One of the coolest parts of being a manager is travelling with the team and experiencing the different arenas across the college basketball landscape. In this post I will rank all of the opposing SEC venues, in order, from "Don't bother seeing a game there" to "Absolutely must go" (NOTE: Have not been to Texas A+M's Reed Arena and Memorial Gym is not included here, so there are 12 arenas in all). Also, as I mentioned in this post on photography, I try to take a picture in each arena we play in, so I have included those photos here as well.
12. STEGEMAN COLISEUM - UNIVERSITY OF GEORGIA
Maybe it was the fact that the game took place at 12:30 on a Sunday afternoon and people were either at Church or hungover, but the attendance for our game vs UGA last year was pathetic. You could literally count the number of people in each section and add it up in your head. That's how poorly attended the game was. There were so few students there that I was able to steal T-shirts from like 2 whole rows of their student section without anyone caring. Some people call the arena "The Stegosaurus" and it certainly lives down to that nickname as it is ancient and lacking in any atmosphere whatsoever.
11. TAD SMITH COLISEUM (TAD PAD) - OLE MISS
In terms of the actual facility the "Tad Pad" is the worst in the SEC. It is a big circular dome that looks like a classic cookie cutter arena from the 60's, which it is. It has lights that hang down from the high ceilings like you might find in a dilapidated high school gymnasium, and the lighting is very poor. I mean the lights even went out during a game versus Arkansas this year. The fans had a little passion when we played them, but since we absolutely destroyed them they looked to entertain themselves in new ways by throwing ice and popcorn onto the court. I wouldn't recommend going here, but next year it might be a good time just to see Marshall Henderson in his friendly confines.
Tad Pad (notice the hanging lights)
10. COLEMAN COLISEUM - UNIVERSITY OF ALABAMA
There was a decent crowd at our game in Tuscaloosa two years ago, the problem is that their arena is not conducive to any type of atmosphere whatsoever . They do have this fan who holds up a fathead of himself underneath one of the baskets,
but outside of him the biggest cheers of the night were for Bama football center Barrett Jones who was honored at halftime. The arena feels like an airplane hangar and the fans feel very distant from the court, and when you combine that with the football first mentality of the school, you get a poor game experience.
9. HUMPHREY COLISEUM - MISSISSIPPI STATE UNIVERSITY
I would probably put "The Hump" lower but I am cutting their fans some slack for this year. They had a team that was hit with more injuries than any I have ever seen and was devoid of SEC-level talent. Combine that with their 40 point loss to us, and you get an absolutely dead building. Myself, Coach Turner, and some others on the bench spent most of the game speculating on how a female who was a perfect ten ended up sitting courtside with a guy who was like a five. Coach T concluded he must have owned a big farm or something around the Starkville area in order for something like that to take place.
A very empty Humphrey Coliseum
8. AUBURN ARENA - AUBURN UNIVERSITY
Unlike the 4 arenas listed above it on this list, Auburn Arena is not a decrepit facility. It was built a few years ago and is actually really nice, but it feels weird. The arena is very spacious and for the amount of room it takes up, it could definitely seat a lot more fans than it does, but when you struggle to even fill up the current capacity, there is no need for more seats. That program has a certain lifelessness about it, epitomized by the fact that there is a suite area in the arena dedicated solely to football tailgating. That tells you all you need to know about Auburn.
7. COLONIAL LIFE ARENA - UNIVERSITY OF SOUTH CAROLINA
The Gamecocks have a pretty big arena, but have not fielded a good team in recent years to support it. Nothing really stands out about this arena other than this flag waving hippie who is at every game and stomps his feet and bangs on the stands when South Carolina is doing well. I feel like if Frank Martin builds a good team, this could be a tough place to play.
Colonial Life Arena
6. PETE MARAVICH ASSEMBLY CENTER - LOUISIANA STATE UNIVERSITY
Inside the Maravich Assembly Center, it has a very futuristic feel to it. It kind of feels like you are in an arena that belongs on a spaceship. It is hard to describe, but it is a cool feeling. The best part of the arena is the Tiger Call they do before the game. They bring their band out and have essentially a five minute drum roll introduction. It is BY FAR the best intro they have in the SEC. It is very creative and different, as most teams play some type of hip-hop music but they dim the lights and have the band do an incredible performance. Fun stuff.
