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Perfect Situation

by Dan Gunderson

The North Dakota State University men’s basketball team saw their magical 2013-14 season come to an end on Saturday night when they lost to the San Diego State University Aztecs 63-44 in the Round of 32 of the NCAA men’s basketball tournament.

I want to take this moment to take off my journalist hat and personal congratulate the Bison on their tournament run and successful season. I’m a huge basketball fan and a graduate of NDSU. I’m not that far removed from attending NDSU as an undergrad. Heck, I took a dodgeball class with Taylor Braun for a semester.

To see my alumni mater splashed all over the nation for a couple days made me proud. In my position, I am supposed to not care how NDSU does but I am not going to lie, I was pulling for NDSU on Saturday. It was an entertaining run and it is unfortunate to see it end.

Another unfortunate, or fortunate depending on how you look at it, side effect of a run like this is NDSU head coach Saul Phillips and his job status with the school.

Coach Phillips’ personality has been something nearly everybody enjoys in the region. He was on full display to the national media over the weekend and from all accounts, they loved every minute of it. Don’t think this went unnoticed by Athletic Directors from colleges in need of a new basketball coach.

Getting Phillips away from NDSU will prove much more of a challenge than if this run would have occurred a couple years ago. The university’s plan to renovate the Bison Sports Arena is finally going forward, a plan that Phillips has been pitching to recruits since he took over at NDSU, if not before.

You add that on top of the most recent post-season run and NDSU could quickly become the Summit League’s version of Gonzaga University if they play their cards right.

Consistency is hard to come by at the mid-major level since teams tend to reload every five years or so. We may see the impact of the new arena/post-season run in the 2015 recruiting class. NDSU is no longer a “Where is that?” school.

All of those possibilities could be enough to entice Phillips to stick around.

Another reason he would stick around is that the right job does not open up. Last season, Ball State University made a run at Phillips but it wasn’t a good fit. The Cardinals, a lower level Mid-American Conference team, finished this season with a 5-25 overall record.

Whatever school comes after Phillips, it most likely will be a program in need of some major fixing. You would assume he would like to go to a school with some kind of history of winning or at least showing commitment to getting better.

When you think of Tim Miles, the head coach at the University of Nebraska, there was a strong commitment by the Huskers Athletic Department to improve the basketball program. The money given to Miles coupled with a new arena proved that this was Miles’ program to run.

In order for Phillips to get to that point, he needs to have a solid run at a high mid-major. Colorado State University, the school Miles was head coach at before going to Nebraska, is in the Mountain West Conference, a strong mid-major conference.

In Miles tenure with the Rams, he led them to two at-large berths into the NCAA tournament, including their first tournament win since 24 years in 2013. A program like that would be perfect for Phillips. Does that job exist?

Schools like Boston College, Marquette, Wake Forest and Washington State University would surprise me if they offered Phillips a job. If they do, I couldn’t blame Phillips for taking it. Don’t think it would happen though.

Schools like Marshall, Rice or South Florida would make sense if only because of the conferences they are in. Marshall and Rice play in Conference USA while USF is in the American Athletic Conference. Of course, the location of these schools makes me hesitate to even bring them up. Phillips is a Midwest guy.

So many things can happen between now and the Final Four, which is a time when the powers that be in college basketball, (head coaches, athletic directors, etc…) gather to discuss the off-season.

If you were to ask me right now, do I think Phillips will get an offer from a school with a current job opening? No. Do I think a good offer will come Phillips way in a month? Yes.

I am still in the camp that believes Phillips is gone after this season but to me, the waters are murkier now than they were at the beginning of the season. Phillips has a new arena coming his way, an opportunity to grab talent better than ever seen at NDSU and a chance to make the Bison a perennial mid-major powerhouse. Plus, he is only 41. That is young in the coaching ranks.

Bo Ryan took the job at Wisconsin when he was 54. Steve Fisher was the same age when he accepted a job at San Diego State University. Tim Miles was 46 when he took the job at the University of Nebraska.

Let me put it this way. He is not going to feel compelled to take a job at the equivalent of a struggling football program, say the University of Wyoming, because this is going to be the only chance he has to go to a higher mid-major. He is in the perfect situation to say yes or no.

You can follow Daniel "Pinto" Gunderson on Twitter at @pintoKFGO or friend him on Facebook. You can hear him on his weekly podcast show on kfgo.com, 740thefan.com or on iTunes called “The Pinto and White Shadow Show.” Pinto is a radio producer within the Midwest Communications-Fargo company.