Reports: Illinois close to hiring Groce

Fresh off a run to the Sweet 16, Ohio University’s John Groce appears to be the choice to fill the coaching vacancy at Illinois.

According to both the Chicago Tribune and Sun-Times, a deal to make the 40-year-old Groce the new coach at the Big Ten university was nearly complete Tuesday.

One source told the Sun-Times the hiring will happen "barring a last-second catastrophe," while another said "it’s in the closing stages."

Illinois began its pursuit of Groce over the weekend after VCU’s Shaka Smart and Butler’s Brad Stevens rejected overtures from athletic director Mike Thomas.

Negotiations started just days after Groce’s Ohio Bobcats were eliminated by North Carolina 73-65 in overtime in the Midwest Regional Semi-final in St. Louis.

Groce is familiar with the Big Ten, serving as a top assistant to Ohio State’s Thad Matta from 2004-08. He was previously an assistant to Matta at Xavier and Butler.

The Bobcats (29-8) won the MAC title this season and are projected as a strong contender to repeat as champions next season.

Illinois fired coach Bruce Weber at the end of a disappointing year in which the team missed the NCAA Tournament for the second time in three seasons.