The Illini, who fired John Groce after the conclusion of the 2016-17 regular season, have found their future head coach.
In what was a surprising development this Saturday, the Illini announced that they hired Brad Underwood. The news was surprising because Underwood had just finished his first season as the head coach for Oklahoma State, coaching the Cowboys to the NCAA Tournament and almost knocking off the Michigan Wolverines in the opening round this past Friday.
Before Underwood took over for Oklahoma State in 2016 he was the head coach for Stephen F. Austin, going 89-14 in three seasons. Underwood got the Lumberjacks to the NCAA Tournament in all three seasons and saw his mid-major program advance to the Round of 32 two times. Underwood ran wild throughout the Southland Conference, going 53-1 in conference play during his tenure with Stephen F. Austin.
"Coaching basketball at the University of Illinois is a once in lifetime opportunity," Underwood said. "During my time at Western Illinois, I always saw the Illinois coaching job as one of the truly best in the nation. I want to thank Josh Whitman for the opportunity to join the Fighting Illini family and look forward to working with him to build a championship program."
The Illini fan base will hope that Underwood can continue his coaching success, with Underwood making the NCAA Tournament in all four of his seasons as a coach. The NCAA Tournament is something that has eluded the Illini, with the team failing to make it to the tourney the past four seasons. Even worse, they haven’t made it to back-to-back tournaments since 2006-2007 under Bruce Weber.
Underwood does have some ties to the area, spending over a decade (1992-2003) as the assistant coach for Western Illinois. His teams routinely have put an emphasis on offense and could provide a spark for an Illini program that has been offensively challenged for most of John Groce’s tenure with the program.
The next step for Underwood will be trying to maintain Groce’s final recruiting class. As of right now, the Illini currently hold the 11th best 2017 class per 247Sports, with the class being ranked top in the Big Ten.
Brad Underwood is the start of a new era for the Illini program, something desperately needed after the program leveled off under John Groce. Illinois has been highly successful in the past and now the school will hope that Underwood can help get them back to that level in the near future.