boring arena opened in 1995 that has had the nosebleeds closed off by curtains for years because nobody comes to the games. There are no Big Ten banners, and at best the only thing you can really hang here are two NIT titles. This arena has little history, little of interest to draw your attention, and zero interesting history. If it isn’t dead last in a Big Ten rankings, its because of a personal vendetta somebody has instead of objective truth.

13. The Schottenstein Center/Value City Arena

(Ohio State)

Morgan State v Ohio State Photo by Kirk Irwin/Getty Images

First off, even figuring out what the hell this arena’s name is starts you off on the wrong foot, let along making it the perfect jumbled name mess for a bland experience you will endure inside. It’s a soulless NBA type structure that drowns out crowd noise and ruins the sport of college basketball for Buckeye fans. Sure, there are a ton of banners in the rafters since the arena opened in 1998. So what? What is the point of having a shiny, gigantic arena if the crowd sucks as a result? Next, please.

12. Crisler Center


University of Michigan Photo by Leon Halip/Getty Images

I don’t care how much money you sink into putting a fountain in the concourse and installing fresh bulbs in all the lights inside the arena so you can actually see the court. Crisler Center has some banners (though some are in storage), and it has some crowd noise. Good for you. It is still a dump and sits way behind in a conference hosting some of the top basketball arenas in the country. Plus, naming it after a football coach is just f**ing stupid, whether he went on to become AD or not.

11. Carver Hawkeye Arena


Maryland-Eastern Shore v Iowa Photo by Matthew Holst/Getty Images

Basically Crisler Center, but with fewer banners and a more modern crowd wrap-around surrounding the court. I assume with zero first hand knowledge the seats therefore have better sight lines.

10. Welsh Ryan Arena


Northwestern beats Illinois, 68-66, for first Big Ten win of the season David Banks/Chicago Tribune/Tribune News Service via Getty Images

Okay, so no there isn’t much history of winning here. No there aren’t any banners. But you know what? They have a super shiny renovation of a historically old arena. That can be tough to pull off, but Northwestern seems to have done it. Hats off to Northwestern for that, and as a result they get No. 10... for now.

9. The Rutgers Athletic Center (The RAC) Jersey Mike’s Arena

(Rutgers) (Updated Nov. 2021)

Minnesota v Rutgers Photo by Mitchell Layton/Getty Images

The ugly duckling disguised as an airplane hangar from the Cold War that has finally come to life (in non-COVID-19 years) in the crowd as Rutgers clawed its way into the middle of the Big Ten pack and snapped that NCAA drought. The crowd noise is nice, but it wasn’t there until the team started to win, so that hurt them. Calling it “The RAC” is kind of cool, though, so they got a bump just for that.

We have since updated this article to reflect the fact Rutgers sold the naming rights to the RAC to Jersey Mike’s Subs in a multi-year deal and thus the arena has been rebranded “Jersey Mike’s Arena.”

8. Pinnacle Bank Arena

(If you don’t know whose arena this is, what are you even doing with your life?)

Gallery Photo: A Full Day of Husker Hoops: Gallery

PBA is a beautiful, shiny arena. And it almost feels like UNL’s actual home court, but it just doesn’t quite get there. On top of that, the crowd only brings it for top flight games. Besides that, it is basically a country club get together (or was at the one game I went to). When you don’t have hardware, banners, or history, you better bring some wins and some crowd noise, the latter particularly on a consistent basis. Start getting any of the above going, and PBA will vault way up in the rankings. Name, while extremely corporate, gives provides cool nicknames, too. Until the wins and consistent crowd noise come along, it’s bottom half of the league.

7. Kohl Center

(Flopsconsin… er, I mean Wisconsin)

Texas A&M-Corpus Christi v Wisconsin Photo by Mike McGinnis/Getty Images

There are a lot of banners. There are also consistent crowds and crowd noise. The arena even has a shiny and nice looking façade. What hurts it big time in these rankings is the sightlines. Being a multi-purpose arena, I’ve seen a lot of reviews that ding sections having shitty views of the basketball court. If you leave your fans stuck in crappy seats, it is going to hurt your rankings big time. Also, the name makes it almost sound like a department store.

