A Win Is A Win

The trendy thing is to stop comparing this year’s Bison men’s basketball team to the 2009 squad, but for the sake of this post bare with me; as NDSU did something tonight that they haven’t done since 2009; win at Western Illinois.

TrayVonn Wright and the Bison won in Macomb for the first time since December 2009.

It wasn’t pretty, no games ever are with WIU, and NDSU never seemed to be in a comfort zone in this one, get up by eight in the second half, then see the ‘Necks rally and make it a two point game. It was not the greatest of shooting nights for the leading field goal percentage team in the country; shooting just 40 percent, TrayVonn Wright was not good; 1-10 and just two points. Lawrence Alexander picked up the slack, he had 10 early points before notching a second foul and Taylor Braun was big when he needed to be nailing free throws down the strech. Kory Brown had two huge baskets as well, including a follow tip to put the Bison up five in what Saul Phillips called after “the biggest basket of the game.”

NDSU now sits at 19-6 and 8-2 in the Summit League and it’s starting to look like a three horse race for the number one seed. Denver lost at IUPUI on Thursday night, while IPFW and SDSU both won, so they stay just a game back of the Bison at 7-3. The Jacks go to Western on Saturday, while the Dons host Denver. NDSU will travel to Omaha for Saturday’s matchup, the Mavericks play better at home, but the Bison won handily in the first matchup. A win Saturday and with three home games left, things would certainly start to look good for NDSU to capture the number one seed.

Before I wrap up, some words on the head coach of the Bison. The next NDSU win would get them to 20; a mark of a highly successful season. It’s important to note the twenty win plateau, because it’s been 17 years since NDSU has done it in back to back seasons; the last time it happened was 1995-96 and 1996-97; in the Division 2 days under Tom Billeter, where the Bison did it four straight years. Add in the 26 win season Phillips had in 2009, that would mark three in seven years; to me that’s pretty impressive. Throw in a 16 and 17 win season and what you’ve got is one of the most successful mid-major coaches in the country. I know your resume is defined by NCAA Tourney appearances and conference titles, but look at your normal mid-majors. Those teams blow up once every five years and recede. Northern Iowa makes the Sweet 16 in 2010, haven’t made the dance since. Richmond and Ohio the past couple of years are in the same boat. I don’t count Butler, Gonzaga, Wichita State or VCU, they’re not mid-majors; A) most don’t play football and B) if you make the Elite 8 or Final 4, no way are you considered mid-major in my mind.

I know plenty of NDSU fans were worried over the past few years after the football team would beat another FBS team would Craig Bohl ┬ábe whisked away and it did happen this year. I’d start watching Phillips as well, because with three 20 win seasons, 3 straight postseason appearances and possibly two of those NCAA trips, it’s highly likely someone bigger than Ball State may be calling in April. Many of his detractors will say his first trip to the dance was done with Tim Miles kids and there’s great merit to that. But he’s built a program in Fargo, North Dakota; at a clear football-first school and done it in an arena that’s forty years old and falling apart. He got his signature non-conference win over Notre Dame and who knows maybe another shot at scaring a powerhouse in March.

32 thoughts on “A Win Is A Win

  1. Saul has his critics but when you look at the overall picture he has done a great job despite the obstacles.

  2. Simply put, I think if they win at Omaha Saturday, NDSU will have basically wrapped up the regular season league title. I know SDSU is REALLY playing well right now (actually beat Omaha by 17 in Omaha tonight), but even if the Jacks were to come into Fargo and escape with a win next week, a win at Omaha ensures they’re, at worst, tied if that should happen. We’d have the tiebreaker edge over SDSU or just about anyone else based on RPI. Lose at Omaha and then we risk going into that SDSU game even in the conference standings, then it becomes winner take all as I can’t imagine either USD or Denver winning at SDSU or NDSU in the final week. Beat Omaha and they’ll basically wrap up the Summit barring a monumental collapse in the final three home games.

    I like Saul, but I don’t believe he’s going to be that hot a commodity unless this team makes the Dance. If it makes the Dance his stock will never be higher especially considering that most of this team is gone next year. If he is looking to move up, waiting through another rebuilding phase won’t be an option.

