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Fred Hoiberg to Ohio State? Report stirs speculation of rare NBA-to-college move — and Lovie Smith comparisons

Now here's an interesting development.

Per a Wednesday-night tweet from CBS Sports' Gary Parrish, Bulls head coach Fred Hoiberg is a "real candidate" in Ohio State's freshly minted coaching search.

The Buckeyes are in need of a new leader for their basketball program after ending the 13-year tenure of Thad Matta earlier this week. While Matta was extremely successful — the school's all-time wins leader who took Ohio State to two Final Fours — recruiting losses and a declining win total made athletics director Gene Smith's decision to move on an understandable one.

The lists of potential candidates hit the internet immediately, and while some were more realistic than others, logical options included Xavier's Chris Mack and Butler's Chris Holtmann, who both coach at former Matta employers. Some of those potential candidates thrown out there were current NBA head coaches, though Hoiberg's name wasn't as prevalent as pie-in-the-sky picks like Boston's Brad Stevens and Oklahoma City's Billy Donovan.

While it's typically college head coaches leaving for NBA gigs — just like Hoiberg did two offseasons ago, leaving Iowa State for the professional ranks — this could be the latest example of an NBA coach returning to college.

Though while there are several recent examples of that happening — Alabama's Avery Johnson, Nevada's Eric Musselman, Southern Methodist's Larry Brown and Florida State's Leonard Hamilton — none of those guys left NBA jobs they held to go back to school. That's what Hoiberg would be doing should he evolve from "real candidate" to the Buckeyes' next head coach.

That's an odd route and might to speak to all the talk around Hoiberg in Chicago.

At Iowa State, Hoiberg was a hero. After a successful playing career in Ames, the man they called "The Mayor" led the Cyclones to four straight NCAA appearances and back-to-back Big 12 Tournament titles before bolting for the big time.

The big time hasn't gone too well for Hoiberg, though. He's a mere three games over .500 in two seasons, only the second of which featured a trip to the postseason, ending with a first-round exit.

Those results have meant constant discussion of Hoiberg's job status moving forward, so much so that Bulls brass had to declare he'd be back for the 2017-18 campaign.

Perhaps Hoiberg is pining for his more successful days as a college coach?

Given what he was able to do at Iowa State, you'd figure Hoiberg coming to Columbus would be a tremendous hire by the Buckeyes. He brought in highly rated recruits, won conference championships, reached NCAA tournaments and became one of the hottest coaches in the game — and did it all in Ames, Iowa. With the resources of one of the highest-profile athletics departments in the country and those that come with playing in one of the best conferences in college basketball, Hoiberg could do even more.

It remains to be seen whether this progresses past a simple Twitter report, but should it, it would be a move not dissimilar from fellow Big Ten school Illinois hiring Lovie Smith to helm its football program in spring 2016: an oddly timed coaching search ending swiftly with a splash hire from the professional ranks. Also, there'd be the coincidental Chicago connection.

Smith's arrival in Champaign brought instant credibility to a floundering program. Ohio State basketball is a stronger brand now, even after back-to-back seasons missing the NCAA tournament, than Illinois football was then. But Hoiberg's hypothetical arrival in Columbus could have a similar effect, an instant boost in excitement, recruiting and the value of the brand. While Hoiberg hasn't had the success Smith had at the professional level, he has had college success while Smith had no college head-coaching experience whatsoever.

Right now it's just a talking point for the internet. But if Hoiberg's candidacy is as "real" as Parrish reported, perhaps another big-name coach could be joining the Big Ten very soon.