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ESPN Bracketbusters plop Canisius, Niagara on ESPN3

blog by Ben Tsujimoto  • 

When the final slate of ESPN BracketBusters match-ups were announced Monday evening, Canisius and Niagara learned their out-of-conference foes and the exposure that they’d receive from these late-season litmus tests.

Although conference realignment has eliminated the BracketBusters weekend for next year, these games provide limited value for the participating teams—all outside the Big 6 major conferences (SEC, Big East, Big 10, PAC 12, Atlantic 10, ACC). ESPN’s Andy Katz breaks down the rationale—but it’s pretty simple: for mid-major teams vying for an at-large bid, any win against a formidable opponent counts toward the Ratings Percentage Index (RPI), which holds serious sway on Selection Sunday.

For other schools with no hope of an at-large bid—like Canisius, Niagara and UB, for example—the BracketBusters serve relatively little purpose. If anything, the trip—often quite far (like when UB traveled to North Dakota State last year)—is exhausting and is good opportunity to give underclassmen burn while resting the starting five for the remainder of conference play.

The TV exposure—if you count ESPN3 as major exposure—is beneficial for the participating programs, at least.

1) Canisius (15-8, 8-4 in MAAC) at Vermont (14-7, 7-2 in America East), 1 p.m. Feb. 23 on ESPN3

Canisius (RPI 108) will travel northeast to Vermont (RPI 110) to visit the Catamounts, a team ranked second in the America East Conference. Vermont boasts balanced scoring—seven players average between six and 11 points per game—and the conference’s top-ranked defense (only allowing 58 points per game). Niagara topped the Catamounts by 10 earlier in the season, perhaps a good measuring stick for the Griffs.

6’8 forward Clancy Rugg paces the Catamounts in scoring at 11 per game, while do-everything Brian Voelkel is an exceptional rebounder (8 rpg) and passer (5 apg). Vermont’s patience and defense will be a good test for a Griffin team that loves to run and jack threes—the winner will be the one who dictates the pace.

2) Niagara (14-9, 10-2 in MAAC) hosts Northwestern State (14-6, 8-2 in Southland), 3 p.m. Feb. 23, ESPN3

Niagara (RPI 119) squares off against Northwestern State (RPI 102), the third-place squad in the Southland Conference. Fortunately for Mihalich’s Purple Eagles, Niagara hosts the BrackBuster contest, meaning that NU will spend the final two weeks of the regular season at home.

The Demons are a great test for Niagara in that they boast two legitimate big men—6’7, 230-pound DeQuan Hicks and 6’8, 232-pound senior James Hulbin—that are efficient around the rim and active on the glass (both average seven boards per game). Joe Mihalich has only shown faith in one of his post players—namely La Salle transfer Devon White—and while the newcomer is a behemoth, I don’t think he can guard two people.

Senior guard Shamir Davis is the primary threat in the backcourt, but he’ll have his hands full with Niagara’s stable of gifted perimeter players.

3) University at Buffalo (8-14, 3-5 in MAC) hosts Manhattan (7-15, 5-7 in MAAC), TBD, Feb. 23, no TV.

The Buffalo Bulls fall into the non-televised category of the ESPN BracketBusters, facing a foe familiar to Canisius and Niagara. For a comparison, the Griffs knocked off the George Beamon-less Jaspers 64-60, while Niagara beat Manhattan by the identical score. Even without his leading scorer and preseason MAAC first-teamer in the lineup for the remainder of the season, vivacious Manhattan head coach Steve Masiello has kept his team competitive.

The Jaspers’ RPI is 256 (of 347), and they’re prone to lone scoreless periods without Beamon. Michael Alvarado is an active guard and strong defender, while underrated big man Rhamel Brown is a tank inside and lanky (6’5, 175-pound) sharpshooter Shane Richards patrols the perimeter. The Brown-vs.-McCrea match-up is tasty, but the Jaspers simply aren’t very good.

Even though UB’s point guard Jarod Oldham still sports a soft cast, perhaps this meaningless BracketBuster game will be a good opportunity to give him 10-15 minutes.

(Photos courtesy of Robin David Brown from the Niagara vs. Iona game last week—full gallery here).

TAGGED: big 4 basketball, canisius griffins, college basketball, espn bracketbusters, espn3, jim baron, joe mihalich, niagara purple eagles, ub bulls

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