    I also think the style Saul plays isn’t one that ADs will be quick to embrace. Miles was more up tempo, Saul is a Wisconsin defensive guy (Hence what makes the 09 and last two teams tough to compare as even Saul admits, 09 was an offensive team, the last two defensive). It’s going to be hard to sell a fan base on a that style of basketball, especially if it doesn’t produce immediate results. Also, for the consecutive 20 win seasons, it did take them a good three years to rebuild between the 09 team and last year’s runner up team. There could be a similar gap after this season with Braun, Wright, Bjorklund et al leaving. The Summit League shouldn’t be that hard to field a consistent contender, much less when you have a commitment to winning as an athletic program and a decent budget. Especially with the new arena coming, there’s really no excuse for NDSU to slip again the way they did between 09 and 13. If not winning the conference, NDSU should at least be top four every year.

    • In all fairness the 2010 team was full of Miles recruits too and it didnt’ take 4 years to rebuild. It took 3 and I would consider last year a solid season too.

      • I agree last year wasn’t a rebuild. To clarify, they went four years between Summit League finals. But it did take the three years yes and the first two were really rough (6th and 7th). No way should this program be that bad.

    • Agreed, the guy coaches in a dump and has brought really solid talent to Fargo. He is very underrated.

    • 132 – ACC, ACC, ACC, Do you know what the ACC is? Yes, the Bison beat an ACC team in basketball. A lot of other DI universities cannot say that.

    • Saul has had less opportunites to have signature wins because he didnt have a conference and traveled more. Example is 2007 when Miles teams got to play at Minnesota Texas Tech Princeton Marquette KState Colorado St Iowa State and Eastern Michigan. He went 2 and 6 against them. Saul hasnt played that many big games in 2 years It’s a numbers game. Saul has conference games to deal with as well as solid teams every week just not the bigger names

    • I think my point was considering Notre Dame now is in the ACC, then the Irish beat Duke, it’s a good win anytime you can beat a BCS level school, same comparison could be made with football’s wins over a 1-11 Minnesota or a 3-9 Kansas team.

      • NDSU beat Notre Dame when Jerian Grant was still on the team, losing a 20 point scorer really has a negative affect on at team. ND was a fringe NCAA tournament team when NDSU beat them, it was a good win.

    • I agree 132. I guess it could be called a signature win for Saul, but as far as a signature win for NDSU it doesn’t quite compare to signature wins they had when Miles was the coach. The Bison have a good team and I hope they go far, but if people are pumping up Saul because he beat Notre Dame I guess that doesn’t get me overly excited. For any positive win, there have been plenty negatives also.

      I’ll believe he is a good coach if he makes the NCAAs. I’ll believe he’s an even better coach if they win a game in the NCAAs. I’ll also believe he is a really good coach if he can make next year’s team a top 3 in the Summit.
      Let’s not forget how upset he was about no NIT bid last year, only to go on and lose the first game of the powerhouse CBI tournament.

  3. Saul has done a great job at NDSU, to be able to recruit to a facility that looks like the BSA is remarkable. The coaching staff has done a great job developing players and getting them to buy in on the defensive end, where most kids dont want to play hard.
    I would guess this will be Saul’s last year at NDSU if they make the NCAA tournament.

  4. Couples points:

    A) as we all know Tim Miles was a great coach. He then built up Colorado State’s program and now is working at Nebraska, which has impressive brand new facilities for basketball. He will have the Huskers in the top half of the B1G.

    Saul can follow that same path. Hop up to an FBS football school with decent facilities, turn then into a winner, then get a chance at a major FBS school’s bball program.

    B) I think Craig Bohl realized similarly that if he ever wants to get shot at running a major FBS school’s football program, he too would have to follow the path Tim Miles blazed. Hence why he will make a go of it at Wyoming before getting the call up to a Pac-12, Big 12 or B1G program.

  5. Saul is a great coach. Unlike DeHoff he can recruit despite the BSA. My only knock on Saul is the team is built to have a 1 year run and then it’s back to the 2010 numbers, but I think we have more talent coming back next year than in 2010. And if people say that Saul won with Miles players, the same has to be true for 2010. We really need to get behind this team because making a run at the NCAA tournament is something that can bring the NDSU program to a level we have never seen before. Every person in the nation will be filling out the bracket and seeing the name NDSU. A win would be massive for exposure. Couple that with the new arena and I feel good about the future. Let’s bring some of that FOOTBALL ENERGY to the rest of the season and get your tickets for the Summit League Tournament. I’m sick of SDSU getting a free home field pass

  6. I hope Saul stays, but totally understandable if he takes off after this year. When looking at the overall body of work it is impressive, especially in the BSA.

