CHICAGO — From the candy-striped warm-up pants to the authentic pregame entrance, Indiana’s Assembly Hall provides an indelible basketball experience for fans and players.
But once the ball is tipped, the atmosphere soars to a higher, deafening level. It’s intimidation at its finest — a knowledgeable, passionate crowd locked for two-plus hours into an intimate environment.
“It gets so loud that you don’t hear anything, you know that loud where it’s above you and it’s kind of silent,” Iowa junior Devyn Marble said. “That kind of feeling.”
The Gazette asked one player from each Big Ten team about the toughest opposing venue. Not surprisingly, nine of the 12 players selected Indiana as the most difficult (or tied for the most difficult) league arena in which to compete. Among the other three players, Nebraska’s Brandon Ubel had yet to experience Assembly Hall and Christian Watford, well, plays for the Hoosiers.
Indiana’s record matters little to the players experiencing Assembly Hall. In 2009, the Hoosiers finished a school-worst 1-17 in Big Ten play, yet ranked 16th nationally in average attendance at 14,331. Now the Hoosiers rank No. 5 nationally and lead the league at 17,346 tickets sold per game.
“It gets ridiculous,” said Purdue’s Terone Johnson. “The atmosphere is crazy, whether they’re on a three-game losing streak or a three-game winning streak.”
The fans’ intensity doesn’t change for a longtime rival like Purdue, a top-ranked team like Michigan State or an average Big Ten opponent like Penn State.
“Indiana is the toughest arena to play in. It’s so loud,” Michigan State point guard Keith Appling said. “It remember playing there thinking, ‘It’s too loud.’ We couldn’t even call our sets for the full 40 minutes. The fans, not just the student section, but all the fans were into the game, constantly screaming and shouting for the full 40 minutes.”
“It’s the red and white,” said Penn State guard Tim Frazier, a 2012 first-team all-Big Ten selection but out for the season with a knee injury. “It’s the old gym look, and they’re right there on top of you. You hear everything that goes on and everything that’s said.”
“At Indiana the Jumbotron shakes and the hoop shakes,” Minnesota forward Rodney Williams said.
With six different player mentions, Michigan State was considered the Big Ten’s next-toughest venue. The tone is set in pregame with the students holding newspapers when the opponent’s lineup is announced in the “Izzone,” which is named for Coach Tom Izzo.
“The student section is incredible,” Michigan guard Tim Hardaway Jr. said. “They know everything about you. It’s very good for their program.”
“(Michigan State’s) atmosphere, their students, the way it’s set up … the students are completely surrounding the court,” said Ubel, who added that Nebraska’s former Big 12 rival Kansas featured the toughest arena with which to compete. “It’s a cool setup, good atmosphere, and the fans are involved constantly.”
Five other schools — Ohio State, Wisconsin, Michigan, Minnesota and Purdue — each received one mention. Ohio State’s Aaron Craft brought up Wisconsin, Michigan because of the schools’ rivalry and Purdue for the student section’s creativity. Wisconsin’s Jared Berggren touted the raised court and tight quarters at Minnesota’s Williams Arena as providing a challenge. Illinois’ Brandon Paul said OSU is difficult because of the team.
A generation ago, arenas at Iowa and Illinois would have been discussed, especially when they played one another. Marble’s father, Roy, competed for Iowa from 1986-89 and is the school’s all-time scoring leader. The Iowa-Illinois battles were beyond fierce as were the opposing student sections, Roy Marble told his son.
“He said the Orange Krush back then was really insane,” Devyn Marble said. “They’ve kind of tuned down lately, but they can get on your nerves, too.”
The Big Ten has led the nation in attendance for 36 straight seasons and nine schools finished in the top 34 in average attendance last year. With the Big Ten boasting five teams ranked in the top 12 and nation’s best rating performance index (RPI), the sights and sounds could become brighter and louder. That adds to the home-court environment that most teams enjoy.
“I love those types of atmospheres,” Appling said. “Sometimes you hope that they would let up a little bit, but they keep pounding it on you.”
At Indiana, that’s the ultimate advantage.
“They pack the most fans in the Big Ten in there,” Northwestern’s Alex Marcotulio said. “The noise, the shape of the arena, just funnels down to the court.
“They make a few shots and the place just erupts.”
ABOUT THIS POLL
One player from each Big Ten school was asked his opinion on the most difficult opposing basketball arena. Some of the players mentioned more than one arena but a few selected only one.
School mentions: Indiana (9), Michigan State (6), Purdue/Michigan/Wisconsin/Minnesota/Ohio State (1)
Players interviewed include: Devyn Marble (Iowa), Brandon Paul (Illinois), Christian Watford (Indiana), Tim Hardaway Jr. (Michigan), Keith Appling (Michigan State), Rodney Williams (Minnesota), Brandon Ubel (Nebraska), Alex Marcotullio (Northwestern), Aaron Craft (Ohio State), Tim Frazier (Penn State), Terone Johnson (Purdue), Jared Berggren (Wisconsin)
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