In winter, a Midwest sports fan’s fancy turns to college basketball. The colder the weather, the hotter the action at the region’s top venues and arenas known for their hoops history.
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Though James Naismith invented basketball in Massachusetts, the Midwest really took the ball and ran with it. Naismith moved to Kansas in 1898 and laid the foundation for a hoops powerhouse in Lawrence. Basketball became a campus craze at other Heartland schools, too, especially in Indiana—the game's first intercollegiate national championship tournament took place in Indianapolis in 1922. A century later, passion for college basketball in the Midwest remains high. Experience it yourself by watching a game at any of these venues, especially during postseason tournaments. Bonus: Most of the arenas are near other all-star attractions.

Kansas Jayhawks mascot in Allen Fieldhouse
Credit: Getty

Allen Fieldhouse, Lawrence, Kansas 

Named for legendary University of Kansas basketball coach Phog Allen, Allen Fieldhouse gives the Jayhawks a huge home-court advantage: Sellout crowds and a vocal student section create what's been called the country's loudest basketball venue. (At a game, you'll hear the "Rock Chalk" chant.) Get a behind-the-scenes look on the Jayhawk Experience walking tour, which includes "The Phog" and James Naismith Court, named for KU's first coach and basketball's inventor. Dr. Naismith's original rules are displayed in the adjacent DeBruce Center. 

Municipal Auditorium, Kansas City, Missouri

Glamorous Art Deco architecture sets off historic Municipal Auditorium, which opened in 1935 and is now part of the multi-venue Kansas City Convention Center near the Power and Light District. The Muni has hosted nine NCAA men's Final Fours—more than any other facility. Today it claims the Big 12 women's basketball championship (March 9-12, 2023) and a place in pro hoops history: In 1979, Philadelphia 76ers center Darryl Dawkins shattered a fiberglass backboard while dunking against the then-Kansas City Kings. That led the NBA to install shatter-proof backboards with collapsible rims.

Credit: Courtesy of Visit KC

T-Mobile Center, Kansas City, Missouri

Set in downtown's entertainment-oriented Power and Light District, T-Mobile Center has hosted the Big 12 men's basketball championship since 2010 and will again in 2023 (March 8-11). Two weeks later (March 24 and 26,), the Midwest Regional of the NCAA men's tournament tips off here. Check out the connected College Basketball Experience, which houses the National Collegiate Basketball Hall of Fame. It's a place to learn the history of the game and test your skills: make a game-winning buzzer beater, shoot pressure-free throws and slam dunk on a court with rims at different heights. Show your sportscasting chops at the ESPNU desk.

Enterprise Center, St. Louis

Arch Madness breaks out at Enterprise Center every season, as the so-dubbed Missouri Valley Conference men's basketball tournament decides who gets the MVC's automatic berth in the NCAA tournament. This season's tourney (March 2-5, 2023) promises even more madness, as the conference has expanded to 12 teams. Also each season (December 22, 2022), the arena hosts the annual Midwest rivalry game between the University of Illinois and the University of Missouri. In the past, Enterprise Center has welcomed the NCAA women's Final Four and the NCAA men's tournament Midwest Regional. FYI, not many arenas are so close to a national park—Gateway Arch National Park is less than a mile away.

Aerail view of Chicago's aerial view
Credit: Allan Baxter/Getty

United Center, Chicago

Home of the NBA's Chicago Bulls, United Center yields to college cagers for the Big 10 men's tournament (March 8-12, 2023). All 14 conference teams will compete for a spot in the NCAA tourney. Though it's been years since Michael Jordan led the Bulls to six NBA titles, the House That Jordan Built still looms large on the city's west side—it's the nation's biggest arena by physical size. Look for a statue of His Airness in the five-story atrium. For more airiness, world-class indoor plant paradise Garfield Park Conservatory is less than 10 minutes away.

Target Center, Minneapolis

Target Center offers year-round roundball as home court for the NBA's Minnesota Timberwolves and WNBA's Minnesota Lynx. The college game takes over March 1–5, 2023 when the Big 10 women's tournament comes to Minneapolis for the first time. In 2022, the NCAA Women's Final Four was played here to sellout crowds. A 2017 renovation to the 1990 arena added a three-story glass atrium and brought new seating, digital signage, a state-of-the-art scoreboard, and upgrades to the sound system and restrooms. The arena stands in the heart of downtown's Warehouse District, surrounded by restaurants, hotels and nightlife. 

Nationwide Arena, Columbus
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Nationwide Arena, Columbus

Nationwide Arena opened in 2000 on the site of the old Ohio Penitentiary, promising more enjoyable stays than its predecessor. The venue anchors the Arena District, a walkable neighborhood of shops, restaurants and hotels near the Ohio Statehouse. Striking red-brick exterior walls and tall divided-light windows recall field houses of old, but the interior is spacious and modern, with wide concourses and abundant concession areas. Nationwide Arena is a frequent NCAA tournament site. The Big Dance returns here March 17 and 19, 2023.

University of Dayton Arena, Dayton, Ohio

The Road to the Final Four begins at UD Arena with the First Four round (March 14–15, 2023). Since opening in 1969, UD has hosted more NCAA tournament games than any other venue, including 10 in one week during 2013. Renovations completed in 2019 enlarged the workhorse arena, opened up exterior views, replaced all seats, added a new video board, and improved sound, lighting and restrooms. Fittingly, the Dayton Flyers' home is close to Wright Brothers National Museum in Carillon Historical Park, which celebrates the city's aviation heritage.

Hinkle Fieldhouse, Indianapolis

Hinkle Fieldhouse, Indianapolis

When Hinkle Fieldhouse opened in 1928, it was the largest basketball arena in the U.S. Upgrades over the years have reduced the venue's seating capacity, but not its character—it's a National Historic Landmark. Home to Butler University basketball, the arena is famous for its appearance in the classic 1986 sports movie, Hoosiers. Hinkle was also one of six Indiana sites to host NCAA men's tournament games in 2021, when the event was centralized due to COVID-19. Take a free self-guided tour of the arena on weekdays. Another iconic sports venue, the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, is about 15 minutes away (2-3 minutes at Indy 500 speeds).

Wells Fargo Arena, Des Moines

Strong community support has made Wells Fargo Arena a three-peat site for the NCAA men's tournament—after hosting first- and second-round games in 2016 and 2019, the Well welcomes back fans in 2023 (March 16 and 18). Opened in 2005, the arena is close to the Des Moines River, Principal Riverwalk, world-class Lauridsen Skatepark and the striking Iowa Women of Achievement Bridge, a pedestrian link to the city's East Village retail, dining and entertainment district. Look for the gold dome of the Iowa State Capitol gleaming in the distance.