The Badgers are about to begin another challenging stretch of games, with three of the next four being on the road. The one home game is against Purdue, which seems to have its house back in order after dropping its first two conference games.
Going back on the road makes me think about a question people often ask—what are the toughest road venues in the Big Ten? This conference is full of loyal fans and noisy arenas, but it seems to me a few stick out above the rest. Since this blog is about road atmospheres, I’ll leave the Kohl Center off the list.
1) Breslin Center, East Lansing. The student section, called The Izzone, is really impressive. Very organized, loud and basically on top of the action. The group likes to trick opposing teams with a confusing countdown of the shot clock. No doubt more than one inexperienced player has been fooled.
2) Assembly Hall, Champaign. The Illinois student section is called the Orange Krush. Also very loud and organized. I get a kick out of the pregame warm-ups. The students actually go through some light stretching. It’s always important to be nice and loose before you cheer for your team.
3) Mackey Arena, West Lafayette. In Gene Keady’s final few years, the students were known as The Gene Pool. Now, with Matt Painter, it’s The Paint Crew. Whatever you call it, the section is really good. That building really holds noise, and now that the Boilermakers are back among the conference’s best teams, the excitement level makes Mackey a very difficult building for the road team.
My guess is Williams Arena in Minneapolis is no picnic right now either. When Clem Haskins had his really good teams up there, the old barn really rocked. In recent years, much of that home court advantage disappeared, but with the Gophers being a much improved team, word is the noise level is rising again.
Another building I’m interested in visiting is Assembly Hall in Bloomington. Although Indiana is struggling, it appears the fans have embraced the players and their efforts to re-build the program.
The other thing worth mentioning is that with the Badgers success in recent years, whenever they travel, it is a pretty big deal. In other words, the crowds might have a little extra energy, much like fans at the Kohl Center get a little louder when certain teams come to town.
One other factor is the design of a building. My top three venues are built for basketball, and are not multi-purpose facilities. It’s the same deal at Williams Arena, an old building that is not necessarily built for comfort, but can make for a very hostile environment.
The fact is every road game presents its challenges. Just ask Minnesota. Three days removed from an emotionally charged overtime win in Madison, the Gophers lost to Northwestern in Evanston.
It is what makes the Big Ten so much fun for fans, and can drive coaches nuts.