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Illinois Basketball Fires John Groce, Gets Its Own March Madness

Here Lies John Groce. He Never Beat Wisconsin.

NCAA Basketball: Michigan State at Illinois Mike Granse-USA TODAY Sports

You thought there was a chance they’d stick with him again, didn’t you?

Especially when Friday came and went with no announcement, right?

Well, on a Saturday afternoon, the sight of Northwestern playing in the Big Ten Tournament semifinal with the Illinois Fighting Illini long since eliminated finally horrified Josh Whitman enough to break the news: John Groce has been fired as the head coach of Illinois Fighting Illini men’s basketball

Groce, who succeeded the fired Bruce Weber in 2012 as the Wearer of the Orange Blazer, built his reputation as an assistant to Ohio State’s Thad Matta when he was still winning. He took over the head coaching duties at Ohio University in 2008 and in his fourth season upset the Michigan Wolverines en route to the Sweet 16. Despite his middling 34-30 conference record, Illinois saw fit to hire him to take over the Orange and Blue.

Groce took Bruce Weber’s former team to the brink of the Sweet 16 in his first year, but never returned to the Big Dance despite recruiting talented players such as Malcolm Hill, Kendrick Nunn, Leron Black and Jalen Coleman-Lands. Chemistry issues and off-the-court issues hampered his teams in 2014-15-16, and with a wealth of experienced talent returning, expectations were high for this year’s team.

Although the final two nails in the coffin were a loss at last-place Rutgers to follow up a 4-game winning streak and an abysmal, inept and inexcusably clown-shoes performance against a Michigan Wolverines team that had just been in a minor plane crash, the pitchforks had been out since a home loss to Winthrop in November that set the tone for the season.

Groce finishes his tenure at Illinois 95-75 overall and 37-53 in the Big Ten. He never posted a winning conference record and went 2-8 against Michigan and never defeated Wisconsin. Groce also leaves Illinois with a number of podium finishes in recruiting for point guards and big men. His failure to recruit a star point guard arguably doomed him, but when it’s year five, you’d better have developed a workaround.

The Champaign Room has full coverage of the coaching rumor mill.