7 (more) great college basketball towns
Last week we offered our picks for nine great college basketball towns. It was difficult to choose only nine from the dozens of places where time stops on game days and a shot that beats the final buzzer - and a rival - can warm even the coldest winter night.
But there were several others worthy of recognition. Thanks to your suggestions, here are seven more destinations where everyone pays attention when the basketball bounces.
Cincinnati, Ohio - Home to one of the best rivalries in college basketball, the Crosstown Classic, a heated nonconference battle held each season between Xavier and Cincinnati. The campuses are three miles apart, both programs make regular appearances in the NCAA tournament and are always a solid choice to hang around the bracket until the second weekend. Ohio’s third-largest city has a population of roughly 300,000 and while it might be more familiar as the home of the NFL’s Bengals or MLB’s Reds, there are plenty of basketball lovers. Both teams ranked in the top 60 in the nation in attendance last season.
East Lansing, Mich. - First, there was Magic and Jud in 1979. These days, there’s Izzo, who has coached a host of stars that college basketball fans can recognize simply by hearing their first name: Mateen, Draymond and now Denzel. Regardless who is on the court in green-and-white for the Michigan State Spartans, there’s a good bet Izzo will coach them into a Final Four before they depart this town of approximately 50,000 residents. He’s steered the program there seven times in the last 20 years and is leading another team that appears to be peaking at the proper time.
Louisville, Ky. - The thoroughbreds who run at Churchill Downs each May aren't the only sports stars who call Louisville home. The university’s basketball team has a passionate fan base that packs the KFC Yum! Center with more than 21,000 fans on game days - placing the Cardinals in the top five in the nation. Denny Crum engineered national championship runs in 1980 and 1986 while current coach Rick Pitino returned the program to glory in 2014.
Omaha, Neb. - A hidden gem on the list perhaps, until you consider that it’s the home of Creighton University, which regularly finishes in the top 10 in attendance among NCAA Division I schools. World class steaks and Denver quarterback Peyton Manning screaming its name at the line of scrimmage helped make this city of 434,000 famous, however it’s the 17,000-plus fans who pack the CenturyLink Center each winter to pull for the Bluejays that helped it land on this list.
Storrs, Ct. - In 2004, the University of Connecticut became the first in Division I to win the men’s and women’s national championship in basketball in the same year. That alone qualifies the smallest town on this list (population 15,344 in 2015) as a diehard hoops loving country. They occasionally head to Hartford to play host to opponents in the XL Center, but the on-campus Gampel Pavilion remains the Huskies primary home.
Syracuse, NY - So what if the average high temperature in Syracuse each January is 31 degrees, the Orange still led the nation in attendance each of the last two seasons, drawing on average more than 25,000 fans to the Carrier Dome to watch legendary coach Jim Boeheim scowl at officials and rack up victories. Syracuse’s shining moment occurred in 2003 of course when a freshman phenom named Carmelo Anthony guided the team through the bracket to the national championship, a moment forever cherished by many of the town’s 145,000 residents.
Tucson, Ariz. - Changing the name of the McKale Center to the Sellout Center would be just fine in a place where victories are almost automatic for the home team. Fans of the Wildcats packed the arena 288 consecutive times from 1987-2006, the team won 71 games in a row in the building from 1987-92 and had a 49-game winning streak there snapped by Oregon earlier this season. Not to mention, Arizona is on track to average more than 14,000 fans and lead the Pac-12 in attendance for the 32nd consecutive season.