Changing Up

First off thanks to everyone that read and commented on the blog over the last two weeks on our countdown of top moments this school year, understand that some disagreed with what we selected, but that was the fun part about it. We’ll have another video countdown coming in the next two weeks that will get people geared up for the start of the football season that I think you’ll enjoy.

As many know July 1 signifies the start of a new school year and it also signifies the start date of many schools switching leagues. While this year there isn’t nearly as many as there have been in past years, there are still some that have direct and indirect impact on NDSU.

Oral Roberts marks its return to the Summit League today.

DIRECT IMPACT – ORAL ROBERTS

The Golden Eagles return to the Summit League after a two year run in the Southland Conference. The immediate impact is obvious in basketball, despite the fact that ORU hasn’t won the conference tournament title since NDSU or SDSU became eligible in 2009. But their track record adds credibility to a league that suddenly looks a bit better than it did two years ago. Oral Roberts is coming off two average seasons, 17-16 this past season, 20-15 the year before with a trip to the CIT quarters. The impact isn’t just in men’s basketball, women’s basketball has been a consistently solid squad, women’s golf and volleyball have been good and baseball has been off the charts dominating, winning 15 consecutive titles before leaving in 2012. The Eagles bring the Summit League to 9 schools for 2014-15, 8 eligible for the postseason, Omaha is still in its transition, the most important sport for ORU to have an impact on is baseball, that brings the league to six and  keeps its NCAA requirement to receive an automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament.

INDIRECT IMPACT – APPALACHIAN STATE AND GEORGIA SOUTHERN

The Mountaineers and Eagles started their transition last year, but are now full fledged members of the Sun Belt as of today. There’s no denying that Bison fans will be fully plugged into how ASU and GSU perform this fall considering the success they had at the FCS level. Each are still trying to get into the recruiting game and get up to speed with the rest of the conference, Louisiana-Lafayette and Arkansas State were the class of the league last year and the additions of New Mexico State and Idaho are certainly not going to bulk up the strength. It’s not unreasonable to think that these two schools can be contenders in the league and even make a bowl within a couple of years(ineligible till 2015). Mark your calendars for September 25th, the two schools play each other as FBS teams for the first time on a Thursday night on ESPNU.

INDIRECT IMPACT – THE REST OF THE SOCON

For a while the Southern Conference could argue they were the best league in the FCS with App State winning three national titles in a row and Georgia Southern being a consistent title contender. Those days are a long way off now with those two gone, and that doesn’t count Davidson, the conference’s best in basketball leaving for the A-10. Elon is leaving for the Colonial with a 10-24 record after the last three years. What’s left? Two schools NDSU knows well; Wofford and Furman, it’s safe to say those are the two that will challenge yearly for the auto-bid(throw Chattanooga into the mix as well). The league adds three teams today, Mercer, VMI and East Tennessee State, Mercer is famous for its 1st round upset of Duke this year in the NCAA basketball tournament; they just brought football back and had been playing non-scholarship in the Pioneer League. VMI has been struggling in the Big South for years and ETSU will be bringing back football in 2015 and playing at a high school field for the first two years they return. The league took the biggest hits of realignment, this could easily be a one-bid league for the FCS playoffs in 2014 and possibly for the foreseeable future.

INDIRECT IMPACT – IDAHO

The biggest cautionary tale out there for moving from FCS to FBS belongs to Idaho. The Vandals saw their league disintegrate around them (the WAC) and were left without a football home. Idaho’s AD has resisted all overtures about going back to FCS but it seems inevitable to not just me, but Doug Fullerton, the commissioner of the Big Sky. Idaho re-joins the Big Sky today in all sports, but one, football, where they join the Sun Belt and its nearest rival is New Mexico State. They were left on a geographical island and that’s one of the biggest reasons against a move up if you’re NDSU or Northern Iowa. You had better have some geographical allies before you go.

Those are the schools that have some impact with NDSU that are moving today, if you can figure out who’s in Conference USA and the American Athletic Conference, you’re really doing well!

Date With The Dance

NDSU used a six run first inning to lead them to a first Summit League Tournament Championship.

The unprecedented roll of 2013-14 continued for NDSU athletics on Saturday afternoon in Sioux Falls, already the site of a great Bison victory in March, the school added another when the NDSU baseball team steamrolled Western Illinois 9-0 in the Summit League championship game to earn the school’s first trip to the Division 1 Baseball Tournament.

