College Basketball Nation: United Center

The Big Ten has a decision to make. According to our Big Ten football blogger Adam Rittenberg, the conference is deciding on a spot for its newfangled football conference title game -- the product of realignment to 12 teams last summer -- and the choice is down to two: Soldier Field in Chicago or Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis.

The choice basically comes down to weather: Do Big Ten fans prefer the hardboiled, traditional winter chill? Or would they prefer to watch the conference title at cozy room temperature. (As a veteran of a few unthinkably cold Chicago Bears games, I know which one I would choose -- room temperature, thanks -- but your mileage may vary.)

The location of the men's basketball tournament is somewhat unrelated. After all, it doesn't much matter where the tournament is. Basketball, as you may be aware, is played indoors. But it is an interesting question. Should the Big Ten pick a standard annual spot for its season-ending tournament? In 1998, the conference tournament was held solely at the United Center in Chicago. Beginning in the 2002, it alternated between Chicago and Indianapolis. In 2008, the conference began a five-year stay at Indianapolis's Conseco Fieldhouse.

Is one preferable to the other? Does it matter? Which venue do Big Ten fans prefer?

To be perfectly honest, even as a Chicago resident, I don't have a strong opinion. Chicago seems a bit more central to everyone's needs -- especially now that Nebraska fans are in the mix -- but Conseco Fieldhouse's location within Indianapolis makes it a slightly more attractive option for hotels, foot traffic and so on. This is why Indy is typically such a solid destination for the Final Four. (Yes, we're looking at you, Houston.)

What say you, Big Ten fans? United Center or Conseco Fieldhouse? Chicago or Indy? Or will you show up -- or stay home and watch on TV -- no matter what?

Welcome to Assembly Hall north

January, 2, 2010
CHICAGO -- Illinois fans are not hard to find.

This isn't surprising or revelatory, but it's always fun: The orange-clad fans of Illinois basketball don't take much to get worked up. After all, the Illini have been slightly disappointing thus far in 2009-10 -- a December loss to a struggling Georgia team being perhaps the most disappointing result -- and today's date with Gonzaga at the United Center is a bit of an early Saturday start for the day after New Year's.

You wouldn't know either from the attendance and energy level inside the United Center, where 20,000-plus orange-clad maniacs showed up to root on the Illini just the same. The annual trek from Champaign, IL. to Chicago has become a popular fixture in and of itself, but you won't see a United Center crowd this unified unless you head to a Blackhawks game. It's very impressive. There's a reason Illinois is so tough at home and this, for better or worse, is a home game.

(Oh, and there is a decent-sized Gonzaga contingent in the building, which is impressive given Gonzaga's size and how far away we are from Spokane, Wash.)

Of course, there's actual basketball here too, which just got underway. Gonzaga opened a 13-2 lead before the first under-16 timeout, as Illinois is noticeably struggling to get good looks on the offensive end. I'll be here all day -- I'm also trekking down to Michigan State-Northwestern in Evanston for a 6:30 ET start -- so check in and follow along on this rather exciting day of hoops.