AP Photo/Charles Rex Arbogast

Illinois fires head coach John Groce

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Illinois has fired head coach John Groce.

Groce went 95-75 in five seasons with the Illini, posting a 37-53 record in Big Ten play during that time frame. Groce reached the NCAA tournament in 2013, but he had failed to return to the dance in the last four years.

“I want to thank John Groce and his staff for their tireless efforts over these past five years,” Illinois AD Josh Whitman said in a statement released by the university. “Under his leadership, regrettably, we were not able to sustain the level of competitive excellence that we expect at the University of Illinois.”

Groce is a good coach. He had success at Ohio before getting to Illinois, and a lot of smart people thought that he had a chance to be successful. It just didn’t work out, and even with a late run this year, losses to Rutgers in the season finale and Michigan in the Big Ten tournament opener did them in.

Illinois is going to be a job that is pursued by a lot of people. Due to its proximity to Chicago and St. Louis, havens of high school talent, and given the passionate fan base, it may be the best job currently on the market. It will also be interesting to see what happens with the recruiting class that Groce brought in, which includes five-star big man Jeremiah Tilmon and talented guard Trent Frazier.

The name that is going to be associated with this opening the the most will be Cuonzo Martin. He’s a midwest guy that played in the Big Ten and thrived at Missouri State prior to going to Tennessee. He should be able to recruit St. Louis given his connections to the city and, if he makes the right hire, should be able to get Chicago kids into the program as well.

It may end up coming down to a bidding war between the Illini and Missouri for Martin. If Illinois ends up on the losing end of that, or if Martin opts to stay in Berkeley instead of leaving Cal, there are a number of other interesting names that will be tied to the job.

The first two names that Illinois should call are Tim Jankovich at SMU and Dan Muller at Illinois State. Muller just led the Redbirds to a 28-win season and a 17-1 mark in the Missouri Valley. He spent time on staff at Vanderbilt and has experience recruiting at that level. Jankovich, who is currently the head coach at SMU, led the Mustangs to an AAC regular season title despite playing with a six-man rotation and coaching a team that he didn’t take over until mid-July, when Larry Brown abruptly retired. Before going to SMU, Jankovich was head coach at Illinois State.

Baylor head coach Scott Drew is an interesting name to keep in mind here as well, as is current St. Louis and former Oklahoma State head coach Travis Ford. Drew may be in the market to make a move away from Baylor given the year that he’s had and the current issues with the Baylor brand, and Ford already has two elite recruits committed to the Billikens that are from the city of St. Louis.

VIDEO: LaVar Ball gets female ref replaced after threatening to pull team from court

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A female referee was removed from a Big Ballers game after LaVar Ball threatened to pull his team from the court for the second time in a week.

The referee called Ball for a technical foul, which sparked the confrontation, but both Ball and an adidas rep told ESPN’s Jeff Borzello that the reason the ref was pulled was because she and Ball had a previous issue:

Before the game was over, Ball would receive a second technical foul and the game was eventually called with two minutes left and Big Ballers losing by 10.

Western Kentucky’s five-star recruit Mitchell Robinson has left campus

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The soap opera that has been Mitchell Robinson’s tenure at Western Kentucky took another on Friday, as the five-star center and top ten prospect in the Class of 2017 has reportedly left campus.

Robinson was a massive coup for Rick Stansbury when he committed to and signed for the Hilltoppers, but it has been non-stop drama since then. Less than two weeks after his commitment, Robinson tweeted that he would be decommitting from WKU before immediately deleting the tweet and claiming that his account was hacked. Robinson did not attend the first session of summer school on campus, and he was in class in the second summer school session and reportedly practicing with the team this month for a trip to Costa Rica, but he cleaned out his dorm room and left the campus last night.

Part of the reason that Robinson opted to go to Western Kentucky was that his godfather, former UNC star Shammond Williams, was an assistant coach on the staff. Williams left the program on July 3rd, and ever since then there have been questions surrounding where Robinson will play this season. There have been rumors that he will be heading overseas for a year before entering the 2018 NBA Draft, and there is also the potential that Robinson could end up transferring to a different college.

The question, however, is whether or not Robinson will be able to transfer and play immediately without sitting out a year since he enrolled in summer school.

Robinson is a 7-foot center and a terrific defensive prospect that is projected as a first round pick next year. If he does get a waiver to transfer, he immediately becomes the best available talent on the market, along with Marvin Bagley III, who is considering reclassifying.

Virginia, Seton Hall, Rhode Island, Vandy in NIT Tip-Off

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NEW YORK (AP) — Virginia and Vanderbilt will meet in one semifinal of the NIT Preseason Tip-Off on Thanksgiving Day at Barclays Center.

Rhode Island and Seton Hall face off in the other semifinal with the winners meeting on Friday, Nov. 24.

This is the third straight year the Tip-Off has been held at Barclays Center. Eventual NCAA champion Villanova won the event in 2015. All games will be televised on ESPNU.

Non-bracketed teams in the NIT Season Tip-Off who will play games at campus sites are: Austin Peay, Fairleigh Dickinson, Monmouth, Oakland City and UNC Asheville.

Miles Bridges explain why he returned to Michigan State

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Miles Bridges changed the landscape of the 2017-18 college basketball season on April 13.

The Michigan State forward spurned the NBA for another year in East Lansing. The decision not only meant that Bridges was a frontrunner for national player of the year, but solidified the Spartans as a national title contender.

But Bridges’ choice to return was still puzzling to many. The 6-foot-7 forward was projected as a lottery pick. Bridges explained his decision to Mike Decourcy of Sporting News in a story published on Thursday.

“He says, ‘You know what, Coach? I want to get better. I don’t want to be in the D-League. I’ve got buddies that are, and I just want to make sure when I go, I’m ready,’ ” Izzo recalled to Sporting News. “I looked at him and I said, ‘Done deal.’ For me, that was a done deal. It was a reasonable, sensible argument.”

Agents, friends, reporters, scouts, acquaintances, fans, strangers and family members — oh and, as we said, coaches — all had one opinion about how Bridges should spend the next year of his life. Miles had another, opposing, viewpoint.

Bridges told Decourcy that support came from his teammates, many of whom were returning to the team as well. Assuming the backcourt of Cassius Winston and Josh Langford make a leap forward, as well as incoming freshman Jaren Jackson providing an immediate impact, the Spartans’ title hopes could become a reality.

Bridges averaged 16.9 points, 8.3 boards, 2.1 assists and 1.5 blocks as a freshman at Michigan State. He’s rated as the No. 5 overall pick in the 2018 NBA Draft by DraftExpress.

Four conferences sign on to basketball officiating alliance

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GREENSBORO, N.C. (AP) — Four more Division I conferences will join a men’s basketball officiating alliance formed last year by the Atlantic Coast Conference, the Big East, the Atlantic 10 and Colonial Athletic Association.

The Big South, the Ivy League, the Northeast and the Patriot League are joining ahead of the 2017-18 season, according to announcements from the leagues Thursday. The alliance launched last summer for conferences to work together on officiating matters and enhance training, development, recruitment, retention and feedback for officials.

John Cahill, the Big East’s supervisor of officials, and Bryan Kersey, the ACC’s coordinator of men’s basketball officiating, will continue to lead the alliance operations.

ACC commissioner John Swofford says the new additions to the alliance “provide an even greater opportunity to build chemistry and quality” across the officiating ranks.