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Kevin Schnepf, Published August 20 2013

NDSU men's basketball lands road game against St. Mary's (Calif.)

FARGO – North Dakota State has added another major power to its men’s basketball schedule – creating its most aggressive slate in its Division I era.

The Bison will play at St. Mary’s (Calif.) in their second game of the upcoming season on Nov. 14. They are already scheduled to play nonconference games at Ohio State, Notre Dame and Santa Clara and will host Southern Mississippi.

All five teams finished in the top 100 of the RPI rankings of Division I teams last season.

“This is the toughest schedule we have ever had,” said Saul Phillips, NDSU’s head coach for the last six seasons. “But if we were going to take a team through this schedule, I had two teams that could do this. One went on to an NCAA tournament and the other one we hope makes it to the NCAA tournament.”

Phillips was referring to his 2008-09 team that played in the NCAA tournament and his upcoming team that returns all its starters from last year’s 24-10 team that finished one win shy of an NCAA tournament berth.

“If you live by the adage, ‘If what doesn’t kill you will make you stronger,’ then, heck, let’s see how resilient we can be,” Phillips said.

Phillips said his staff’s five-year plan for scheduling got “ripped apart” after two teams (Missouri-Kansas City and Oakland) left the Summit League. To make matters worse, the annual ESPN BracketBuster games were canceled, which cost the Bison one home game this upcoming season.

“Not many teams wanted to play us at home, so we had to improvise,” Phillips said. “This is the hand that we were dealt.”

That hand will also deal $200,000 worth of guaranteed money – the most NDSU has generated since moving to Division I in 2004. The St. Mary’s game is a $65,000 guarantee. The Dec. 11 game at Notre Dame and the Dec. 14 game at Ohio State – part of a Gazelle Group tournament – combines to generate $100,000.

During Phillips’ six years as head coach, the Bison have played some major heavyweights, but not to this degree.

The Bison (16-13) of 2007-08 played at Florida, Rutgers and Minnesota.

The 2008-09 Bison (26-7) that reached the NCAA tournament played Minnesota and Southern California.

The 2009-10 Bison (11-18) played Fresno State, Wichita State and Iowa State.

The 2010-11 Bison (14-15) played Oregon, Minnesota and Fresno State.

The 2011-12 (17-14) Bison played Fresno State, Arizona State and Minnesota.

And last year’s Bison (24-10) played preseason No. 1 Indiana and Minnesota.

This year’s five major opponents combined to win 119 games last season.

Ohio State, ranked No. 7 at the end of the season, had a 26-7 record and an RPI ranking of 11. St. Mary’s had a 26-6 record with an RPI of 30. Southern Miss had a 23-9 record with an RPI of 34. Notre Dame had a 25-9 record with an RPI of 36. And Santa Clara had a 19-11 record with an RPI of 97.

NDSU had an RPI of 77 last season. Summit League champion South Dakota State had an RPI of 62.

Readers can reach Forum Sports Editor

Kevin Schnepf at (701) 241-5549