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Mailbag leftover: Which Mountain West basketball arenas are the loudest?

Viejas Arena
When it comes to atmospheres among Mountain West basketball teams, it's hard to beat San Diego State's Viejas Arena. (Photo by Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images)

On occasion, a Monday Mailbag question requires too much research for me to include in the weekly feature, so I end up writing it up separately as a "Mailbag leftover." I got such a question this week from coach Matt Mumme (the fake one), who wants to know which Mountain West basketball arenas are the best in terms of environment and home-court advantage at their peak. I've covered at least three games at all of the arenas below, although it's more like 10-plus for most of them. Let's break it down.

Here are the Mountain West Height Of Their Powers Power Rankings, or MWHOTPPR for short, aka Mountain West HOT-PR.

1. Viejas Arena (SDSU): The best current atmosphere in the Mountain West goes to San Diego State and Viejas Arena, and I'll give the Aztecs the nod when it comes to peak powers, too. SDSU has a massive and active student fan base dubbed The Show. Like others high on this list, Viejas Arena is built into a hole (the old Aztec Bowl football stadium in this case), which does a great job of trapping in sound. Three of the top four on our list are built into holes, which makes the acoustics even louder than your usual arena. SDSU's fans do two great chants during games, with videos of both below. Before the game, they do Muse's "We Will Be Victorious," which is awesome. And then they add a "I Believe That We Will Win." In my personal experience, Viejas has been better than the Pit, although I've personally seen peak Viejas and not seen peak Pit since New Mexico has been down the last several years.


2. Smith Spectrum (Utah State): The loudest game I've personally covered was Nevada's matchup at Utah State in January 2009. There's a backstory on that one. I asked then-Nevada coach Mark Fox about the Spectrum crowd in anticipation of covering my first game in Logan. He gave me a quote that essentially said, "The crowd isn't a factor." That got back to the student section at Utah State, and they weren't happy. So they razzed the Wolf Pack from the time Nevada stepped on the floor for pre-game warmups until the final buzzer. At one point, the crowd chanted, "NOT! A! FAC-TOR!" It was a tied game in the second half until the sequence below when Utah State went on a big run and the crowd exploded. My ears rang for the next two days. It was that insanely load. And it helps that media row is right on the floor in front of the student section. I've covered some relatively lackluster games at Utah State, too, but you asked for peak, and this peak was amazing. The construction of the Spectrum (it's built into a hole like the Viejas and the Pit) and the student section (best in the MW) makes the Spectrum special when Utah State is playing well. They also do a great fight song/Show Me a Scotsman combo (the second video) and a great "Winning team/Losing team" chant (the third video).

3. The Pit (New Mexico): I've only covered three games at The Pit, the fewest of any on this list, and while the crowd support and environment were strong, it didn't not quite live up to my expectations, which might have been too oversized. All three of the games I covered at The Pit were New Mexico routs, so that surely played a part in the atmosphere being a little less hyped that I expected despite all three games have crowds of 13,000-plus. New Mexico has the best basketball fans in the league in terms of drawing big crowds through thick and thin, and the Pit has routinely be ranked among the top atmospheres in college basketball, so we'll give it a top-three spot despite my personal experiences of it being good rather than great.

4. Thomas & Mack Center (UNLV): UNLV has rarely been great since I started covering Nevada in 2008, so I haven't personally experienced a great Thomas & Mack Center crowd. Typically, the arena has been half full for the games I've covered, even with the rival Wolf Pack in town. But I imagine Thomas & Mack's atmosphere was amazing during the Jerry Tarkanian peak in the 1980s and 1990s. You have Gucci Row, celebrities in attendance and the best pre-game pyrotechnics in college basketball. So I will put Thomas & Mack in the top four in terms of peak even though I haven't personally experienced it.

