Bruce Weber has finally been relieved of his duties at Illinois, probably a few years too late for some Illinois alumni. Three weeks ago, after Bruce Weber’s rant after a loss to Purdue, I talked about Self’s tenure, and how it’s probably not good to be talking about not creating a winning culture in year nine. Weber had success in the first three years with Bill Self’s players, but Illinois has been nothing more than a lower seed in the NCAA at best for a while. The signs of change were already there, but after Weber’s comments, the team just continued to falter, losing 5 of 6 including a drubbing at Nebraska. Illinois closed with losing 12 of 14 games after a 15-3 start.
So now, the talk will turn to the quality of the Illinois job, and Shaka Smart. Smart has had his name attached to Illinois for a while, and he comes from Big Ten territory originally, having played high school ball in Wisconsin. The VCU Rams’ performance in returning to the tournament this year certainly does nothing to hurt his prospects, as last year he won with players from Anthony Grant, and had a large amount of turnover.
However, I wonder if Illinois would be better served going after Gregg Marshall instead. Whatever you think of the Illinois job–and I don’t think it is the elite job some will make it out to be despite being in the same state as Chicago, but is a top 15-25 job in a great conference–it does have the benefit of being the Belle of the Ball in 2012. I don’t see Ben Howland being in trouble this offseason in UCLA, and there are no other jobs opening that will be better.
So, by making the move on Weber now, which had to be done, Illinois is in a bit of a buyer’s market and will be able to assess and choose. Shaka Smart and Gregg Marshall of Wichita State will be the two hottest coaching candidates among those with head coaching experience. Both would be outstanding candidates. Marshall, in my opinion, would be the better fit for the Big Ten and Illinois.
Shaka Smart’s VCU teams play a frenetic, trapping style, up tempo, and create turnovers while generally getting outplayed on the boards. We saw them run through the tournament last year, whipping Purdue from the Big Ten and Georgetown team (albeit an injury weakened one) from the Big East who plays a more deliberate style in the process. Will that work year over year in the Big Ten, going against the likes of Michigan State, Ohio State and Wisconsin? I guess it depends on if you can get “elite” bigs to buy in and commit to your program.
Marshall, on the other hand, even though he is the hot prospect this year, has been around and built two programs at two different levels (Winthrop for five year, and now Wichita State for five years). Stylistically, the way he has built the programs fits in with the Big Ten. Marshall’s teams have been consistently good at rebounding. They play at a slower tempo (this year’s team is playing faster than most with better talent, but still not an up tempo team). For eight straight years, Gregg Marshall’s teams have been in the top 35 in defensive rebound percentage (source: kenpom.com). They generally play hard nosed defense in the paint.
If he gets Big Ten level talent, he will succeed. Gregg Marshall, it appears to me, is the safer play to be a success at Illinois. Shaka Smart may be the shock to the system for the Big Ten, like Joe Tiller introducing the spread at Purdue in football. Will Smart get his Drew Brees for a period? I’m not saying that Shaka Smart cannot do it at Illinois–I wouldn’t put anything past him–but I’m more confident Marshall can, given how he has succeeded in the past.
[photo via US Presswire]