Pete Maravich Assembly Center
5. THOMPSON BOLING ARENA - UNIVERSITY OF TENNESSEE
I like Thompson Boling, it is a really nice arena, but to me it feels more like an NBA arena than a college arena. It is an enormous arena, that feels a bit cavernous at times because it is so large, it doesn't have that kind of in-your-face, tough-to-play-in feeling that other arenas do. Since we are rivals with UT, the atmosphere at all our games there has been very good, but it doesn't get to quite the noise level of the arenas ahead of it on this list. Maybe it has something to do with the acoustics, I'm not sure, but having said all that I would definitely advise seeing a Vandy-UT game there for the rivalry though.
Thompson Boling Arena
4. MIZZOU ARENA - UNIVERSITY OF MISSOURI
Mizzou Arena is relatively new, having been built in the mid-2000's and it is a beautiful arena. It seats around 15,000 but feels very cozy and everybody feels close to the floor. The most impressive part of Mizzou Arena is how knowledgeable the fans are. I mentioned the "Mizzou Antlers" in this post and how they made personalized signs taunting each of our players. They went the extra mile to get info on us, and they did. Also, that weekend there was a big football recruit in town and the fans were chanting his name during a timeout. When the fans know their stuff, it makes the game more fun and the atmosphere better. Not to mention the Mizzou Golden Girls Dance team is the hottest in the league.
3. BUD WALTON ARENA - UNIVERSITY OF ARKANSAS
Bud Walton Arena is known as "the basketball palace of Mid-America" and while I wouldn't go so far as to call it a palace, it is a very unique arena. Everything about the arena is designed to make the opposing team feel uncomfortable. For an arena of its dimensions, BWA has the most seats per capita of any arena its size. They jam them in there, and mainly in the lower bowl. Also, the Hog logo at mid-court is enormous, the scoreboard hangs very low over center court, and the out of bounds lines are very thick, making you feel like you are crammed in. The arena fits with their "40 minutes of hell" style of play that is all about making the opponent uncomfortable, and their fans are pretty rowdy too. All in all, a very fun place to watch a game.
Bud Walton Arena (notice the enormous logo)
2. O'DOME - UNIVERSITY OF FLORIDA
The O'Dome is a very weirdly designed arena. The way the seats are designed there, it is almost like the stands go up straight vertically instead of at an incline. It feels like everybody is right on top of the court, and for the fans in the front row, they literally are right on the court. The fans behind our bench can see into our huddle and are relentless in their taunting of Coach Stallings, especially if he loses it during a timeout. They let him have it. The front row of their student section, the Rowdy Reptiles is also practically on top of the court, and Kedren Johnson called it the toughest place to play because of how everybody is so close to the action. Combine that with the humidity in the arena and chlorine smell, due to it being attached to the swimming complex and you get a unique environment. The fact that Gainesville (click on that link for an epic tale of a night out at UF) is a great town, and the Dazzler dance team lives up to their name and dazzled everyone on our bench, certainly doesn't hurt.
1. RUPP ARENA - UNIVERSITY OF KENTUCKY
I am going to just quote from my post on Kentucky for this section. Simply put, if you love college basketball, you must see a game here:
"Later in the season we went to Rupp and that was my first personal experience there. We lost the game but I was astounded by the arena and the atmosphere. Rupp is old and dumpy, but it seats 22,000 people who absolutely love their team. It's not that UK fans are the most rowdy or rabid bunch (I think Arkansas and Florida fans are more vocal), but the sheer number of them is overwhelming.
It is 22,000 people wearing blue and while the fans aren't necessarily screaming the whole time, when UK is struggling, the entire building rises up as one and it is like you are competing against not just the five guys on the court but the entire arena. It is a hard feeling to explain but you almost feel like the fans are injecting their passion and will into the team during certain moments, it's like they are refusing to let them lose, no matter what. When the fans start standing and cheering during crunch time, they can almost will the team to victory and it is a magical thing to witness, even if you are on the other side."