Niagara Gazette

Niagara U.

November 19, 2010

Tought road for Niagara begins tonight

NIAGARA FALLS — Joe Mihalich would be mad at the person who made the Niagara men’s basketball team’s schedule if it wasn’t he himself who was responsible.

Tonight’s game at Georgia Tech begins a stretch where Niagara plays 12 of 14 games on the road. After Monday’s home game against Mount St. Mary’s, the Purple Eagles won’t play in the Gallagher Center again until Dec. 12. The next home game after that will be Jan. 7.

“It’s either going to make us better or bitter,” Mihalich said. “We have to make sure it makes us better.”

One recurring issue is that Niagara’s success during Mihalich’s 12-year tenure has made it difficult to find teams willing to come play in the Gallagher Center. Schools like Mount St. Mary’s and Quinnipiac, who agreed to home and home series, are the exception to the rule. Wednesday’s season-opener opponent, Wisconsin-Milwaukee, was bound to visit Niagara because of last year’s BracketBuster matchup.

This is the second time in three years that Niagara will play just four non-conference games at home, including the February BracketBuster event. In other years, the Purple Eagles’ home schedule is boosted by visits from local rivals Buffalo and St. Bonaventure.

Those series used to be staggared so Niagara wouldn’t have to travel to Amherst and Olean in the same year, Mihalich said, but the inbalance came about in 2002 when St. Bonaventure coach Jan van Breda Kolff opted out of bringing his team to Lewiston.

Niagara also used to have an annual arrangement to play St. John’s that was interrupted after the Purple Eagles won on the road in 2007. Niagara athletics director Ed Mclaughlin said that he maintains a line of communication with St. John’s officials and hopes to resume the series sometime in the future. But nothing has been scheduled yet.

Adding to the every other year scheduling conundrum is the fact that the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference annually alternates having Niagara and Canisius host two December games. This season, the Purple Eagles will open conference play with games at Marist on Dec. 3 and Iona on Dec. 5. Its third conference game is also on the road, at Fairifeld on Jan. 3. The Purple Eagles do play four of their final six MAAC games at home, which should help a young roster hit its peak in time for postseason play.

Tonight’s game at Georgia Tech is part of the Legends Classic exempt event that will also send the Purple Eagles to Detroit next week to play Bowling Green, Albany and Detroit.

Mihalich is hopeful that the organizers of the Legends Classic will bring three similar opponents to the Gallagher Center in 2012.

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