Tuesday, June 19, 2012

TOUGHEST COLLEGE BASKETBALL ARENA

Every major university has a home court that seems to give them a slight advantage when playing a game there.  Depending upon who they are playing, a home court game should give a team an extra five to ten points just because it is their house.  This is where ninety percent of colleges fall in.  Then you have those home arenas where, as a visiting team, your nerves are a little bit more on edge and you wonder what the outcome will finally be when it is all over.  Did you lose by only fifteen points or were you able to stay within twenty of the home team?  These are usually older buildings at a basketball powerhouse year in and year out.  Even when these powerhouses build new arenas, the new building seem to take on the terror that the old arena had held for the visitors.

It is pretty easy to name these schools that have such a strong basketball tradition that the court on which they play becomes part of that tradition, even if it is housed in a new facility.  Being from Missouri and being a huge Mizzou fan, I feel the requirement to include Mizzou among those places.  I have been in the old Hearnes Center and it was a definite advantage for the Tigers.  It was loud.  The students were right behind the benches causing a ruckus.  They don't use the Hearnes center anymore in Columbia.  They built a new building called the Mizzou Arena.  It doesn't seem quite as loud and the seats are set back from the court.  However, like all good basketball programs, the new Mizzou Arena is starting to take it's place among the Missouri basketball tradition and is becoming one of those arenas where visitors would rather not play.

In the Big 12 conference, that I am most familiar with, there is also Oklahoma State, Iowa State and Kansas State.  These school's basketball teams can beat anyone at anytime on their respective floors.  For some reason, they are just tough places to go and be positive that you are going to come out with a win.  There is no guarantee in these arenas.  I include Mizzou arena as one of those Big 12, soon to be an SEC school whose arena has some strange magic to it.

Around the country you can look and point at teams that seem to never lose at home.  There is North Carolina, Duke, Kentucky, Indiana, UCLA, Notre Dame and Memphis.  All of these school's have basketball programs that have proven themselves year in and year out for decades.  You go into their house and you are messing with demons from years past that take a hold of the visiting team and seem to slow them down, make them sluggish, and it seems as though the building itself is helping to win the games for the home team.

There are others of course but these schools are the cream of the crop and most of that cream rises to the top when playing in their home arena.  But there is one University in the country whose arena has provided a safe haven for their basketball team like no other. That arena is located in Lawrence, Kansas.

Allen Field House is old.  VERY old.  There is no acoustic material built into the building to keep echos down to a minimum.  You can hear people walking in tennis shoes from the other side of the arena very clearly if the place isn't filled to capacity, as it always is.  You would swear that these old walls at AFH are ready to collapse at anytime, and that is when you are in there alone and just walking around looking at it and all is quiet.  This place is home of the Kansas University Jayhawks.  A team that somehow rises up to meet the challenge of the NCAA tournament every year.  They have won or shared the Big Twelve title for eight consecutive years.  When the Jayhawks are playing in AFH, It is almost a certainty that they will win.

Of course there have been stumbles here and there over the years where somehow a visiting team has struck a victory over KU, but not enough to count.  When the Jayhawks are in AFH they are unreal.  The place is the noisiest place I can ever remember being in.  The cheers of the students and fans never stop.  The students stomp their feet in unison and it really does feel like the building is going to collapse on you.  The eery "Rock Chalk Jayhawk " chant, which by the way I have no clue what it means, sounds like the fan base is summoning up ghosts from years past who have dominated opposing teams in this great hall.   It is one constant level of noise from opening tip to the final buzzer when the Jayhawks sprint off the floor victorious once again.


The building itself houses a museum of basketball season past to present that is downright impressive.  All of the conference trophies from the time the conference was the Big 6, through the Big 8 years and on into the Big 12 era is pretty impressive.  In a glass case hangs a Kansas University basketball jersey with the number 13 sewn on it.  It is the jersey that Wilt Chamberlain wore when he attended Kansas.  They could, and probably will in the future, move the museum to it's own house because it will be unable to hold any more items that AFH graces them with.

Now, I am FAR from a Kansas fan.  I am about as far from a Kansas fan as one can get.  I have a t-shirt that says proudly "My two favorite teams are MIZZOU and whoever is playing Kansas" and that pretty much sums up my feelings.  Kansas is not so hot in any other athletic field other than an occasional decent year in football and maybe the track team will have a good year.  But in basketball,  it is hard to imagine a school in the country with a more consistent tradition of winning and being a force year in and year out, decade after decade.  And a huge part of this is what the kids at KU call "The Phog", the spirit of Phog Allen who coached many of those teams from years past and whom the field house is named after.

No matter what your allegiance is, you have got to respect the basketball program at Kansas University.  I always have dreaded Mizzou going into Lawrence to play a game.  You get this rolling feeling in your stomach on Saturday morning and when it is game time, you hesitate to turn on the television to watch it.  When you DO finally turn on the television and see that packed AFH, you can almost feel your living room shaking from the noise and the foot stomping that you know is going on inside that building.  You can almost see the spirit of Phog Allen move in over the court as they get ready for the opening tip.

Still, with the move of Mizzou to the SEC, Kansas and Mizzou won't be playing every year, and as nervous as playing Kansas always made me, I am going to miss the Mizzou Kansas games.

When it comes right down to it, Allen Field House in Kansas has to be considered one of the toughest, if not THE toughest place for a visiting team to come into and play with 100% confidence.

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