The game was over after the first inning thanks to a Michael Leach 2-run single followed up by a John Skrbec grand slam. Skrbec who came into the game hitting .186 with no home runs picked the best time to hit his first, NDSU was up 6-0 after one and never looked back. Freshman pitcher Reed Pfannestein, who was named Summit League pitcher of the week last week, did himself one better, going 8.1 innings, allowing no runs and striking out six. Pfannestein was named tournament MVP. Nick Altavilla, David Ernst, Jon Hechtner, Leach and Parker Trewin were named to the all-tournament team.

This was a huge win for NDSU, as written previously how the last two years went in the title game. It’s the first trip for the Bison since 1969 when they qualified as a Division 2 team and won two games before losing to Missouri State. It’s been a long process for Tod Brown since coming to Fargo in 2007, a gradual progression from 15 wins to 40 a couple years ago and now an NCAA berth.

Just a few words on this school year for NDSU. Nine conference/tournament championships is unheard of, but that’s exactly what the Bison have done this year. Football, men’s basketball, softball, baseball, wrestling, women’s cross-country, women’s indoor track and men’s and women’s track. Hard to imagine another school having that kind of dominance in one year.

Reminder: NCAA Baseball Selection Show airs Monday at 11am on ESPNU; follow Kendall James on Twitter; he updates brackets regularly between now and Monday.

Another Chance

Tod Brown and his NDSU baseball team will go to sleep tonight in the same spot that they have been the last three years; a win away from heading to the NCAA Tournament. The one thing that might be different about this team is how opportunistic they have been. Thursday night against SDSU scoring three runs in the top of the 8th, including a much needed insurance run on a wild pitch. Friday afternoon same story against Western Illinois; scoring two runs on wild pitches, adding another on a Western error. Add in the fact that the Bison pitching has been tremendous in this tournament, Fargo South product David Ernst went 7.2 on Thursday and then Parker Trewin throws a complete game, striking out eight on Friday. NDSU hasn’t touched its bullpen, outside of closer Trevor Jaunich, who got the save on Thursday.

David Ernst and the NDSU baseball team stand a win away from a first NCAA Tournament appearance.

NDSU has been here before; 2012 in Tulsa against Oral Roberts; losing two heartbreakers to the Golden Eagles, who went to the NCAAs for a 15th straight time. Last year in Rochester, Michigan NDSU entered with a perfect 2-0 record only to see the Jacks get hot and NDSU’s bats go quiet and SDSU take the auto-bid. Speaking with the team on Tuesday, I got the sense they had an aura of confidence around them and that this was their year to break thru. They do have to prove it though; this is a tough spot, but they’re on the brink of breaking thru and would be the latest team to make the NCAA Tournament.

There will be a first time champion for the Summit League tomorrow; NDSU has been runner-up the last two years; while Western is a three-time runner up in 1985, 1996 and 2006. First pitch with Western Illinois is at 1pm, the game will be televised live on MidCo Sports Network tomorrow.

Thanks

I understand the most recent blog post got some people riled up and I always appreciate your passion and for reading our blog. Just a couple points and then I’ll move on, I know some have posted that I’m stirring the pot about the NDSU-UND game and that the media is the one that’s keeping this alive. I believe it’s one of my responsibities as Sports Director at WDAY to provide the most up to date information, especially when it concerns the two Division 1 universities in our state. One of the biggest charges I have
is to keep on top of football for each school and when something is happening in
terms of football scheduling I believe that to be a big story.

 

You can disagree with all me you want, I know that many do, but I strive to keep my personal opinions away from the newscast, I let some go on the blog, that’s exactly what a blog is for. I appreciate your comments, and for those that feel the need to rip on me, I’m sure I’ll give you some more material in no time.

There are plenty of other things happening this week; Big E has a great story on Antoinette Goodman and Ashley Tingelstad, two of the stars of NDSU’s women’s track team as the prep for the Summit League Championship, which begins today in Fargo, you can read that here.

The NDSU softball team opens the NCAA Tournament tomorrow in Minneapolis with Auburn out of the SEC, Jody Norstedt has the great story of pitcher Krista Menke and catcher Jenina Ortega and their unlikely bond, you can watch here.

Couple articles worth reading as well, Bruce Feldman, now of Fox Sports, who broke the story on Craig Bohl leaving for Wyoming; caught up with the former Bison coach and reveals exactly when he knew he was ready to leave Fargo.

Cole Jirik is busy rehabbing two separate shoulder surgeries after gutting out one of the toughest seasons I’ve ever seen, the man never missed a game, the Kansas City Chiefs actually wanted to sign Jirk to a contract; but he declined, wanting to be fully healthy. Jirik will join Jeff and me on our Saturday morning show on 970 WDAY from 9-11am.

Plenty of coverage of softball and track this weekend, keep an eye on the blog!

