There’s nothing like an extra round of college basketball games to get fans fired up about the upcoming NCAA tournament.
At least that’s the theory espoused by ESPN-TV, which is holding its 10th annual ESPN Sears BracketBusters event this weekend.
The University of Maine is among 142 teams from 16 conferences that will play one of 71 games in this year’s tournament.
Coach Ted Woodward’s Black Bears this year received a home game and will take on Marist of the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference in a 2 p.m. contest Saturday at Memorial Gym in Orono.
Each of the nine teams in America East are competing in BracketBusters, although none of them was selected to appear in one of the 13 games that will be broadcast on the ESPN family of networks, including Internet-only ESPN3.
In other games involving AE squads, Vermont entertains Niagara, New Hampshire plays host to Towson and Albany awaits Rider. Also Saturday, Stony Brook travels to Northeastern, Hartford travels to St. Peter’s and Maryland Baltimore County heads to Canisius.
On Sunday, Binghamton visits Radford and Boston University treks to Loyola (Md.).
The game comes at a critical time for the Black Bears (11-14), who will try to snap a four-game losing streak with a nonleague game that does not have any ramifications on the America East standings.
UMaine (5-9 AE) has slipped to seventh place in the conference, which puts them in line for a quarterfinal matchup against either Stony Brook or Vermont, both 12-2 in league play, on March 2 at Chase Family Arena in West Hartford, Conn.
UMaine has lost four in a row and nine of its last 12 heading into Saturday’s game against the Red Foxes (10-16). The contest gives the Bears a chance to work out a few kinks as they gear up for their final two America East contests against Vermont and Stony Brook.
The Bears’ recent struggles have come against the upper-echelon teams in the league in No. 2 Vermont, No. 3 Boston University, No. 4 Albany and No. 5 Hartford. UMaine has averaged more than 13 turnovers during that stretch.
However, the Bears’ defense has been somewhat forgiving as opponents are shooting a combined 46 percent from the field, including 42 percent from the 3-point line, during the losing streak.
UMaine is 6-5 at home this season, including 2-3 at Memorial Gym.