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Ranking the SEC venues: Kentucky’s Rupp Arena stands alone

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 beyond capacity and attendance could affect a venue's place in the order. Where does your school fall?

SEC is football country, except on one campus: Kentucky. The crazy thing is that, based on conversations with several coaches about the SEC venue rankings, some feel that Lexington's Rupp Arena is not the toughest place in the league to play.

After attending plenty of games there, along with other SEC venues, I'm not buying it. Rupp ranks No. 1, but you might be surprised by which arena is the runner-up.

Editor's Picks

14. Mississippi State Bulldogs: Humphrey Coliseum, opened in 1975
It used to be extremely difficult to play — much less win — at "The Hump," but that hasn't been the case the past four or five years. Last season, Ben Howland's first as the head coach, an average of just 6,555 fans showed up in an arena that can seat 10,575. The building is old and hasn't had much juice in it lately.

Fun fact: The arena is named after George Duke Humphrey, Mississippi State's president from 1934 to 1945.

13. Georgia Bulldogs: Stegeman Coliseum, opened in 1964
Eighth-year coach Mark Fox has won more games in league play the past few seasons than anyone not named John Calipari, but it's still difficult to get the fans out for hoops in Athens. The Bulldogs averaged 7,345 fans a year ago in a building that can hold 10,523. Stegeman is nicer after a renovation, but the building is small and old and isn't a huge home-court advantage for the Bulldogs.

Fun fact: The Coliseum is actually two separate structures. The roof was built first, then the arena was constructed underneath the ceiling.

12. Missouri Tigers: Mizzou Arena, opened in 2004
There was a time when the building was extremely difficult to steal a victory from, but that hasn't been the case lately. The Tigers averaged a paltry 6,294 fans last season, though the place can seat more than 15,000.

Fun fact: A third of the $75 million cost to build the arena was given by Wal-Mart heir Nancy Walton Laurie and her husband, Bill Laurie, and the building was set to be named after their daughter, until it was discovered that she cheated her way through college.

11. Alabama Crimson Tide: Coleman Coliseum, opened in 1968

Alabama increased attendance by nearly 3,000 fans in Avery Johnson's first year. Shanna Lockwood/USA TODAY Sports

Alabama is still a football school, obviously, but second-year coach Avery Johnson has given the Tide hope. He moved the students closer to the floor, which has helped. The fans are scarce in November and December, but they come after football season ends. It's a large building, holding 15,383, and Johnson found a way to average 13,110 last season in a year the Tide missed the NCAA tournament.

Fun fact: LSU's Pete Maravich scored 69 points in a 106-104 loss to Alabama at Coleman on Feb. 7, 1970. At the time, it was the most points scored by a single player against a Division I opponent.

10. Auburn Tigers: Auburn Arena, opened in 2010
Bruce Pearl has "The Jungle" moving up the list slowly but surely. He has infused energy into the program and building. Now all that's missing are more victories. The arena was consistently averaging in the 6,000 range from 2010 to 2013, but it averaged more than 8,200 last season.

Fun fact: The highest seat in the arena is just 43 feet away from the court.

9. Ole Miss Rebels: Pavilion at Ole Miss, opened in 2016
The C.M. "Tad" Smith Coliseum was arguably the worst facility in the league, but now coach Andy Kennedy and the Rebels have one of the nicest in the brand new Coliseum, which opened in January. It cost $96.5 million, holds 9,500 and will certainly help the Rebels move up this list — as long as they win. Ole Miss had a school-record seven sellouts in its first nine home games in the building.

Fun fact: The Pavilion has the largest center-hung video board in college sports, with nearly 2,400 square feet of LED lighting.

8. LSU Tigers: Pete Maravich Assembly Center, opened in 1971
The building was renamed in honor of the former LSU star after his death in 1988. Last season, the attendance figures shot up from 8,897 to 11,382, largely due to the presence of Ben Simmons. It's difficult to get fans into the building because football reigns supreme.

Fun fact: Maravich never played in the arena as an LSU Tiger but did as a member of the Atlanta Hawks in a preseason game.

7. South Carolina Gamecocks: Colonial Life Arena, opened in 2002

South Carolina ranked No. 31 among Division I schools in average attendance last season. Grant Halverson/Getty Images

It's a big building, and sometimes that hurts its appearance. Coach Frank Martin has started to make it a difficult place for opponents to win, and the Gamecocks averaged 11,995 fans last season in a venue that can hold almost 18,000.

Fun fact: The biggest win in the building might have come on Jan. 26, 2010, when the Gamecocks pulled an upset over an undefeated and top-ranked Kentucky team that featured John Wall and DeMarcus Cousins.

6. Texas A&M Aggies: Reed Arena, opened in 1998
It is located on campus and holds just shy of 13,000 fans. This is a football school first, but coach Billy Kennedy did a nice job making Reed a legit home-court advantage last season, as the Aggies averaged 8,955 fans per home game. It's a large venue, so when it's packed, it's tough for opponents to win.

Fun fact: The arena was named after Houston veterinarian Dr. Chester Reed, who graduated in 1947. Reed donated 265 acres of land to the school.

5. Tennessee Volunteers: Thompson-Boling Arena, opened in 1987
This place was rocking back when Bruce Pearl was roaming the sideline, but it hasn't been the same the past four or five years. The building is huge, but the capacity actually decreased from more than 24,000 to 21,678 when it was renovated in 2008.

Fun fact: The court was named "The Summit" after late Lady Vols coach Pat Summitt.

4. Arkansas Razorbacks: Bud Walton Arena, opened in 1993
The Razorbacks have a tremendous fan base and were 12th in the country in attendance last season, despite having a mediocre team. Arkansas has won 81 percent of its games in Bud Walton since it opened, and part of that success can be attributed to the fast-paced style implemented by former coach Nolan Richardson and continued by current coach Mike Anderson. You'll be hard-pressed to find a team that has been more different at home and on the road than Arkansas in recent years.

Fun fact: Bud Walton is the co-founder of Wal-Mart. He paid half of the $30 million it took to build the arena.

3. Vanderbilt Commodores: Memorial Gymnasium, opened in 1952

Vanderbilt averaged more than 11,000 fans at its home games last season. Jim Brown/USA TODAY Sports

This is one of the oldest and most unique gyms in the country. The benches are on the baseline, which makes it difficult for the visiting coach and players. The court sits elevated above much of the crowd.

Fun fact: Martin Luther King Jr. spoke at Memorial Gym in 1967.

2. Florida Gators: Stephen C. O'Connell Center, opened in 1980
When former coach Billy Donovan had the Gators rolling, this place was really difficult for opposing teams. The fans are close to the court, and when they pack the O-Dome, it can really get loud. The only issue is the fans often don't show for games in November and December. The arena is currently undergoing a much-needed renovation, which is expected to be completed this year.

Fun fact: Last year, the O'Connell Center brought in its five-millionth fan. The number to date is 5,065,770.

1. Kentucky Wildcats: Rupp Arena, opened in 1976
The downtown arena holds around 23,5000, and there is rarely a time when Rupp isn't at capacity these days. The Cats have led the nation in attendance 25 times (last season included), and Kentucky has won nearly 90 percent of its games in the building. It's a brutal place to play, especially these days, because of the rabid fan base and the talent in the program. Rupp isn't at the level of Cameron Indoor Stadium or Allen Fieldhouse, but you can make a case for it being among the five most difficult places to play in the country.

Fun fact: Every season since Rupp opened, UK has ranked first or second in average home attendance.

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