NCAAM Teams
Eamonn Brennan, ESPN Staff Writer 497d

Which Pac-12 venue is the toughest place to play?

Men's College Basketball, Arizona Wildcats, Washington Huskies, Colorado Buffaloes, Utah Utes, Oregon Ducks, California Golden Bears, UCLA Bruins, Arizona State Sun Devils, Oregon State Beavers, USC Trojans, Stanford Cardinal, Washington State Cougars

Over a two-week span, we're answering the following question for college basketball's 10 best conferences: Which venue in each conference is the toughest place to play? A number of factors, not just capacity and attendance, could affect a venue's placement in the order. Where does your school fall?

The Pac-12 finished sixth among the six major basketball conferences in average attendance last season, but its venues run the gamut from quirky to historic to gleamingly modern, and back again. And one of them is one of the best, loudest and most intimidating gyms in all of college basketball.

12. Washington State Cougars: Beasley Coliseum, opened in 1973
In a vacuum, there's no shame in an average attendance figure of 2,856. Division I hoops programs, and the gyms they play in, come in all shapes and sizes. But when you're drawing under 3,000 to an arena that seats 11,671, you might as well play in a literal vacuum.

Fun fact: Beasley's construction featured one of the first-ever commercial uses of surround sound able to digitally mimic the acoustics of an opera house or a cathedral, which must have been pretty mind-blowing in 1973.

11. Stanford Cardinal: Maples Pavilion, opened in 1969
You don't need a powerful imagination to conceive of Maples Pavilion at its rowdiest. Just Google "Stanford-Arizona Tiger Woods" to see a home Cardinal crowd in full throat as the world's most popular athlete fist pumps like it's Sunday at Augusta. That was 2004. It somehow feels even longer, for everyone involved.

Fun fact: Until a renovation in 2004, the original Maples floor was the only floor in the country that actually bounced up and down. The idea was to prevent injuries; it may have had the opposite effect.

10. USC Trojans: Galen Center, opened in 2006
Galen Center is, by all accounts, a beautiful facility, highlighted by large end windows that provide a classic view of the downtown Los Angeles skyline ... which is hardly enough to entice Angelenos to actually darken its doors. The basketball has to be good. Last season it mostly was, and the Trojans saw the 23rd-highest single-year average attendance increase (from 3,552 to 4,606) in Division I.

Fun fact: Before Galen Center opened, USC had various plans -- with varying degrees of seriousness -- to build its own on-campus arena for more than 100 years. That's legendary procrastination.

9. Oregon State Beavers: Gill Coliseum, opened in 1949

Oregon State just got back to the NCAA tournament for the first time since 1990. The program seems to be trending in the right direction under third-year coach Wayne Tinkle, so it stands to reason the Gill Coliseum atmosphere will be gathering steam in turn. There's potential here.

Fun fact: When one of the best moments of your program's past 20 years is an unlikely College Basketball Invitational title -- for which OSU hung a banner! -- fans can be forgiven for steering clear.

8. Arizona State Sun Devils: Wells Fargo Arena, opened in 1974
With sporadic exceptions (such as the James Harden era), Wells Fargo Arena has never been a particularly feared destination among Pac-12 opponents. Its layout has some built-in disadvantages; fans feel too far away from the floor. But any place that births the Curtain of Distraction unto the world deserves serious bonus points on this list.

Fun fact: That was really Michael Phelps.

7. UCLA Bruins: Pauley Pavilion, opened in 1965
The most banner-bedecked arena in the country shouldn't be this much of a bummer. Late-arriving, half-filled crowds are not unusual at Pauley. Filled seats and fully engaged fans are not the norm. The facility itself is great, from the open-air concessions areas to the constant nods to the program's glittering past. But when nearly 6,000 seats are empty -- on average! -- nostalgia only goes so far.

Fun fact: The original center circle that hosted so many wins from 1965 to 1982 was, much to UCLA's chagrin, privately owned memorabilia for years. In 2013, UCLA finally snagged it at an auction for a cool $325,000. Why UCLA's court design motif ever deviated from this work of sheer beauty is a mystery that may never be fully understood.

6. Oregon Ducks: Matthew Knight Arena, opened in 2011
No matter what you think of the floor design, there's little question the arena dedicated to the son of Nike CEO Phil Knight is among the most luxurious in the sport. That said, the Ducks averaged 7,466 attendees in a 12,364-seat gym last season, one in which they swept the Pac-12 titles and were a No. 1 seed in the NCAA tournament. More than anything, MKA is tough to play in because Oregon is really good.

