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Kevin Schnepf, Published March 17 2013

Schnepf: Bison to play in 16-team College Basketball Invitational for second straight season

FARGO - As much as Saul Phillips – a self-proclaimed basketball junkie – loves March Madness, he couldn’t help but hide his disappointment Sunday night.

He and his North Dakota State men’s basketball team – which finished one win short of reaching the ultimate 68-team NCAA tournament – found out it wasn’t good enough for the second-best gig: the 32-team National Invitational Tournament.

Instead, the Bison will play in the third-best postseason event: the 16-team College Basketball Invitational – the same tournament in which it lost at Wyoming last year.

The Bison will play at Western Michigan Wednesday.

“It’s mildly disappointing,” Phillips said in regards to not making the NIT. “I thought our resume was pretty good. But, at least we are still playing.”

NDSU’s resume was pretty good – 24 wins and an RPI rating of 78. That’s a rating better than 15 of the teams picked for the NIT.

But, history shows the NIT will select high-major teams over most mid-majors – like Arizona State, Florida State, Washington, Maryland, St. John’s, Providence and Iowa.

So how did schools like Robert Morris (124 RPI), Charleston Southern (194), Mercer (121), Northeastern (159), Niagara (123), Norfolk State (174) and Stonybrook (83) get NIT bids over NDSU?

Simple. Those schools received automatic bids by winning their regular-season conference championships but losing in its postseason tournaments.

“We didn’t get a great break when it came to those automatic bids,” Phillips said. “We are definitely not on the top of the food chain nor are we on the bottom. But that position doesn’t help us in the postseason.”

The Summit League didn’t get a whole lot of love on Sunday.

Summit officials were expecting South Dakota State to get a strong No. 12 seed for the NCAA Tournament. Instead, the Jacks got a 13 seed and have to play Michigan in their home state.

Can SDSU become the first Summit team to win an NCAA tournament game since 1998? Phillips remains optimistic.

“It could happen,” Phillips said. “You continue to see the Summit become more competitive every year. It’s just a matter of time.”

Before Phillips received Sunday night’s news, he offered these March Madness insights:

-- On A.J. Jacobson, his guard recruit who surpassed 2,000 career points, surpassed legendary Jeff Boschee as North Dakota’s all-time Class A leading scorer while leading Fargo Shanley to a state championship.

“I don’t think you could be any more proud of a recruit,” Phillips said. “Just how he conducted himself in a state-tournament atmosphere, he looked awfully composed out there. He really blossomed into an even better player.”

Enough to play him right away next year, on a Bison team that returns all but one reserve player?

“When you watch him play like he did last night (Saturday), you get excited,” Phillips said. “But his body could use a year in the weight room.”

-- On Bo Ryan, one of the winningest coaches in Big Ten history, who in three days guided his Wisconsin Badgers to wins over Michigan and Indiana before giving Ohio State a scare in the conference championship.

“He still amazes me,” said Phillips, who coached with Ryan at Wisconsin before coming to NDSU six years ago. “Clearly this team was not the most talented or the most flawless, yet he gets them to the tournament championship. He is just the best.”

-- On the strong likelihood that Creighton will leave the Missouri Valley Conference, prompting many bloggers to speculate that NDSU will replace them.

“There is no traction to that conjecture at all and I should know,” Phillips said. “Instead of worrying about what conference you are going to move to next, we should be worrying more about building the conference that we are in.”

Right now, based on the bracketing that occurred Sunday, the Summit does indeed need to continue improving its product – at least enough to get a 12 seed or an invitation to the NIT.

Readers can reach Forum Sports Editor Kevin Schnepf at (701) 241-5549