Great college basketball towns have rich tradition and passionate fans. Each game day is a major event, and the town buzzes for days after a big win over a rival.
With March Madness just days away, here are nine towns scattered across the nation where college basketball is the central conversation piece:
The candy cane red-and-white striped warmup pants have been a staple for the Indiana men’s basketball program since 1971 when the 17,000-seat Assembly Hall opened. But the basketball success started decades prior. Hoosiers coach Branch McCracken led the program to national championships in 1940 and 1953, and of course Bobby Knight added three more (1976, 81, 87). Here in the Hoosier State, basketball is king. Downtown Bloomington (population: 83,000) offers ample restaurants and many establishments have plenty of flat screen TVs to follow all the hoops action.
Chapel Hill, North Carolina
Home to the University of North Carolina, the town is a canvas of Carolina Blue and a hub on Tobacco Road. The idyllic campus is one of the oldest in the nation, and fans celebrate on Franklin Street when the Tar Heels win a championship - or beat their rival Duke. UNC plays in the Dean E. Smith Center, named in honor of the legendary coach who won 879 games in 36 years at the school. Chapel Hill has a population of about 60,000 and most are in the Dean Dome or close to a television screen when the Tar Heels play.
Durham, North Carolina
Just 10 miles northeast of Chapel Hill on Hwy 15-501, Cameron Indoor Stadium is one of the game’s iconic sporting venues, on par with Fenway Park or Lambeau Field. Opened in January of 1940, the erstwhile building has been renovated and updated over the years but has retained its classic feel. There’s not a bad vantage point in the 9,314-seat venue, and the home team Duke Blue Devils have given fans plenty to cheer in recent years, winning five national championships under coach Mike Krzyzewski since 1991.
Each year, the NCAA tournament begins in the University of Dayton Arena, the site of the First Four games that trim the field to a 64-team bracket. It’s an appropriate home, considering the pride and passion shown each year by fans of the University of Dayton Flyers, which is one of the premier programs in the Atlantic 10 and has won four NCAA tourney games the last three years. Since the arena opened in 1969, the Flyers have ranked top 35 in the nation in attendance every year, drawing sold-out crowds of 13,455 to the building on a regular basis. Wright State, located across town, participated in the 2007 NCAA tournament.
The largest city in the Hoosier state has become a regular host of the Final Four (six times since 1991, and most recently in Lucas Oil Stadium). There’s also historic Hinkle Fieldhouse, home to Butler University men’s basketball. It opened in 1928 and underwent a $36 million renovation in 2014, seats 9,100 fans today and is frequently filled to capacity when the Bulldogs are competing in the Big East. IUPUI is another Division I member that competes here, as does the University of Indianapolis, one of the stronger programs in Division II.
Located between Topeka and Kansas City, Lawrence (population 90,000) is home to the University of Kansas men’s basketball program that’s second all-time in victories. Hoops approaches religion here in the nation’s heartland, as it should, since Dr. James Naismith, started coaching the Jayhawks in 1898 - just six years after he invented the game - and remained in that role until 1907. (He’s the only Kansas coach who has a losing record, 55-60). Any college basketball lover must attend one game in Allen Fieldhouse, named for another Hall of Famer, Forrest Clare “Phog” Allen, who won 560 games in 39 seasons. Bill Self has extended that rich tradition, winning 13 consecutive Big 12 conference titles and the 2008 national championship.
At the corner of Broadway and Main is Rupp Arena, a special place for many in the Bluegrass State and the place where on game days time stands still in a metropolitan area of roughly a half-million people. Fans have enjoyed decades of success that began with the four national championships secured between 1948 and 1958 by Adolph Rupp. His longtime assistant Joe B. Hall added to the collection in 1978, while Rick Pitino (1996), Tubby Smith (1998) and current coach John Calipari (2012) also deposited hardware in the trophy case.
The City of Brotherly Love is the home to six Division I basketball programs -- the Big Five of La Salle, Penn, St. Joe’s, Temple and Villanova -- as well as Drexel. It’s also home of The Palestra, known as the Cathedral of College Basketball. Every major college team has played there ,and the 8,722-seat arena has been the site of more college basketball regular season and NCAA tournament games than any other venue.
Need more examples of the game’s deep roots here? These college stars are Philly natives: Gene Banks (Duke), Wilt Chamberlain (Kansas), Len Chappell (Wake Forest), Wayne Ellington (UNC), Michael Kidd-Gilchrist (Kentucky), Rasheed Wallace (North Carolina).
College basketball is the No. 1 game in this town of 210,000 that lacks major league professional sports. Also, VCU and Richmond have left their mark on the NCAA tournament for years. The Rams upset Duke in 2007, reached the Final Four in 2011 and have sold out every home game in the Stuart C. Siegel Center since Jan. 29, 2011. They’ve won 86 percent of their games in the Stu, which opened in 1999, and is beyond compare as one of the nation’s most electric college basketball arenas.
Richmond reached the NCAAs five times in seven years under coach Dick Tarrant in the late 80s and early 90s and advanced to the 2011 Sweet 16 under current coach Chris Mooney.