5. Lawlor Events Center (Nevada): I feel badly putting Nevada at No. 5 because there's a clear distinction between the top five and the rest of the league. The top five all have had elite atmospheres, and you could argue for the Wolf Pack being a spot or two higher. The lack of in-game chants (like SDSU and Utah State), pre-game pyro (like UNLV) or national reputation (like New Mexico) puts Nevada at the bottom of the top tier. Compared SDSU and Utah State's chants to Nevada's "Law of the Jungle" is like comparing Mike Tyson to Don Flamenco. But the Wolf Pack has still had some amazing peak experiences, none better than Big Mike Buffer doing the pre-game introductions before the UNLV game in 2017. In terms of pure sound, Lawlor's peak has ranked second in my personal experience behind only Utah State. The crowd has made my head buzz before. However, the overall peak experience isn't quite as high as our top four. It's still well above average, though.

6. Taco Bell Arena (Boise State): I know this place is now called ExtraMile Arena, but I will always call it Taco Bell Arena. In terms of football, nobody beats Boise State with home-field advantage and overall atmosphere. But it doesn't fully translate in basketball. Don't get me wrong. It's not bad. Boise State has had some great basketball atmospheres, but it has a ways to go to catch our top five. And it's likely just my experience, but the fan insults (not from the student section, but from actual adults) can be pretty strong. When Lindsey Drew tore his Achilles tendon during a game at Boise State in 2018, a fan yelled, "I hope it's broke" as his teammates helped him off the court, which lit a fire under the Wolf Pack. It's dumb to paint an entire fan base with a broad brush over one fan being a moron (same with a Wolf Pack fan flipping off Billy Winn on the field after Nevada's 2010 football win over Boise State), but that has stuck with me.

7. Arena-Auditorium (Wyoming): Arena-Auditorium is a cool building, but it's also a 15,028-capacity building that typically draws 4,000 to 6,000 fans for games, so it doesn't generate a ton of noise, although the fans pound-for-pound can be pretty rowdy. Arena-Auditorium did go through a massive renovation in 2014 and is the highest-elevation Division I basketball stadium in the nation at 7,220 feet, with the latter adding to the home-court advantage. But in terms of atmosphere, this one is just below the average in the Mountain West.

8. Save Mart Center (Fresno State): The best arena in the Mountain West is the Save Mart Center, which opened in 2003. But as nice as it is, the atmosphere typically lacks due to a lack of fans. It's almost sterile. It's another one of those cavernous facilities (15,596 capacity) that is typically only one-third full (announced attendances around 5,000 to 6,000, although typically only 4,000 or so in actual attendance). The Bulldogs typically tarp off the upper sections to make it feel like the arena is more full, but you can only do so much with minimal people in a big building. The Jerry Tarkanian Bulldogs from 1995-2002 probably offered peak atmosphere, but that was before the Save Mart Center opened.

9. Moby Arena (Colorado State): Any arena named after a book is cool with me, and Moby Arena gets its name from Moby Dick. The crowds tend to be sparse (an average of 3,532 per game last season in the 8,038-seat capacity building). They also tend to be older. I feel like Colorado State has the oldest fan base in the Mountain West. I have no data to back that up. But that's my impression from covering games in the league. There isn't much of a student section presence at Moby Arena, either, so it's not the most energetic crowd.

10. Clune Arena (Air Force): Clune Arena is part of Cadet Field House, which also houses Air Force's hockey rink. They're literally side by side inside the same building, which is kind of cool. It also makes the arena pretty cold. Air Force's highest season attendance in the last decade is 2,671 fans per game, so this is one of the quieter gyms in the Mountain West, although it's also the most unique given the location next to the hockey rink.

11. Provident Credit Union Event Center (SJSU): Every time I cover a game at San Jose State, I make sure to literally count every fan in attendance. I can't do this at any other arena because there are too many people. But it is possible at San Jose State because there are usually less than 500 people there. That tells you where SJSU's atmosphere lies. But it's worth the trip just for the La Victoria Taqueria burrito with orange sauce.

Columnist Chris Murray provides insight on Northern Nevada sports. Contact him at crmurray@sbgtv.com or follow him on Twitter @ByChrisMurray.


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