During Arizona's first Pac-12 basketball roadie through Utah and Colorado, I came away impressed with two things: the perseverance of CU's long-suffering basketball fans and the willingness of those two schools to buy their way to prominence.
I'll say this about CU's Coors Events Center: It's a miniature version of The Pit at New Mexico (with a much better fight song).
The Buffaloes have the largest basketball pep band I've ever seen, about double the size of most. You can feel the bass of the guitar-playing Buffaloes in your bones.
CU just spent $10.8 million to build two basketball practice courts, which was quite a leap of faith at a basketball-starved school that has won just one - that's o-n-e - NCAA tournament game dating to 1969.
When second-year coach Tad Boyle has time to fully recruit "his guys," a basketball visit to CU is almost certain to become one of the most dreaded trips in the Pac-12.
Right now, Colorado doesn't charge more than $20 for a basketball ticket. That is likely to change as the Buffaloes get better. Compare that to McKale Center: When CU visits Tucson next month, single-game tickets will range from $19 to $112.
It's hard to say where CU fits in the new Pac-12 as a basketball visit. But it's up there. During the 33 years of Pac-10 basketball, it was rarely possible to rank the most difficult road venues with any consistent accuracy.
Sometimes it was a five-way tie.
When Stanford had it rolling under Mike Montgomery, Maples Pavilion was as wild as any place at which I have sat on press row. It didn't have the presence of Kansas' Allen Fieldhouse or the drama of Duke's Cameron Indoor Stadium, but for two hours, no place on this earth was as difficult for the opposing team.
There were nights I thought the same of Cal's Haas Pavilion, a cramped, old-style arena that rarely gets enough credit for being a madhouse. The Straw Hat band marches into the arena playing that 1950s music and it is absolutely nuts.
I all but shed tears at the abandonment of Oregon's Mac Court, that wonderful relic of the 1920s, and sometimes wondered how Lute Olson ever managed to win 15 games in that old hot box.
Pauley Pavilion was more of a country club setting than a place that reminded you of John Wooden's excellence, but when the Bruins were loaded it didn't matter who coached them, Steve Lavin, Walt Hazzard or Jim Harrick. A deep, roaring thunder would always greet the arrival of Arizona.
Once Lorenzo Romar took over at Washington and the school spent millions to style ancient Hec Ed Pavilion after Cameron Indoor Stadium, Arizona's roadie to Seattle became impossibly difficult. UW fans are capable of sustaining a game-long foot-stomp.
Now put CU and the Coors Events Center on the list and climbing.
As impressed as I was at Colorado, I was saddened by the demise of Utah's once-grand basketball plant and program. Do you realize that the Utes have no real student section at the Huntsman Center?
Some of it is that the Utes are in the middle of a basketball crisis not known at that school in its 100-year history. The program has been diminished in town by the NBA and by two poor coaching hires after Rick Majerus quit.
Since the Huntsman Center opened in the fall of 1969 and through the '90s, I thought Utah had the best basketball facility in the West. Now it's not close to the top.
There are no modern video boards at the Huntsman Center, almost no advertising panels, and no sense of excitement or hope for improvement. I thought game-day at the Huntsman Center was as bad as any I've ever seen at Oregon State's Gill Coliseum or at Wazzu's Friel Court, maybe worse.
It's not that the Utes aren't spending and trying to make modern an athletic department that still has a Mountain West Conference feel to it.
They've torn down the beloved University Golf Course a few hundred yards from the Huntsman Center and replaced it with - yuk - a track and field plant and a soccer field.
I spent a few hours walking around the vast Utah campus before Arizona thumped the Utes Thursday night, and I was struck by the lack of atmosphere. It was like Oakland. There's no "there" there. There was no mall. No real hub.
Utah is a commuter school with a big football appetite. That much is apparent by how far the once-proud Ute basketball presentation has slipped.
For 40 years, from 1960-1999, Utah had a basketball program that was superior in all phases to everyone in the old Pac-10 except UCLA. The Utes had as many star-level players - Billy McGill, Jerry Chambers, Mike Newlin, Ticky Burden, Tom Chambers and on and on - as any Pac-10 school except the Bruins.
Now the program is rubble. It has been eclipsed by Colorado, a school that has played in one NCAA tournament since 1997.
It is in danger of falling into such a hole that it could rival Arizona State and USC as the dumpster fires of Pac-12 basketball.
Contact columnist Greg Hansen at firstname.lastname@example.org or 573-4362.