The Hoops Project: Some Places I’ve Been

Day one is around the corner for me. This journey across New England begins this coming weekend all the way at the top of Maine.

Before I start logging the thousands of miles and getting eye-rolled by my friends and my fiancee for traipsing around for basketball, I need to look back.

Of the nearly 125 college basketball venues in New England, I have already seen games in 21 of those gyms. Additionally, I’ve been to four venues without a full-time college basketball team.

As the Project gets set to begin, I want to take a look back at where I’ve already been, what places I’ve liked, what I haven’t liked, and why you should go visit these places.

Ryan Center – University of Rhode Island
Kingston, Rhode Island

I start at my alma mater and arguably the single best college basketball venue in New England. Built in 2001, the Ryan Center replaced 3400-seat Keaney Gym, which now hosts the URI volleyball team.

The Ryan Center sits 7500 and pushes to 8000 for big games, and there isn’t a bad seat in the building. It’s loud when it’s half full and deafening when sold out. An absolute must-see for any basketball fan in New England.

BEST NEARBY EATS: Tilly’s, Peking Tokyo, Simply Thai

Stoutenburgh Gym – Saint Anselm College
Manchester/Goffstown, New Hampshire

Perched on a hilltop splitting two cities, Stoutenburgh is a matchbox of a gym. The Hawks fill it up regularly, and the men’s team has found consistent success since the turn of the millennium including a run to the Final Four in 2019.

It’s the type of place where you can smell the wood lacquer when you walk in, and for five bucks it’s definitely worth it to see high-level Division II basketball.

BEST NEARBY EATS: The Foundry, The Copper Door

Hammel Court – Merrimack College
North Andover, Massachusetts

A Division I program effective at the start of the 2019-2020 season, Merrimack was a successful Division II program in the Northeast-10 for years.

Now, with the move to the Northeast Conference comes a bigger stage and bigger opponents. Although, for now, a small gym remains. With a capacity of just 1,200, Hammel holds fewer people than some of the local high school facilities, but its small size makes for an intimate atmosphere when the Warriors take the court.

The move to Division I has already brought about a new football stadium to the college so it’s not out of the realm of possibility that Hammel looks much different in the near future.

BEST NEARBY EATS: Harrison’s Roast Beef, Lee Chen, Tripoli’s Bakery

Cousens Gym – Tufts University
Medford, Massachusetts

Boston is a hub for great Division III programs and there are few better than Tufts. It’s women’s program has been ranked in the top 10 for much of the last decade, and the men’s team has consistently been atop the NESCAC.

Cousens is small, homey, and a great place to see a game. Parking can be a bit difficult but not too stress-inducing. Just a short drive from Boston, stop by Cousens for a fun, breezy day of hoops. And you can’t beat the free admission.

BEST NEARBY EATS: Nijiya Sushi, Tenoch, Salvatore’s, Colleen’s

Chace Athletic Center – Bryant University
Smithfield, Rhode Island

Returning to the Northeast Conference, the Chace Center is a perfectly serviceable place to see a basketball game. Part of a larger recreation building on campus, the Chace sits 2,700 people.

With only a single postseason appearance since moving up to Division I in 2008 (the 2013 CBI), the Bulldogs don’t have much history or tradition to fall back on. Regardless, a fun little spot to see a game.

BEST NEARBY EATS: Parente’s Restaurant

XL Center – Hartford, Connecticut
University of Connecticut

I was lucky enough to cover the NCAA tournament here in 2019, and the seating bowl is one of the best in basketball. The walls of people on the side bring a level of noise unmatched by similar venues of this size.

The downside of the venue is that it’s old and feels its age. Parking options can fill up quickly for big games, and the venue isn’t the most accessible for people that are disabled or have chronic pains or injuries.

You see the seats why high up on the side? The only way up is a steep staircase from street level. That’s it. I walked from the floor to the top of the seating bowl. It was 136 steps, which roughly equates to 12 stories up. So if stairs are hard for you this isn’t the best place to see a game.

BEST NEARBY EATS: Vernon Diner (Vernon, CT)

Lavietes Pavillion – Harvard University
Allston, Massachusetts

Yes, I wrote Allston and not Cambridge. That’s because this tiny gym, like nearly all of Harvard’s athletic facilities, is on the other side of the Charles River.

Renovated ahead of the 2017-2018 season, Lavietes is one of the best places in Boston to see a basketball game. The cozy confines make it loud, and the success the men’s program has found since Tommy Amaker took over has brought crowds in numbers.

You won’t see basketball at this quality this close to the action.

BEST NEARBY EATS: Tasty Burger, Insomnia Cookie, Lulu’s

Dunkin Donuts Center – Providence College (MBB)
Providence, Rhode Island

It’s alright.

The Dunk has all the amenities of a major venue and is accessible from numerous places. Parking is great as well as you can park in the garage at the Providence Place Mall and then walk through the mall, the connecting hotel, the convention center, and then land right in line to enter the building.

Home to the AHL’s Providence Bruins, the building is pulled between hockey and basketball sightlines and just misses the mark ever so slightly. For instance, some seats high up at the end of the arena can’t see the jumbotron because they’re blocked by banners.

The band brings it hard every game though.

BEST NEARBY EATS: It’s Providence. There are too many to pick.

Muldoon Gymnasium – Rivier University
Nashua, New Hampshire

Rivier is a small Catholic university in Southern New Hampshire with academic focuses on teaching and nursing. The Crusaders, both men and women, have little to no history of success on the hardwood. The most successful sport at the school is men’s volleyball.

Located in the Granite State’s second-largest city (population 87,000) Rivier recruits heavily from Southern New Hampshire and Northern Massachusetts

BEST NEARBY EATS: Stella Blu, Surf Restaurant, Martha’s Exchange

Hart Center – College of the Holy Cross
Worcester, Massachusetts

This is one of my favorite spots to catch a game in New England. With the ability to wedge 4,000 people in for big games, the Hart Center doesn’t have a bad seat in the house.

While parking can be difficult because the campus is on top of a steep hill, it is absolutely worth it to catch a game here. The second-most populated city in New England, Worcester is a great basketball town with a great hoops history.

And that begins with the Crusaders. With banners hanging for an NCAA title in 1947 and an NIT crown in 1954, added in with famous alums like Tommy Heinsohn and Bob Cousy, Holy Cross was New England’s first great college basketball dynasty.

Get out to Worcester and up the hill to the Hart Center and breathe the history in.

BEST NEARBY EATS: Buck’s, Smokestack, Bocado Tapas Bar

Up next: North. Like, really, really north.