This weekend marks the end of BracketBusters, the decade-old event featuring teams from outside the power conferences in late-February, nonconference showdowns.

Its epitaph should read:

BracketBusters

2003-2013

It served its purpose. Mostly.

"For our situation, it has been great," said Saint Mary's coach Randy Bennett, whose team faces Creighton on Saturday in the marquee BracketBusters matchup, with NCAA tournament implications for both teams.

The Gaels have been a regular participant in BracketBusters, which was created by ESPN and a handful of college officials to serve a singular purpose: Provide teams from the so-called mid-majors with résumé-boosting games.

With participating conferences agreeing to block out a late-February weekend, ESPN could wait until the middle of the season to set the matchups.

"We wanted to enhance the opportunity for teams to get at-large bids," said Doug Elgin, commissioner of the Missouri Valley Conference and a driving force behind BracketBusters. "You have to give ESPN a lot of credit for buying into the event."

More than a dozen BracketBusters teams have received at-large berths over the years, although it's impossible to know how many would have been invited to the Big Dance anyhow.

Organizers initially hoped to call the event the Cinderella Classic but encountered trademark issues. Plenty of slipper-worthy teams have participated, however.


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George Mason's stunning run to the 2006 Final Four began with a BracketBusters victory. Same with Virginia Commonwealth in 2011. Butler, the cream of the Cinderellas, was a regular.

Numerous NBA players are BracketBusters alums, including Portland rookie sensation Damian Lillard, Utah's Gordon Hayward, Sacramento's Jason Thompson and some guy named Curry who plays for the Warriors.

But not everyone benefits from BracketBusters. The participant pool has expanded to 122 teams, but only the best are part of the televised package of games. Everyone else plays nonconference opponents far from the spotlight in games that take the focus off conference play and often involve difficult travel.

(San Jose State played a non-TV game a few years ago when the Western Athletic Conference put all of its teams into the BracketBusters participant pool.)

"It has been great exposure for us," Bennett said. "We played Murray State last year, and I don't know if we've ever received more attention prior to a game than we did for that one."

Bennett hopes to replace the BracketBusters game with a comparable high-profile matchup, whether it's early in the season or late. Given the emphasis the selection committee places on strength of schedule, he doesn't have much choice. But there's an inherent risk: Teams set their schedules months before the season; opponents that look good in June could be garbage by January.

"The BracketBusters almost guaranteed that we'd have an opponent with a good RPI," Bennett said. "That will be a challenge for us."

What killed BracketBusters? In a word: Starvation. Partly because of conference realignment, there aren't enough top-tier teams available.

Butler and Virginia Commonwealth have joined the Atlantic 10 Conference, which isn't involved in the event. (Neither is the Mountain West, for that matter.)

The Colonial Athletic Association -- the home to George Mason, Drexel and Old Dominion -- left the ESPN family of networks to sign with NBC and is, ahem, no longer welcome.

Gonzaga would be a natural, except it has no use for BracketBusters: The Zags can schedule as many high-profile games as they desire.

All of which leaves BracketBusters officials to choose from Saint Mary's, Murray State, the Missouri Valley teams and, well, not much else.

"It has run its course," Elgin said. "But it was a great event."

Amen.

For more on college sports, see Jon Wilner's College Hotline at blogs.mercurynews.com/collegesports. Contact him at jwilner@mercurynews.com or 408-920-5716.

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