After being blown out by Penn State on Saturday it appears Illinois will miss the NCAA Tournament for a fourth straight year, and that means it could be the end of the John Groce era.
Groce holds a 91-73 overall record in his five seasons as Illinois’ head coach, and has never finished above .500 in Big Ten play for a season. Combine that with failing to reach the big dance since his first season, and a change on the the Fighting Illini’s bench appears to be coming.
With a possible coaching change coming up for the Fighting Illini, let’s take a look at who could take over next season in Illinois. Here are five names to keep an eye out for if Illinois does dismiss Groce.
NOTE: These are simply speculations and not considered rumored candidates.
1. Gregg Marshall (Wichita State)
Background: Marshall has turned the Shockers into a consistent mid-major power during his 10 years on the Shockers’ sideline. Marshall has taken the Shockers to five straight NCAA Tournaments, with the Shockers again looking like a tournament team this year. The Shockers have made it into the second weekend of the tournament twice under Marshall, including a trip to the Final Four in 2013.
Likeliness of happening: Marshall would be the perfect fit for the Fighting Illini, but I don’t see it happening. His intense coaching style would bring plenty of excitement to Illinois and would be a great hire for the program. But he’s been with the Shockers for 10 seasons and this wouldn’t be the first time he’s been approached to leave for a bigger program. Alabama went after him hard a few years ago and Wichita State countered with a huge raise that’ll pay him $3.5 million next year.
The only way I see him leaving is if Illinois opens the checkbook and Marshall decides he finally wants to take a chance at a bigger school. I’m not saying it couldn’t happen, but I think it’s unlikely.
2. Archie Miller (Dayton)
Background: Miller has been the head man for Dayton since 2011 and has experienced success in each of his six seasons on the Flyers’ bench. Miller has led the Flyers to three straight NCAA Tournament bids and is on pace to get the Flyers back to the tourney again this season. His greatest achievement was taking the Flyers to the Elite Eight in 2013. Before taking over as the head coach of Dayton he was an assistant coach at Western Kentucky (2003-04), N.C. State (2004-06), Arizona State (2006-07), Ohio State (2007-09) and Arizona (2009-11).
Likeliness of happening: Miller might be the most likely option out of everyone on this list for a number of different reasons. His name is already coming up as someone who could be jumping to a bigger school this offseason. He’s experienced plenty of success at a mid-major school in the Midwest region. He also has ties to the Big Ten after working under Thad Matta at Ohio State. And he can recruit the region very well.
Miller and Illinois is a match made in heaven, and would work out perfectly in my opinion. However, the Fighting Illini might just need beat out some other big name schools to get his services.
3. Jeff Capel (Duke)
Background: Capel currently serves as the associate head coach at Duke, where he has filled in this season as an interim head coach while Mike Krzyzewski recovered from back surgery. Capel has been with Duke since 2011, and has been Coach K’s right-hand man for the last few seasons. Before his position at Duke, Capel served as the head coach at VCU (2002-06) and Oklahoma (2006-11).
Likeliness of happening: It would be smart for Illinois to take a page out of rival Northwestern’s book by hiring a Duke assistant coach as its new head man. Capel has prior head coaching experience and for the past six seasons has been learning under one of the greatest college basketball coaches of all-time. He’s also a great recruiter and has played a huge role in many of Duke’s incredible classes in recent years.
However, the battle for Illinois could be luring him away from Duke. Capel is considered a strong candidate to replace Coach K whenever he decides to retire. So if Capel is set on waiting it out at Duke then there is no chance he comes to Champaign. But if he is more focused on becoming a head coach again soon, then Illinois could be a great fit.
4. Mick Cronin (Cincinnati)
Background: Cronin has created a consistent NCAA Tournament program at Cincinnati across his 11 seasons with the Bearcats. He failed to reach the tournament in his first four seasons, but has since made it every year with his current team sporting the best chance to make a deep run in tourney. Before taking over at Cincinnati, he was the head coach at Murray State for three seasons. He is one win shy of 300 with an overall record of 299-156.
Likeliness of happening: Cronin has been at Cincinnati for more then a decade so I find it unlikely he’ll leave now to start over in a rebuilding process. But if he is willing to leave his comfy position at Cincinnati, then Illinois should give him a call.
Going from the American Athletic Conference to the Big Ten would be an upgrade, and I have to believe Illinois would pay him more then Cincinnati. But as I mentioned before, it would be a risk for him to leave his stable spot for a rebuilding project. Some people like challenges though and money can talk so he should be at least someone Illinois reaches out to.
5. Dan Muller (Illinois State)
Background: Muller has led Illinois State to a winning record in each of his five seasons, and is in the midst of a breakout year with a 21-5 record. The Redbirds are tied for first place in the Missouri Valley Conference with Wichita State, and it appears Muller will take Illinois State to the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 1998. Muller is 97-63 as the Redbirds head coach, and prior to his current position he was a longtime assistant coach at Vanderbilt (2001-12).
Likeliness of happening: If Illinois can’t land one of these other guys on this list then Muller would be a great fit in Champaign. Muller hasn’t experienced the same kind of success as the other coaches previously mentioned, but he has created a stable program at Illinois State that could translate to Illinois.
Muller is from Indiana, and has obvious recruiting ties to the state of Illinois and the Midwest region as a whole. He is also only 40 years old so having a younger coach step in could really jump start this program. He wouldn’t be the flashiest hire, but he could also be the next young coach who explodes onto the scene.