Tate: What is Walker's next move?
Josh Whitman’s dismissal of John Groce, an appropriate move based on the Illini basketball record, was not made without risk.
First of all, it’s unusual for a coach to be fired in the midst of a highly successful recruiting surge.
Those promising prospects now hang in the balance.
Missouri’s hiring of Cuonzo Martin, which was clearly in the works before Cal’s loss to Bakersfield on Tuesday night, now compounds the UI dilemma.
That’s because Martin and Illini interim coach Jamall Walker have personal backgrounds in the suddenly vibrant St. Louis area and, with Walker’s future at Illinois uncertain, Martin will certainly make Walker an offer he hopes Walker can’t refuse.
In case you hadn’t heard, Walker is the Illini connection whose influence is crucial with five-star recruit Jeremiah Tilmon of East St. Louis and likely Mr. Basketball Mark Smith of Edwardsville.
Walker was in the Metro East area Thursday making contact with UI prospects there.
Whitman has stated that he’ll recommend Walker to the next coach but that’s about as far as the AD can go.
So, in these precarious days waiting for the NCAA tournament to unfold, we hold our breath. No coach can win without players.
For the record, Mike Krzyzewski once had seasons of 9-17, 10-17 and 11-17.
Miller vs. Marshall on Friday night
By Monday’s closing date for the Illini job, 52 of 68 NCAA tournament coaches will be eliminated and free to sit down for negotiations.
Of course, Whitman’s choice might advance to the Sweet 16, which would take longer, but UI recruits — they get the inside word — have indicated the new coach could be finalized next week.
Among the most analyzed games on Friday will be the showdown in Indianapolis between Archie Miller’s Dayton Flyers and Gregg Marshall’s Wichita State Shockers.
If Miller, 38, isn’t No. 1 at Indiana, why wouldn’t he be interested in Illinois? University tax forms had him at $1.16 million after Dayton reached the Elite Eight in 2014, and he’s had two raises since then.
If Miller can expect $1.8 million next season, Whitman reportedly has the funds to double that, thereby drawing him close to Big Ten leader Tom Izzo’s $4.15 million (he actually makes more).
All Marshall does is win
But it is Marshall who is most intriguing among a dozen comparable prospects.
The guy made seven — that’s right, seven — NCAA tournaments at Winthrop.
He’s turned the Missouri Valley into a 68-4 joke the last four years, and has made six straight NCAA tourneys while averaging fractionally less than 30 wins per season.
But he’s the Rodney Dangerfield of basketball. The 53-year-old gets no respect.
For his 30-4 season, he was handed a 10 seed opposite Dayton, even though the Vegas gamblers (who know better) make Wichita State a six-point favorite, and ESPN projects the Shockers with a 72-percent chance of winning.
Even if successful on Friday night, the Shockers will probably have to face Kentucky ... which means, too bad, he’ll probably be gone by Sunday.
But he’s got a nice setup
Marshall, who has indicated he “might listen,” would be crazy to jump.
He’ll make $3.5 million next season, has a strong squad intact, and is the king of a university that has no football and is backed by the billionaire Charles Koch, after whom the arena is named.
If it becomes a money battle, they win.
Furthermore, Marshall’s daughter will be a senior next school year, and his wife loves Wichita.
Now operating the Gonzaga of the Midlands, he has previously shown interest in Texas and UCLA, turned down Missouri when Kim Anderson was named coach, and rejected Alabama’s six-year bid of $4 million per year.
But that ultra-low No. 10 seed must gnaw at his craw.
The Valley is still a mid-major conference, in no way comparable to the cut-throat Big Ten.
In 20 wins against Valley teams this season, the Shockers’ average margin was 21.4. Wichita avenged the lone loss to Illinois State by paddling the Redbirds by 41 and 20.
Playing weak sisters like Bradley, Drake and Loyola is not comparable to tackling upstarts Minnesota, Michigan and Northwestern in order, or even the likes of Indiana and Michigan State when they’re down.
Izzo’s Spartans defeated Wichita State 77-72 this year between losses to Baylor and Duke.
Despite 14 losses, Michigan State may be more prepared for the next challenge.
Loren Tate writes for The News-Gazette. He can be reached at email@example.com.