For many years, Madison Square Garden marketed itself as the Mecca of college basketball and with good reason. The Garden was home to some of the game’s most iconic moments.
Before ESPN shrank the sport’s landscape, City College of New York swept both the 1950 NIT and NCAA championships on the Garden floor. A few years later, Seattle was invited to the Garden and Elgin Baylor proved that man really could fly. Shortly after that, Cincinnati’s Oscar Robertson hung 56 points on Seton Hall there, outscoring the whole Pirates team all by himself, in a 118-54 rout. Then there was the brilliant battle between Michigan’s Cazzie Russell and Princeton’s Bill Bradley in MSG’s 1964 Holiday Festival before they later became teammates on the New York Knicks.
Each of them took place at the Garden yet, except for the Big East Tournament and the NIT, the building’s college program has become almost invisible recently. Still in business, though, are older, historic buildings.
Philadelphia has the Palestra on the campus of the University of Pennsylvania. Opened on Jan. 1, 1927, the place has retained its old time look even after a $2 million renovation in 2000 that reduced its original 10,000 capacity, with fans on top of the court, to 8,750.
Then there is the Allen Fieldhouse at the University of Kansas, named for legendary coach Phog Allen with the court named for Dr. James Naismith, who merely hung a peach basket, invented the game and was the first coach at the school. The arena holds just over 16,000 fans and proudly holds the title of the loudest building for a roar generated in a 2017 game against West Virginia. That explosion of sound broke a record previously held by Rupp Arena, home for the University of Kentucky, located in downtown Lexington, Ky. and named for legendary Kentucky coach Adolph Rupp.
The current edition of March Madness has returned Hinkle Fieldhouse in Indianapolis to prominence. Because of COVID-19 protocols, the entire NCAA tournament was anchored in Indiana and that meant nine games for Hinkle, an iconic building constructed in 1928.
Hinkle is the home court for Butler University, a building that looks like an old barn and has an intimate court, longtime host to the state’s high school championship tournament. If you grew up in Indiana and played basketball, you wanted to play at Hinkle. Celebrated in the inspiring basketball movie “Hoosiers,’’ the building is honored as a National Historic Landmark.
The national championship game will be played on Monday night in Lucas Oil Stadium, Indianapolis’ version of Madison Square Garden. It might be more appropriate for Hinkle, though.