I’m beginning to head down the home stretch of my final swing around the Mountain West Conference with the Runnin’ Utes. Just a couple of regular-season road trips remain for the Utes, before the Mountain West tournament in Las Vegas, then it’s off to the Pac-12 next season. While I have to say I’m really excited about what lies ahead when the University of Utah joins the Pac-12 next season, I will miss many of the stops I’ve been fortunate enough to make in my years covering the Mountain West. Since we are in the midst of hoops season I thought I would rate my favorite arenas in the MWC from a broadcasting and atmosphere angle. The Mountain West has one of the most diverse array of arenas and fieldhouses in the country, so here’s my take on the best and worst the MWC has to offer.
It's 50 years old and I wonder sometimes if it's ever seen a full house. Quiet and empty is how I've always seen it. There is never much atmosphere at this basketball venue at a football school.
(TCU guard J.R. Cadot dunks against Utah during a game at Daniel-Meyer Coliseum on Jan. 22, 2011, in Fort Worth, Texas.)
It's the smallest venue in the Mountain West and can be intimidating if the Cadets show up. The problem is, the Cadets rarely show up. The lighting is odd and it's not even its own building, it's part of a multi-purpose sports complex, where it seems the hockey team is more popular.
(Air Force's Michael Lyons scores between Utah's Antonio DiMaria, 10, and Shawn Glover during a game Jan. 5, 2011, at Clune Arena at Air Force Academy, Colo.)
If you like the color brown, the "Double A" is your kind of building. It's also been called the "Dome of Doom." There are a number of signs welcoming you to 7,220 feet, which I guess is supposed to intimidate teams in some way. The largest crowd to ever watch a game there was March 2, 2002, when the Utes played the 'Pokes. When the Cowboys are good, it's a great atmosphere.
(BYU guard Jimmer Fredette, left, looks to make a pass around Wyoming's JayDee Luster during a game on Feb. 2, 2011, at the Arena-Auditorium in Laramie, Wyo.)
It features a floor that can give you a migraine. Moby has the feel of a big high school gym. The fans are right on the floor and if the Rams are playing well, which they are this season, it's a terrific place to watch and call a game. Two notable events that took place at Moby: The Rolling Stones played there in 1969 and the movie "One on One" with Robbie Benson was filmed there in 1977.
(Colorado State forward Travis Franklin, 1, tries to shoot as Utah's Chris Hines, lower left, and Jason Washburn, upper left, attempt to block during a game March 6, 2010, at Moby Arena in Fort Collins, Colo.)
I never got to call a game there when Tark and the Rebels were "runnin'" in the '80s and '90s. I can only imagine how cool that must have been. When UNLV is playing well the town turns out, but otherwise the atmosphere feels a little to pro and not enough college for me. The one thing you can always count on at the Thomas and Mack is a great national anthem.
(Utah's Will Clyburn, 21, drives against UNLV's Oscar Bellfield during a game at the Thomas & Mack Center Feb. 2, 2011, in Las Vegas. UNLV won 67-54.)
In the last couple of seasons it has become one of the best home courts in the West. The student section arrives early and stays loud and engaged throughout the game. The pre-game introductions are outstanding. It's a newer building without much tradition, but a great place to watch a game.
(Wyoming's Jaydee Luster, left, shoots past the block of San Diego State's Brian Carlwell during a game Jan. 29, 2011, in San Diego.)
I've called more games in this building than any other, except the Huntsman Center. When full (and it has been this season) it's the loudest in the MWC. The crowd thrives on threes, and this year, anything relating to Jimmer.
(BYU's Jimmer Fredette indicates to an official a goal-tending foul during a game against San Diego State at the Marriott Center in Provo, Jan. 26, 2011.)
It was long called University Arena, but nobody outside of Albuquerque knows that. It is often mentioned with Cameron Indoor Stadium at Duke and Allen Fieldhouse at Kansas, as one of the toughest venues in the country to play.
The Lobo faithful are loud and rabid. Super Fan, Snake, roams the sidelines at The Pit. Plus it's the home of one of the greatest finishes in college basketball history, when Lorenzo Charles dunked home the 1983 NCAA championship for North Carolina State. I'll be there this weekend and I'm anxious to see how the latest round of renovations turned out.
(New Mexico State's Drew Gordon, center, celebrates with fans after a game against BYU on Jan. 29, 2011, in Albuquerque. The Lobos won 86-77 over then-9th ranked BYU.
There's no place like home! Check back next year and I'll give you my reviews of places like Pauley Pavilion, Maples Pavilion and the Galen Center.
(Utah's J.J. O'Brien tries to advance past San Diego State's Tim Shelton during a game at the Huntsman Center in Salt Lake City on Jan. 8, 2011.)