Niagara Gazette

Sports

February 22, 2013

Purple Eagles host final BracketBuster

Niagara Gazette — The BracketBuster has become more of a burden than a booster for participants over the years, which is why it will cease to exist after this weekend.

The annual mid-major basketball showcase never had its intended effect on the brackets, and in recent years the top teams have pulled out of the event.

"There are a lot of things that are good about it that we'll miss," Niagara coach Joe Mihalich said. "And there are things that are bad about it that we won't miss."

Fortunately for the Purple Eagles and their fans, this final BracketBuster falls into the "good" category.

Mihalich is excited that today's 3 p.m. home game against Southland Conference-leading Northwestern (La.) State will be broadcast on ESPN3.com.

"That's the best thing about this for us," he said. "To get on TV."

In the midst of competitive Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference race, the Purple Eagles also avoid having to make an arduous road trip at an inopportune point in the season.

Niagara is 3-0 in home BracketBuster games, including a 2009 win over Illinois State that was shown on ESPN2. The Purple Eagles are also 3-0 this season in games shown on ESPN3.

Northwestern State has won nine in a row, is ranked in the top 100 by the RPI and is the highest-scoring and fastest-paced team in the country this season.

"I'm glad we are playing a really good team," Mihalich said. "That way, we won't be looking ahead to next week."

Niagara is coming off two close road wins at Marist and Manhattan, and holds a one game lead over Loyola in the MAAC standings with two more regular season games to play.

"Our mantra has been to get better," Mihalich said. "You can't win those games, then take a week off, and stay the same or get better."

Leading scorer Antoine Mason has ramped up his participation in practice this week and "everything points to him playing" today after missing the last four games with an ankle injury. But with this being a non-conference game, Niagara will remain cautious about rushing him back, Mihalich said.

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