Some Updates

Jeff and I are both bogged down with Fargo Marathon coverage this week, but wanted to give a couple updates on the NDSU front; Jeff has the story running in Wednesday’s paper about NDSU moving forward with a proposal to put a domed roof on Dacotah Field, you can read that here. To get a feeling what Dacotah is going to look like during the winter months, here’s a couple photos from Arizon Structures out of St. Louis, they will be the ones putting up the dome. 

 

 

 

 

 

Many I’m sure saw the Big Sky announce its TV schedule for the fall, some may be wondering about why NDSU’s matchup with Weber State was not selected, Root Sports has an exclusive deal with the conference, so they stay away from non-conference matchups; Jeremy Jorgenson from NDSU Broadcasting tweeted this out today in reference to schedule:

While I know many poke fun of the Big Sky on this blog, there’s nothing to poke fun about their TV package, it’s impressive and to get games on Root Sports, which a good chunk of people have is a good deal.

Lastly, the NDSU softball team opens up the Summit League Tournament on Thursday at 12:30 in Fargo. You could argue that the most dominant team since the D1 transition has been softball, going to the NCAA Tournament four out of five years, just won a third straight Summit League regular season title. Darren Mueller has done a fantastic job with this team and you wonder how much longer he’ll be here, he’s had chances at Minnesota and Wisconsin and decided to stay in Fargo. The Bison will get a big challenge from Fort Wayne, who beat NDSU in Fargo in the title game last year and took two of three earlier this year in Fargo. We’ll have you covered as the tourney progresses. We’ll also be on coverage of the NFL Draft, plenty of possibilities for potential picks for Billy Turner, Marcus Williams and Brock Jensen, we’ll see what happens should be fun.

Spencer Eliason

It took less than 18 hours for NDSU to recover after Jon Sobaski was let out of his letter of intent to fill his scholarship as Chadron, Nebraska’s Spencer Eliason verbally committed.

 

Eliason is 6’9, 230 pounds and says he sprouted from 5’11 as a freshman to his current height. Eliason is the younger brother of current Minnesota Gophers forward Elliott Eliason, Spencer was an all-state honorable mention this past season, averaging 17.5 points and 9 rebounds per game. Here’s my interview with Spencer from earlier today; he’s the 4th commit now for the Class of 2014.


Phillips To Ohio

The coaching carousel has now fully engulfed Fargo, first football, then women’s basketball and now men’s basketball. Jason Arkley from the Athens Messenger first reported late Saturday night that Ohio University was set to hire Saul Phillips as its new men’s basketball coach.

Saul Phillips is heading to Ohio to become the new head coach of the Bobcats, leaving the Bison after seven years.

Phillips heads to Athens, Ohio and inherits a team that won 25 games this past season and head coach Jim Christian left earlier this week for the Boston College job. The Ohio job has been a clear level jumping job for the the last two coaches, John Groce took Ohio to the Sweet 16, then left for Illinois, and now Christian heads to the ACC with Boston College. Christian had a base salary of 425 thousand, he was the highest paid coach in the MAC, now Phillips likely won’t be paid that much,but we can expect a serious pay increase when we get the official announcement, likely on Sunday.

UPDATE: ESPN reports that Phillips has signed a five year contract at Ohio that will pay him 550 thousand dollars a year, Phillips told me that the deal came together late Saturday night.

Here’s an official statement from Phillips on the Ohio website: “I am extremely excited about the future of Ohio basketball and I am elated to have a chance to add to its rich tradition,” Phillips said. “This is an outstanding university in a terrific community. I share the vision of the administration as to what the enormous potential is of this storied program. I simply cannot wait to start working with our players and helping them reach their potential. I want our fans and my players to know that I will pour maximum energy and enthusiasm into Bobcat basketball.”

Athletic Director Jim Schaus: “The hiring of Saul Phillips as the next head men’s basketball coach for Ohio is indeed a tremendous hire for us,” Schaus said. “I am just ecstatic to be able to welcome a coach with his experience and success to Bobcat Nation. Saul is passionate, energetic, a great communicator and is inspiring. He has a reputation as an excellent recruiter and players coach. His North Dakota State team had many big wins including a win over Oklahoma in the NCAA Tournament. I am confident about Saul helping us build Bobcat Basketball to new heights of excellence. I can’t for him wait to get started!”

SUNDAY UPDATE: Spoke with Gene Taylor from Arlington this morning, told me he was hopeful when some jobs were filled that perhaps Phillips would be safe, but knew when the Ohio job opened and they were going to visit with him, “it be hard not to hire him.” Taylor added that by university law they have to open the job up, but also will visit with associate head coach Dave Richman, says on him: “Dave’s been part of two staffs here, he’s a had a big impact, certainly talk with Dave, very impressive young man, he’s had a lot to do with coaching success.”

