Starting Five: Illinois opening is the best on the board
As expected, Illinois has fired John Groce and is in the market for a head coach. How attractive is the job? Which potential first weekend NCAA Tournament game is the most intriguing? Plus the latest on Tremont Waters, Christian Bishop and Trevon Duval in this week's edition of the Starting Five.
1. ILLINOIS JOB COULD BE THE BEST OF THE SPRING
As expected, Illinois fired John Groce on Saturday. The Illini will play in the NIT -- assistant coach Jamall Walker will coach in the interim -- but have now missed the NCAA Tournament four years in a row. Bottom line, Illinois has too many resources and is simply too good of a job for somebody to miss four straight tourneys. Terminating Groce was the right decision.
So, exactly how good of a job is Illinois? Well, depending on how things shake out, it could be the best job available this spring and is certainly the best job that has a current opening.
The State Farm Center has been the beneficiary of a recent near $170 million facelift, the practice facilities are up to date and the Illini fanbase is a strong one. Most appealing, though, is that Illinois is a talent-rich state and a strong coach will have the opportunity to keep players home. Historically, of the 72 Illinois high school players who ranked four-stars or better between 2002 and 2017, 19 of them have chosen to stay home and play for Illinois. Given the way other major programs like Kentucky, Kansas and Duke have hunted in Illinois, that's not a terrible percentage.
Now, whoever lands the job will have to find a way to sell the program to five-star prospects. Of the 15 five-stars produced by the state, only Dee Brown in 2002 and 2017's Jeremiah Tilmon have elected to stay home. By comparison, Bill Self, John Calipari and Mike Krzyzewski have each pulled three five-star prospects out of the state.
Early word around the college coaching campfire is that the Illinois administration is willing to spend big money for the right coach. That's obviously a plus. Also a plus is the strong 2017 recruiting class in place. In addition to the five-star big man Tilmon, the Illini hold commitments from four-star guards Da'Monte Williams and Trent Frazier plus three-star wing Javon Pickett. Of that group, only Frazier is from out of state and the right coach should have a great chance at keeping this group together.
The Illini job is a good enough one that it is worth making calls to coaches like Tony Bennett (Virginia), Gregg Marshall (Wichita State) and Archie Miller (Dayton) and force them to say no. Others that we would look for to get a look include Cuonzo Martin (California), Will Wade (VCU) or perhaps even a coach like Scott Drew (Baylor) or his brother Bryce Drew (Vanderbilt).
2. POTENTIAL FOR KANSAS AND MICHIGAN STATE GAME INTRIGUES
With the release of the NCAA Tournament brackets on Sunday night, everybody is having fun pouring over potential matchups as they look to fill out their brackets. One potential first weekend matchup stands out to me as the most intriguing and that's the chance that Kansas (1) and Michigan State (9) play Sunday night in a Midwest region game in Tulsa.
Kansas isn't going to lose to the winner of the UC Davis/North Carolina Central (16) play-in game, so it's going to be on Michigan State to take care of a very game -- and higher seeded -- Miami (8) squad in the first round. Ff they do, though, well the storylines will write themselves.
Thanks to Bill Self's time at Illinois and semi regular meetings between Kansas and Michigan State since Self moved to Lawrence, he and Tom Izzo are quite familiar with each other. The matchup would be the 13th between the two and Izzo has the upper hand with a 7-5 record that includes sending Kansas home in the Sweet Sixteen of the 2009 NCAA Tournament.
What really stands out about this potential matchup, though, is 2016's No. 1 player Josh Jackson -- who hails from Detroit -- potentially matching up with the school that many thought he would pick for his college playing days. On top of that, Spartans star freshman Miles Bridges is a close friend of Jackson's.
3. WATERS ASKS FOR RELEASE FROM GEORGETOWN
All winter long, rumors have swirled that 2017's No. 36 ranked player Tremont Waters commitment to Georgetown was shaky. In January, Rivals.com asked Waters about the rumors after he played in the Hoophall Classic. When asked if there was any truth to the rumors about him possibly backing out on Georgetown, Waters simply walked away.
Maybe there wasn't anything to them then, maybe he was just caught off guard. But, there is definitely some heat now. Over the weekend, Waters father confirmed to Adam Finkelstein of ESPN that his son has asked for a release from the Letter of Intent he signed with the Hoyas in November.
Georgetown hasn't yet made a decision and losing their point guard of the future would be a crushing blow to a program that is currently struggling. But, they likely have no choice here. As much as it hurts to let Waters go, refusing his release would only make things worse down the road.
With Trevon Duval left as the only bigtime point guard prospect on the market, an available Waters would lead to a feeding frenzy. Prior to picking Georgetown Waters also took official visits to Kansas, Kentucky and Indiana. He would have one more visit remaining and Kansas and Indiana are both still looking for a point guard and could look to jump back in. Other names rumored throughout the winter to have interest should Waters get a release include Arizona, Duke and Syracuse.
4. BISHOP COULD BE BREAKOUT PLAYER IN SPRING
It's that time of year where players that could see their stock soar with a big spring start to pop up and from the class of 2018, Lee's Summit (Mo.) West small forward Christian Bishop is one who looks to have potential to take off.
Rivals.com watched Bishop go for a game-high 19 points (despite missing a good amount of time due to a gash on his head) and lead his team to the Missouri Class 5 semifinals on Saturday. Bishop has outstanding size, a smooth shooting stroke, is skilled and looks to have huge upside.
He scored offers from Missouri and Tulsa this season and also has heavy interest from Creighton and recently saw games at both Kansas and Kansas State. He'll hit the Adidas Gauntlet circuit this spring with Kansas City based Team Rush where he'll team up with Rivals150 combo guard Jordan Lathon.
5. DUVAL FINISHES OFFICIAL VISITS
As he has done throughout most of the official visit process, Trevon Duval popped up on a campus last week without a lot of warning. This time the No. 3 player in the country visited Seton Hall as the Pirates played in the Big East Conference Tournament.
Having already visited his other finalists Arizona, Baylor, Duke and Kansas, Duval has now seen all five of his finalists.
Despite rumors that he could look to play overseas, Duval has remained steadfast in saying that his intention is to play college basketball. Not much is know yet about his timeline for making a decision, but early word is that it could happen sometime around the McDonald's All-American game at the end of the month.
There isn't much out there, but his father Trevor Duval did have some interesting comments in a Facebook post on Friday.
"It definitely was an amazing experience..Traveled to some great places and met some great coaches and their staff..Every program we visited are running there programs on a very high level..All the schools were unique in their own way..Every school had a uniqueness that made them all different..Some threw shots at other programs, But only one never said a word about any other program..All the schools showed us a lot of love, but you still have to realize it's still a Business.....You have to be observant and recognize the little things..All of there pitches were almost all alike.Not saying they were bad pitches,we all just have to decide now as a Family the right situation... Give thanks to all the schools who recruited Trevon and welcomed his family.....Bless"