Originally posted on The Sports Bank  |  Last updated 3/23/12

Last night, the first team from the state of Ohio lost in the 2012 NCAA Tournament. The Buckeye state had previously comprised 1/4 of the sweet sixteen. In the battle for the “Birthplace of Aviation,” Ohio State grounded Cincinnati, and it was a game featuring an Illini coaching candidate on the sidelines.

Tonight when Ohio takes on North Carolina, you’ll see the other.

Illini nation previously saw the VCU vs. Wichita State first round match-up in this year’s tourney and pictured it a “leading Illinois coaching candidate invitational.” Well, Shaka said no, and Gregg Marshall talk has cooled, so maybe the real match-up is Cincinnati head man Mick Cronin vs. Ohio coach John Groce?

Groce was an assistant under Thad Matta at both Xavier and Ohio State. He’s a MAC guy, in touch with Thomas’ roots, and also the conference Thomas reached into to find his football coach.

More on Groce from the Chicago Sun-Times:

As a 14th seed two years ago, Ohio stunned No. 3 seed Georgetown 97-83.

Groce, 40, doesn’t run complex stuff, but he has a reputation as a strong recruiter who’s proven himself in the muddy recruiting waters of Chicago. The team’s leading scorer and playmaker, 5-11 D.J. Cooper, is from Seton Academy, in South Holland.

Groce’s drawback? Like Tim Beckman, hired in December to replace Ron Zook as Illinois football coach, Groce probably won’t excite Illini Nation, let alone the nation, the way Smart would have.

But at this point, every hire is non-exciting for the Illini Nation. Shaka Smart was plan A. And plan B-F. So the buildup for his him was like the 2005 national title game, and his rejection of the offer is a lot like the 2005 North Carolina Tar Heels. Groce makes sense on a lot of levels, and the Illini hire will have to be sold as manageable and practical at this point, since the exciting and flashy train has left the station.

Moving on to Cronin,

His teams showed some improvement over his first four seasons in Cincinnati, going from 11 to 13 to 18 to 19 wins overall (2 to 8 to 8 to 7 in the Big East). Last year, they went 26-9, and 11-7 in Big East conference play. This year they beat Syracuse in the Big East Tournament and obviously made the sweet sixteen.

And of course, Thomas originally hired him at Cincinnati.

Cronin may be unwilling to move though. This excerpt from an Andy Katz column doesn’t show a lot of belief he’ll bolt:

Mick Cronin said he had overtures this offseason from two major-conference programs searching for a new coach, but he politely declined to pursue.

He had rebuilding fatigue. He had a family structure that wouldn’t be conducive to a move, with his divorce now two years out and a 4-year-old daughter in the middle of the marriage.

And he had a commitment to Cincinnati, his hometown, his alma mater, and to a program that desperately needs stability.

Paul M. Banks is CEO of The Sports Bank.net, an official Google News site generating millions of unique visitors. He’s also a regular contributor to Chicago Now, Walter Football.com, Yardbarker, and Fox Sports

A Fulbright scholar and MBA, Banks has appeared on live radio all over the world; and he’s a member of the Football Writers Association of America, U.S. Basketball Writers Association, and Society of Professional Journalists. The President of the United States follows him on Twitter (@Paul_M_BanksTSB) You should too.

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