Illinois' head-coaching has only been vacant for a few days, but rumors are flying as the college-hoops coaching carousel has started spinning at a feverish pace.
Wednesday was a particualrly active day, as the vacant Missouri job was filled by Cal head coach Cuonzo Martin, someone mentioned by some observers as a potential candidate at Illinois. Martin's departure for the Tigers means a new opening with the Golden Bears. And also out in the Pac-12, Washington fired its head coach, Lorenzo Romar.
Thursday the Big Ten got its second coaching vacancy of the offseason, as Indiana ended the nine-year tenure of Tom Crean.
Where does that leave the Illini?
Well, for one, they won't be hiring Martin. The Tribune's Shannon Ryan reported that Illinois was interested in making Martin an offer, but he opted to go helm Braggin' Rights rival Mizzou.
Ryan's report also included two of the bigger names involved in the Illinois rumor mill: Wichita State's Gregg Marshall and Virginia's Tony Bennett. Ryan reported that the Illini are pursuing those two, with North Carolina-Wilmington head coach Kevin Keatts as a backup option.
Marshall is in his 10th season at Wichita State, a mighty successful run in the Missouri Valley Conference that has seen him take the Shockers to six straight NCAA tournaments, including a phenomenal run to the 2013 Final Four. Prior to that, he spent nine seasons at Winthrop, taking the Eagles to the NCAA tournament in seven of those seasons.
Bennett knows the Big Ten well, a former assistant under Bo Ryan at Wisconsin from 1999 to 2003. He spent three seasons as the head coach at Washington State, a tenure that included a Sweet Sixteen appearance in 2008, before heading to Virginia, where he's taken the Cavaliers to five NCAA tournaments in eight seasons, including each of the last four. Last season, Virginia earned a No. 1 seed and advanced to the Elite Eight.
Bennett, much like Ryan, is well known for his team's defensive prowess. Virginia leads the nation in scoring defense this season, allowing an average of 55.6 points per game, and has ranked in the top five in the country in scoring defense in each of the past six seasons.
Keatts has won three staright conference championships at UNC-Wilmington and taken the Seahawks to back-to-back NCAA tournaments. Prior to his current job, Keatts was an assistant under Rick Pitino at Louisville.
Interestingly enough, Bennett and Keatts coached against one another Thursday in a first-round NCAA tournament game.
All this comes five days after Illinois fired John Groce and five days after a report that San Antonio Spurs executive and former NBA head coach Monty Williams turned down a lucrative offer to be the next Illini coach.
Sources: Illinois willing to make Monty Williams one of NCAA’s top paid coaches, but he'll pass. He’s focused on prompt NBA coaching return.— Adrian Wojnarowski (@wojespn) March 11, 2017
As Illinois athletics director Josh Whitman has shown in the past with his hiring of head football coach Lovie Smith, he's not afraid to make a big splash to rapidly change the perception of a high-profile program. He's also not been afraid to commit big-time financial resources, something the school, as a member of the Big Ten, has a lot of.