By JONAH BRONSTEIN
Niagara Gazette — The Niagara Purple Eagles have won sixth straight Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference games by an average of 12 points, each victory strengthening their status as championship contenders.
Frontrunning fans are already looking ahead to looming matchups with fellow contenders Canisius, Iona and Loyola.
But coach Joe Mihalich refuses to let his young team taking any MAAC opponent for granted.
"I'm going to keep saying this over and over again, and you're going to get tired of hearing it and you're going to think I'm Lou Holtz," Mihalich said this week. "It doesn't matter if you are at home, it doesn't matter if you are away, it doesn't matter if you were picked first, picked last, in first place, or last place, anybody can win in our league.
"And if our guys don't believe that, we are not gonna win."
Tonight, the first-place Purple Eagles (10-8, 6-1 MAAC) host Manhattan (5-12, 3-4), one of the preseason favorites to contend for the league title.
The Jaspers, however, have been hit hard by injuries that resulted in them being the MAAC's lowest-scoring team, and they have lost seven of their past nine games following Friday night's 64-60 defeat at Canisius.
George Beamon, the top scorer in the MAAC last season, is out for the season with an ankle injury. Michael Alvarado, a junior guard, missed several games with his own ankle injury but has since returned and scored 18 points at Canisius.
Niagara, meanwhile, is clicking on all cylinders. It shot a season-high 54 percent in Friday night's win over Siena, making 12 of 24 from 3-point range and assisting on 18 of its 32 field goals. Niagara also continues to be the best team in the MAAC in avoiding turnovers.
"Everything is starting to come together," point guard Juan'ya Green said.