6. State Farm Arena

(The society for safer driving and insurance bundling? No, that’s not right… er, probably Illinois then)

COLLEGE BASKETBALL: FEB 13 Women’s - Ohio State at Illinois Photo by Michael Allio/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

The space ship maybe should be behind Kohl Center, but my nostalgia for that 2005 Illinois squad is perhaps shading my opinion a bit despite a lackluster decade and a half after that Final Four run. There isn’t much to say about the place beyond that. It can get loud pretty easily being an old hunk of junk, and the name is an awful corporate sellout arrangement. While the layout is similar to Crisler and Mackey, it does a better job leaving the court feeling like the fans are right on top of it.

5. Xfinity Center


Mount St. Mary’s v Maryland Photo by Mitchell Layton/Getty Images

Who actually likes Comast? That lone guy in the back who works for them. Okay, now that we got the awful name out of the way, let’s break this place down. XFinity is a huge arena inside. If it weren’t for the massive student section, it might start to feel like Ohio State. However, the students wrap around and cover the steep wall of seats on one end behind the basket, and it can be intimidating. Like PBA, the fans can have a tendency not to show up, though by that I mean not actually come to the game in this case when it is a minor opponent. That dings them, as does the name, and the lack of Big Ten hardware (even giving a handicap on this category for their brief time in the conference). Also, the one time I actually sat in the stands instead of the press seats at a packed game, there were some total asshole fans around me for it.

4. Williams Arena


This one gets a bit of a bonus for being one of those “truly historic” arenas out there. I almost docked them for how eye-gougeingly bright that court is, but decided to let it slide. The raised court is also probably a big safety hazard, but I don’t have to deal with it as a player so hence it will fall into the “nostalgic” bonus category. The banners aren’t a ton, but there are definitely some. The crowd is generally fine, assisted by an old arena, and really in the end it is mostly the nostalgia of the venue that gets it this high in the rankings.

3. The Breslin Center

(Michigan State)

The Breslin Center as seen from Spartan Stadium, Nov. 30, 2020.
Kevin Knight
  • Banners and hardware? Check.
  • Consistent crowd noise? Pretty much best of the Big Ten.
  • Sightlines and aesthetics? Not a bad seat in the house, and regular upgrades keep it feeling fresh and modern despite opening in 1989.
  • History? 1989 is both not that long ago and is ages ago. The Breslin Center is around the middle of the league in age, but it’s “The house that Izzo built.” The fact 26 seasons of this 31 year old arena have had the same coach, and he’s become a Hall of Famer in that time while turning MSU into a modern blue blood makes this arena special in a way. So, yeah, it does have some unique history.
The Gilbert Pavilion expansion to The Breslin Center that opened in 2017 as seen on Nov. 30, 2020.
Kevin Knight

Why No. 3? Well, because the history and banners just don’t quite match the next two on this list even if the crowds and more modern amenities do.

2. Simon Skjodt Assembly Hall

(If you didn’t know this is Indiana than you need to reevaluate everything about your life)

Marquette v Indiana

Maybe blasphemy to some, but Indiana’s Assembly Hall is not No. 1 in my rankings. It has more national titles, it has a hell of a unique and recognizable venue, and it has lots of history and prestige. However, the place could probably use a bit of a facelift, even if it has been quite a few years since that beam crashed into the empty stands hours before Iowa was supposed to play against the Hoosiers and caused a game postponement (though the arena was heavily renovated in 2016).

1. Mackey Arena

(Choo, choo baby, it’s the Boilermakers chugging along into first place only to collapse in the tourney again like any year since 1980)

Xavier v Purdue Photo by Michael Hickey/Getty Images

Mackey is historic, loud, has more Big Ten banners than anybody else (even if the national titles and even Final Fours are few and far between), and looks great on the inside (and outside) following some renovations the last few years. Playing here sucks for opposing teams, the place is oozing basketball history, and it often gets too overlooked by hoops fans by Assembly Hall despite the fact it isn’t falling apart and offers just as special, or better, of a gameday experience for a college hoops fan.

There you have it, the arenas of the Big Ten ranked from No. 14 all the way to No. 1. How do you rank them, which have you been to, and which are highest on your bucket list? Let us know in the comments!