Illinois basketball head coach Brad Underwood should be a top candidate for Kentucky

Brad Underwood has earned any coaching offer that comes his way, and now it is on the Illinois athletic director Josh Whitman to keep him happy
Illinois v Connecticut
Illinois v Connecticut / Michael Reaves/GettyImages

Illinois basketball has a good thing going, but at the same time, one of the biggest jobs in college basketball just opened up.

The past five or so years have been pretty fun for Illini fans. We were in a pretty dark place leading up to Brad Underwood taking the job in 2017-18. Illinois had missed the prior four NCAA tournaments and the program hadn’t been a true contender on the national level in over a decade.

Underwood steps in and instantly the program becomes better at recruiting. Illinois lands Ayo Dosunmu and Kofi Cockburn, and this sets off a chain of events that has us making the NCAA tournament every season.

With the ability to win and have success comes opportunities. Underwood won at Stephen F. Austin, and this opened the opportunity to take the Oklahoma State job. He had a successful season with the Cowboys, and this opened the door for Illinois to come in and snag him.

Underwood has resurrected the Illini, so there is a chance this opens the door for another opportunity. Could that opportunity be the head coach of the Kentucky Wildcats?

I puked a little bit just typing that question. Kentucky head coach John Calipari took the same position at Arkansas, and now arguably the most prestigious program in college basketball is looking for a head coach.

Baylor’s Scott Drew has already turned down the job. He won a national title in 2021 with the Bears, so that makes sense. UConn’s Dan Hurley turned down the job. He just won back-to-back national titles with the Huskies, so that makes sense.

Kentucky is running out of its first options, so they have to go to another tier of who they want leading their program.

In a recent article by Jeff Borzello of ESPN, he mentions Underwood. I won’t say more because it is exclusive content, but the article is linked. I don’t want this. I repeat, I don’t want this. But, honestly, Underwood would be a great option for the Wildcats.

What Brad Underwood has done with the Illinois basketball team has earned him looks from Kentucky

Underwood has been a savior of sorts for the Illini. The Illinois basketball program has made the last four NCAA tournaments and it would have been five if it wasn’t for a worldwide pandemic.

Over the past five seasons, Underwood has led Illinois to more Big Ten wins, 69, than any other team in the conference. Purdue is second with 68 wins. The next closest is Wisconsin at 59 wins.

Illinois has won the Big Ten regular season and two Big Ten Tournament titles in the last five seasons. We have been ranked to finish the season in all but one year, and the AP Top 25 has Illinois in the top six in two out of the last four years.

In three out of the last four NCAA tournaments, Illinois has been a top-four seed. This includes the No. 1 seed in 2021, and we made the Elite 8 this season as the No. 3 seed.

That is just success on the basketball court. In the recruiting game, he has adapted to the transfer portal arguably better than anyone. The high caliber players are still coming into the program like Ayo Dosunmu, Morez Johnson Jr., and Jeremiah Fears, to name a few, but Underwood has also been able to mesh freshmen newcomers with experienced transfer portal players.

The squad Underwood put together in 2023-24 was pretty special. We put together a team that had a lot of talent from both the high school and transfer portal routes. Being able to juggle both is a skill that not most coaches can handle, but Underwood has done it well.

Lastly, Underwood is a great representation for a program. He is someone who genuinely cares about his players. He isn’t going to have huge gaffes that make the program look bad or embarrass anyone.

This is a different position for the Illinois basketball team. We haven’t experienced something like this in over 20 years. The Illini have a head coach who is potentially wanted by one of the biggest programs in college basketball. The ball will likely be in athletic director Josh Whitman's court on whether or not we have a Bill Self part two. At the bare minimum, Underwood's name being mentioned means Illinois basketball is one of the top programs in the college game once again.

Next. Projected Illinois basketball lineup with the addition of Tre White. Projected Illinois basketball lineup with the addition of Tre White. dark