Fun fact: Tinker Hatfield -- the iconic Nike designer responsible for most of the best sneaker designs ever, from the Air Max 1 to the Air Jordan XI -- also designed the Ducks' "Deep in the Woods" court, which looks cool in and of itself but cannot be forgiven for the wave of gaudy floor silhouettes it has inspired in the years since.

5. California Golden Bears: Haas Pavilion, opened in 1999

Cal was one of 43 Division I schools to average more than 10,000 attendees per game in 2015-16. The Bears drew 182 more fans per game than national title contender Oklahoma, which also featured player of the year Buddy Hield. That's no mean feat for a place with great weather, endless Bay Area entertainment alternatives, and as much -- if not more -- of a cultural emphasis on elite academics and dogged political activism as sports. It helps that Haas Pavilion is an intimate hoops fieldhouse with minimal frills or distractions.

Fun fact: It's more than double the size of the old Harmon Gym, a fact which led designers to situate the last row of bleacher seats just 88 feet from the floor and completely omit sound-baffling devices of any kind.

4. Utah Utes: Jon M. Huntsman Center, opened in 1969
The downside of having a 15,000-seat gym is that you can pack in 13,000 people and still have a noticeable number of unoccupied seats. So it is at the Huntsman Center, which averaged 12,997 fans at home games in 2015-16 -- 24th-most in the country -- and still rarely boasted a sellout. Even so, the successes of sixth-year coach Larry Krystkowiak's tenure have done wonders for the atmosphere, and Utah fans require minimal encouragement in the first place.

Fun fact: Then known as the Special Events Center, it hosted the 1979 Final Four, the one where Larry Bird and Magic Johnson more or less changed the face of college basketball forever -- back when Final Fours were staged in actual basketball gyms.

3. Colorado Buffaloes: Coors Events Center, opened in 1979
An informal panel of Pac-12 people frequently mentioned Colorado's home gym. Despite the Buffaloes' historical lack of sustained success, the crowds are healthy, the building is loud, and the mountainous elevation -- and the burning lungs it induces -- is a sheer fact of physiology.

Fun fact: The CEC doesn't have a ton of divergent touches to it, but one of its best quirks is the way the basketball hoops lower down from the rafters on long steel trellises, just like they did in high school.

2. Washington Huskies: Alaska Airlines Arena at Hec Edmundson Pavilion, opened in 1927
Recent years have hardly been the best of coach Lorenzo Romar's 14-season tenure. The Huskies last went to the NCAA tournament in 2011. They've lost at least 15 games in each of the past four seasons and haven't topped the .500 mark in league play since 2012. Yet Hec Edmundson remains one of the toughest venues in the Pac-12, thanks in large part to a devoted, rambunctious student section. It is also the league's most historic venue, opened one year before Minnesota's Williams Arena and Butler's Hinkle Fieldhouse. After a major renovation in 1999, which restored much of the arena's original character (while removing huge view-obstructing pillars from the upper bowl), it shows.

Fun fact: In 1974, the Grateful Dead recorded their longest-ever version of "Playing in the Band" -- all 46 minutes and 26 seconds of it -- in front of a soldout Hec Ed crowd, a piece of trivia the Conference of Champions' marquee television analyst was surely already familiar with.

1. Arizona Wildcats: McKale Memorial Center, opened in 1973
The best sign of an elite venue is when a home loss feels like an abject disaster. In January, an 83-75 home loss to Oregon -- an otherwise forgivable defeat to a team that would go on to sweep the Pac-12 titles and earn a No. 1 tourney seed -- prompted one of the most scathing postgame news conferences of Sean Miller's career and a public apology by senior forward Ryan Anderson. Why? It was the program's first loss at McKale Center in three calendar years. The Wildcats sell out 14,655 seats every night, they're almost always good, and they almost never lose at home. Venue-wise, nowhere in the Pac-12 comes close.

Fun fact: The 49-game home streak the Ducks snapped in January was the nation's longest at the time, but only the third-longest in Arizona history and a distant second to the best streak (71 wins, from 1987 to 1992) since McKale opened. Throw in the Wildcats' best-ever home win streak (81, from 1945 to 1952, pre-McKale) and Arizona is the only program with two of college hoops' 10 longest home winning streaks on the books. Not too shabby.

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