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Bruce Weber’s firing likely to generate a lot of unlikely replacement candidates

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INDIANAPOLIS – What started as speculation this morning has turned into confirmed reports.

Bruce Weber, coach of the Illinois Fighting Illini for the past nine seasons, has been fired.

That shouldn’t surprise you, and neither should the impending rumors and unrealistic replacements that get Illinois fans excited and non-Illinois fans laughing.

Already names like Shaka Smart, Frank Martin and Anthony Grant are making the rounds, and while they don’t fall out of the realm of possibilities, they certainly should all be chased with a dose of reality before jumping to conclusions that this program will unquestionably make a splash when replacing Weber.

Simeon high school head coach Robert Smith may also be in the mix, which basically is a euphemism for “Jabari Parker’s chances for committing to Illinois just increased”.

What will be interesting to track in this developing story is what is deemed as a suitable replacement by Illini fans. A fan base that constantly complains about missing out on elite recruts from the Chicago-area, that same sort of distorted reality will likely carry over to who should be the next coach of their beloved program.

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We saw this last season with NC State. Before they hired Mark Gottfried – an adequate and fair hire – Wolfpack fans were sure they would land a Rick Barnes or Sean Miller;  someone that would restore glory to their program. It didn’t happen, nor should it have.

According to reports, Weber’s salary in Champaign was $1.5 million this season. This figure exceeds the reported salaries of all the aforementioned coaches with the exception of Grant, but not by much. Martin rakes in $1.3 million a year and Smart – who will probably become the most coveted guy in this search –  just got a fresh new eight-year deal worth a reported $9.6 million to stay on as coach of VCU.

Already, the media is nudging Smart on his interest level, and already the vague canned answers are flowing.

Whether or not he can be lured back to the part of the country he grew up in, on the heels of grabbing an incredibly secure job in Richmond, is entirely undetermined at this point.  Would Smart even want to get involved with a program that will expect results from day one? Financially, he’s already been rewarded for his Final Four run.

Where Illinois thinks they stand in the hierarchy of college basketball, compared to where they actually stand, will be fascinating to watch unfold.  You and I think they’re “third cut” when it comes to program prestige. The Orange Krush think they’re “second cut.” Many schools have this problem, but it seems to abnormally pervade Illinois.

What the college basketball coaching fraternity thinks about Illinois, paired with the school’s budget, will be what determines Weber’s replacement.

Follow Nick Fasulo on Twitter @billyedelinSBN.

PREGAME SHOOTAROUND: Some conference matchups play out before football

Oregon forward Dillon Brooks, left, reacts after scoring a basket against Utah during the second half of an NCAA college basketball game in Salt Lake City, Thursday, Jan. 14, 2016. Oregon defeated Utah 77-59. (AP Photo/George Frey)
(AP Photo/George Frey)
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GAME OF THE NIGHT: Utah at No. 16 Oregon, 4:00 p.m.

From Rob Dauster’s Weekend Preview:

Utah suffered one of the worst losses I’ve seen in a while on Thursday night, when Brandon Taylor, for some unknown reason, decided to foul an Oregon State player firing up a half court prayer at the buzzer. The Utes, who are arguably the second-best team in the Pac-12, will look to bounce-back on Sunday against the best team in the Pac-12, No. 16 Oregon at 4:00 p.m.

FIVE THINGS TO WATCH FOR:

1. No. 12 SMU will attempt to stay atop the American standings as they travel to South Florida. While the Mustangs won the first matchup between these two teams at home by 14, they’ve dropped their last two games on the road.

2. A few more American contests are going down as East Carolina travels to UConn and Houston heads to Tulsa. The game between the Cougars and Golden Hurricane is especially interesting because both teams are sitting two games back of SMU and trying to make a move on the postseason.

3. No. 5 Iowa continues the soft part of the schedule as they face Illinois on the road. The Hawkeyes posted recent easy victories over Northwestern and Penn State and will be heavily favored again on Sunday.

4. Could be an intriguing game as No. 17 Miami travels to Georgia Tech. Although the Yellow Jackets aren’t a major contender in the ACC, they’ve been tough this season, especially at home. The Hurricanes fell victim to Georgia Tech last season while they were ranked by Marcus Georges-Hunt has to get back on track after a recent slump for that to happen.

5. There is an Atlantic 10 game that will be featured on NBCSN on Sunday: Saint Louis at St. Bonaventure (2:00 p.m.).

CLICK HERE to watch these games on NBC Sports Live Extra Sunday afternoon.

Illinois State ends No. 21 Wichita State’s 12-game win streak

Fred VanVleet
AP Photo/Sue Ogrocki
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Having won 12 straight games, No. 21 Wichita State entered the weekend one of the hottest teams in the country. And with a four-game lead atop the Missouri Valley standings, clinching the regular season title was more a matter of “when” as opposed to “if.” But none of that mattered Saturday night at Illinois State, as the Redbirds managed to hand the Shockers their first conference loss by the final score of 58-53.

In addition to the 12-game win streak, which was second to Stony Brook (15 straight wins), Wichita State also saw its 19-game win streak in Valley regular season games come to an end. Illinois State was the last Valley team to beat Wichita State, eliminating the Shockers in the Arch Madness semifinals last March, and they played with the confidence of a team that believed it could win.

And after a rough first half the Redbirds found a way to come back, erasing a 16-point second half deficit in the process.

Wichita State’s issue in the second half was the fact that they couldn’t make shots. The Shockers shot just 26.7 percent from the field and 1-for-14 from three in the second half, with Fred VanVleet going scoreless and Shaq Morris scoring just one point. And just two players, Ron Baker and Conner Frankamp, managed to make multiple field goals in the game’s final 20 minutes. Illinois State certainly deserves credit for that, as they took away the quality looks Wichita State was able to find in building its lead.

And on the other end of the floor Paris Lee took control of the game during Illinois State’s comeback, scoring 13 of his 19 points in the second half with Deontae Hawkins adding 11 second-half points. Illinois State was even worse from the field, finishing the game shooting just over 27 percent from the field. But they were able to attack the Wichita State defense and get to the foul line, outscoring the Shockers 22-9 from the charity stripe. And in a game in which neither team could get much going offensively, the ability to get points from the line proved to be the difference.

This defeat doesn’t help Wichita State, but did anything really change? Maybe the margin for error when it comes to an at-large bid gets a little smaller with the loss in the eyes of some. But when considering injuries to the likes of VanVleet and Anton Grady in non-conference play, those early season losses are understandable. Saturday was a rough night for Wichita State, but given the maturity and talent on at Gregg Marshall’s disposal the Shockers will be fine moving forward.