As for NDSU, Phillips leaves with a 134-84 career record, two NCAA Tournament trips, a NCAA Tourney win and three consecutive postseason trips. The question now becomes on who will take over the NDSU program? This is a good job, far better than when Phillips took over in 2007. I have to think associate head coach Dave Richman will get a long and serious look from Gene Taylor, he’s been Saul’s right hand man and from what I’ve been told, wants the job badly. We’ll see on that front, more coming tomorrow, but now both basketball jobs are open at NDSU.

 

A Second Crown

NDSU claimed a second Summit League men’s basketball crown in six years on Thursday night as the Bison defeated South Dakota 82-54 and in the process fulfilled one of its major preseason goals. The glamour comes in March with the postseason tournament, but to win the conference crown illustrates who the best team was during the regular season. The Bison now have locked up the top seed for the tournament and won’t play till 6pm on March 10th against the winner of the 4/5 matchup. They also have the automatic bid to the NIT cinched up, which to most that read the blog seems like small potatoes, but it is a really big deal as well, with each game being televised on ESPN.

Taylor Braun and NDSU captured a second Summit League Championship on Thursday night.

Winning two conference crowns in the last six years may not sound all that impressive, but when stacked up against other mid-major schools NDSU fits in with some impressive company.

Conference Titles Won By Mid-Major Schools Since 2009:

  • 3: Butler (2009, 2010 and 2011)
  • 3: Stephen F. Austin (2009, 2013 and 2014)
  • 2: Oakland (2010 and 2011)
  • 2: Creighton (2009 and 2013)
  • 2: Weber State (2009 and 2010)
  • 2: Montana   (2012 and 2013)
  • 2: Valparaiso (2012 and 2013)
  • 2: NDSU   (2009 and 2013)
Ironic to see Stephen F. Austin on this list, that’s the team that Ben Woodside had the game of his life against, scoring 60 points, it appears the Lumberjacks are heading back to the NCAAs this year, they clinched the Southland title on Thursday night. There’s one glaring stat attached to the Summit schools on this list compared to the others, and that’s NCAA Tourney success, obviously Butler has had some, Creighton and Valpo have, even the Big Sky schools to some extent. We’ll see if NDSU can take the next step and join a “higher” class of mid-major if they reach the NCAA Tournament, but for tonight, it’s time to understand that NDSU isn’t just a football school anymore.

Closing In

NDSU picked up a valuable road win yesterday in Omaha, 75-59 and in the process put themselves in a good spot to clinch either the one or two seed for the upcoming Summit League Tournament. Taylor Braun may have played his best game of the season yesterday; 31 points, 15 rebounds and 5 assists as the Bison pulled away early in the 2nd half and secured their first road sweep of the season; it was Braun’s 4th 30 point game of the season.

Taylor Braun scored 31 points and picked up 15 rebounds as NDSU registered its 20th win of the season yesterday.

There were some interested spectators in the crowd yesterday in Omaha; Summit League commissioner Tom Douple; Creighton athletic director Bruce Rasmussen and Ken Pomeroy took in the game. Rasmussen is a key guy on the NCAA Tournament Selection Committee; obviously wanting to get a closer look at the Bison if they happen to win the Summit League Tournament. Pomeroy is well known to all college hoops junkies for his statistical data site that perhaps is the most accurate in the country; his website is here. Pomeroy tweeted this about NDSU yesterday:


 

The conference race opened up yesterday and again because of Denver, the Pioneers fell to winless IUPUI Thursday; then they come back and beat Fort Wayne on the road on Saturday. That leaves NDSU at 9-2; SDSU at 8-3 and Fort Wayne at 7-4 and to me it looks like a two horse race for the conference title between the Bison and Jacks and as luck would have it the two play on Saturday night at the BSA. But I think it also speaks to how wild the tournament is going to be, that Denver and Fort Wayne could find themselves in Tuesday’s final just as easy as NDSU and SDSU could be. The Jacks though have to be considered the favorite with that home crowd advantage they have proven tough to beat the last two years in Sioux Falls.

Potential big day for the Bison wrestling team, they open with Chattanooga in the D1 National Duals in Columbus, Ohio this afternoon and if they win that match, they’ll go up against Minnesota in the next round. Obvious a big challenge there for NDSU, who returns to conference play this weekend with two huge matches against Wyoming and SDSU; but I’m curious to see how they fare against some of the best team in the country.

Reminder weekly LIVE chat returns tonight at 10pm here, join us then!

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  be 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.