    A couple things I’d note:
    1) Absolutely agree that football is #1. Just don’t sell the basketball thing completely short. When NDSU has had good teams in either men’s or women’s the crowds have come and packed it in and that is in the BSA. When the SHAC comes, football will still be #1, but NDSU is far from a one sport school. The fact they only have 7 sports on each side allows them to be solid across the board. (yes, I know where women’s hoops is currently at and where volleyball appears to be trending)
    2) I agree that the Wichita States, Butlers, Gonzagas are a different bread of TEAM than most mid-majors. That being said, they are still all mid-majors as that tag is about what conference you play in. A few years ago we’d have said Northern Iowa isn’t a mid-major using your criteria. Yes, it is. Those teams are what mid-majors aspire to be. Dominate mid-major somewhat consistently and make a run at the big boys. At some point they may be pulled into a different conference, ala Creighton, and then they are not a mid-major anymore. You do make an excellent point on most of them being basketball 1st schools though.

    Fun to hear the buzz around town about the basketball team. I think the Fort Wayne home game helped put hoops on even more people’s radar. Not a lot of tickets outside GA left for SDSU it appears, and I suspect Denver to be similar and USD should be a nice weekday crowd. Go see these guys while you can.

    Go Bison!

  7. Dom,
    I’m sure you don’t want to speculate, but any idea what type of school would go after Saul? Any specific ones?

    • Mountain West is a very solid mid-major bball conference (think of programs like San Diego St, New Mexico, UNLV).

      There is the precedent established with Tim Miles doing well at Colorado St.

        • all those schools pay in the near-7 figure range or higher. If one of them comes I doubt NDSU will be willing to match.

          IMO saul should be the highest paid coach at NDSU right now.

  8. Those who throw bad thoughts on the B.S.A., need to rethink their position. Built in 1970 (+-) it was one of those multi-sport arenas at the time that was all the rage. This airplane hangar has given N.D.S.U. athletics of all kinds, a chance to grow until today. It a lot like your grandmother who used to know how to throw a Thanksgiving dinner, the envy of the world. Now grandmother is ready to turn her skills over to a new generation. No such thing as a bad grandmother. Respect the history of this situation.

  9. I am a bit surprised that any bison fan would be too critical of a coach attempting greatness by focusing on solid defense.

  10. Saul thinks he is Bo Ryan, he has zero adjustment skills in game, and bits his lip against any adversity. He doesn’t have many signature wins, maybe NOTRE dame that’s it. He’s very average.

  11. Nice win tonight. Nothing like an old NCC rival entering the league. Great game.

  12. Good win today! Starting to play more to close out games vs. On the gas off the gas. Not sure if Saul gets a bonus for not getting technicals, but he should have taken one today. Summit officials are very inconsistent this year. In years past they have been pretty solid.

  13. 2+ hours after game and nothing on inforum site! c’mon people I want to read about this team 20-6

  14. Something I’ve noticed all BB season there is difinetly a different vibe with both WDAY and inforum coverage. The coverage is lackluster and when they do cover it usually turns to football. It was what I pointing out last week about press conference even if it is on u tube in the fall it would be linked on Sport sections of both sites. If the same energy went into the winter sports between BB and Wrestling there could be something new everyday.

    • BisonTC, we’ve done stories all season long on the basketball and wrestling teams and have all our video posted on the Bison Media Blog; and as for the press conferences as mentioned last week, there are no formal press conferences during the winter for the basketball and wrestling teams like there is for football and volleyball every Monday during the fall. Appreciate your comments.

  15. Not complaining just pointing out a different level of coverage. Take for instance football there is pregame and post game no matter if it’s on the road or at home and with BB not even sure if a reporter is even at the the road games. Maybe the football coverage was so over the top which all of us enjoyed when things are normally covered its kind of a let down.

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