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Jeff Kolpack, Published January 30 2012

Bison set to host Western Michigan in BracketBuster game

FARGO – For the second time in its brief Division I history, North Dakota State will play a men’s basketball team from the Mid-American Conference. Only this time, it has four important letters associated to it: ESPN.

The network paired the Bison with Western Michigan for a Feb. 18 game at the Fargodome. It’s part of the 142-team Sears BracketBusters, a three-day event that pits NCAA tournament hopefuls from mid-major conferences against each other.

NDSU’s matchup will not be on TV, most likely the result of three losses in the last two weeks. On the plus side, the Bison get a home-and-home contract with a MAC school, something NDSU head coach Saul Phillips said is hard to do because of the geography of that league.

“There are a lot of D-I schools in that area of the country,” he said.

The Bison did play MAC opponent Eastern Michigan during NDSU’s five-year reclassification. It was a 2-for-1 arrangement with the Bison going 1-2 against EMU. It’s the Bison’s second appearance in the BracketBusters, with the Bison winning at Wisconsin-Milwaukee in 2009.

Western Michigan is 10-11 overall and tied for second place in the MAC’s Western Division. The Broncos lost seven of their first eight including 82-76 at South Dakota State in the season opener. But WMU also won at Oakland University of the Summit League 91-76.

“They beat Oakland on the road, they must have something going on,” Phillips said.

As part of the BracketBuster contract, NDSU will make a return trip to Western Michigan next year. Details between the schools had yet to be worked out, but the game has to be played within a week’s time frame in early December.

It was a good BracketBuster day for the Summit overall. SDSU and Oral Roberts got home TV games – only 13 games will be televised – and all 10 teams will participate for the first time in league history. The Summit is enjoying its highest conference RPI ever and currently sits at No. 13.

“These matchups provide an additional opportunity for image enhancement beyond our league’s current No. 13 RPI ranking and signature victories by member schools,” Summit commissioner Tom Douple said in a statement. “Having two nationally-televised games will be a tremendous boost for our league’s national exposure and being part of this nationally-recognized event only helps add to the enthusiasm on each campus.”

Forum reporter Jeff Kolpack can be reached at (701) 241-5546.

Kolpack’s NDSU media blog can be found

at www.areavoices.com/bisonmedia