Believe it or not, despite seeming a little more up-to-date than in-state rival Iowa's Carver-Hawkeye Arena, Iowa State's Hilton Coliseum is the oldest Division I men's basketball facility still in use in the state of Iowa, and has been the proud home of Cyclone basketball since 1971. Just like the large, spread out campus surrounding it, over the years Hilton Coliseum has gained a reputation as an unfriendly and tough arena, giving the Cyclones one of the best home court advantages in the state. And while the Cyclones, especially recently, aren't usually thought of as a college basketball dynasty or perennial power, Hilton Coliseum has remained a quality college basketball arena offering Big 12 talent, spirited competition, and a legitimate college basketball atmosphere for a price considerably lower than most of its competitors.
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Feel free to come to the game hungry; Hilton Coliseum has you covered. The tried and true selections such as popcorn ($4), jumbo pretzels ($3.50 + $1 for cheese), nachos ($4), hot dogs ($4), Johnsonville Bratwurst ($5), Hy-Vee Express pizza by the slice ($4), and walking tacos ($6) are easy to get your hands on, but there are plenty of other items offering a more "local" flavor.
Hilton Coliseum's sandwich stand offers three choices, each for just $5: the Turkey and Swiss Sub, the Turkey Harvester on Multigrain Bread, and "The Mayor" (ham and Swiss sub) named after head men's basketball coach Fred Hoiberg. The Clone Zone stand also offers BBQ pulled pork, chicken breast, and BBQ chicken sandwiches for $6, and a vegetarian-favorite Veggie Chopped Salad for $7. And for dessert, fans still have a lot to choose from, but usually it comes down to either the Cinnamon Sugar Pretzel ($3.50 + $1 for chocolate sauce), or the $4 Cy-Cone (ice cream), which many fans agree is a staple of Hilton Coliseum.
Despite the absence of alcohol in the menus, Hilton Coliseum still offers a lot of options when it comes to beverages, including regular soda ($4), freshly brewed coffee ($3), hot chocolate ($3), bottled water ($4), and State Fair Lemonade ($5).
Not since 2005 has Iowa State gotten off to such a quick start as they have in the 2011-2012 season, and even though the Big 12 conference has been pretty cruel to ISU in recent years, Hilton Coliseum has maintained an optimistic yet unapologetic attitude that shows in both its fans and its overall atmosphere. Add in a very solid pep band, quality Big 12 competition night in and night out, and more than a few promising players over the years and you end up with all of the necessary ingredients for a quality college basketball atmosphere. Iowa State and Hilton Coliseum don't disappoint.
Similar to Jack Trice Stadium, Hilton Coliseum is built into Iowa State's campus, setting it apart from a lot of Ames' nightlife hotspots and most popular places. Hilton Coliseum is, however, a little better than Jack Trice Stadium, giving fans plenty of options a little less than a mile from the venue. Two popular choices are Thumbs (2816 West St.) and Cy's Roost (121 Welch Ave.).Thumbs is a local dive bar featuring a myriad of different drink specials, good food, and occasional live music at an inexpensive price. Cy's Roost, which is located on one of ISU's biggest party streets (Welch Ave.) has been around for a while, is a little bigger, louder, and more obnoxious, but also very well known, and has been popular among ISU students and Iowa State basketball fans for a long time.
I've said it before and I'll say it again: it takes a certain kind of fan following to become a true part of the on-field (or in this case, on-court) product and the Cyclone Nation has nailed it. The last Big 12 regular season championship for the Cyclones was way back in 2001, but Cyclones fans have perfected the art of optimism and, sooner or later, will be exactly the type of fans and environment needed to cultivate a successful program. While the Iowa Hawkeyes may be the more popular team throughout the state, Iowa State fans take a great deal of pride in the Cyclones and relish in the "little brother" mindset.
Hilton Coliseum may not be as big or luxurious as Carver-Hawkeye Arena, and the ISU basketball program may not have quite as much success in its past, but ISU fans love being on the side of the little guy in the David vs. Goliath matchup and enjoy every chance they get to show their support. Iowa State fans may not meet the stereotype, since often diehard fans are thought of as completely dependent on the success of their team or program, but trust me when I say Iowa State fans are as loyal and legitimate of college basketball fans you'll find anywhere in the country.
Hilton Coliseum is close, yet also far enough away from the Ames nightlife that there is plenty of relatively inexpensive parking available that will also provide you plenty of access to restaurants and bars after the game. Hilton Coliseum is strategically placed in an area with plenty of open space for parking, and as a result a dozen or so fairly large parking lots sit just across the street from Hilton Coliseum, only a short, convenient walk away. Other considerations have also been placed appropriately with bathrooms and concessions located throughout the arena in convenient locations.
With ticket prices spanning between $15 and $35, Iowa State offers one of the cheapest men's basketball tickets in the Big 12, meaning you can see the same big talent teams (Texas, Oklahoma State, Kansas, Missouri, and Baylor) for sometimes almost half the price. Add in consideration for relatively cheap prices on food, beverages, parking, and souvenirs such as programs and apparel, and Hilton Coliseum offers one of the best bangs-for-the-buck in Big 12 men's basketball.
Even though, admittedly, most people wouldn't think of Iowa State as a "storied" basketball tradition, there has been no shortage of quality in the players that take the floor. With All-Americans such as Fred Hoiberg, Marcus Fizer, Jamaal Tinsley, and Paul Shirley (author of Can I Keep My Jersey?, which I highly recommend reading if you haven't done so already), in addition to players with NBA success like Craig Brackins and Jeff Hornacek, plenty of talented players have donned the cardinal and gold and graced the floor of Hilton Coliseum.
I've always been a big fan of pep bands in college arenas, and even though the majority of college athletic programs utilize pep bands, it is still an optional thing that really makes a difference. Iowa State's pep band does a great job of masking the occasional silence and keeps Hilton Coliseum buzzing. Trust me; it makes a big difference.
Hilton Coliseum and Iowa State University also deserve credit for its athletic department and game day staff. ISU's staff members are good at their jobs and bring a certain customer service to the table that many competitive athletic departments seem to sometimes overlook. It's a shame when the charm of a facility is contradicted by incompetent or unfriendly personnel. Luckily for Iowa State, the two work hand in hand and really complement each other.
While the Big 12 boasts some of men's basketball's most highly regarded and infamous arenas such as Allen Fieldhouse and Gallagher-Iba Arena, Hilton Coliseum offers the same luxury, talent, and glamour for a much more affordable price. And while the Cyclones men's basketball team will probably continue going up and down, you can count on Hilton Coliseum to exceed expectations for a very long time.
**Photo attributed to Johannes Cater.
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