VCU head coach Shaka Smart is the University of Illinois' top choice to replace nine-year head coach Bruce Weber, reports ESPN Chicago.

Smart, 34, has caught the nation's attention since last year as one of college basketball's brightest young coaches. In 2011, he led Virginia Commonwealth all the way to the Final Four as an 11-seed in the NCAA tournament, only to lose 70-62 to the Butler Bulldogs, who went on to lose their second straight title game to the Connecticut Huskies. This year, the Rams were eliminated 63-61 by the Indiana Hoosiers in the third round of the tournament, but only after upsetting the No. 5 Wichita State Shockers.

Despite several serious coaching offers last offseason, including from North Carolina State, Smart signed an eight-year, $9.68 million deal in April to stay with VCU. He will be forced to pay an $800,000 buyout if he leaves, Sports Illustrated reports.

Shaka, you can see what he's done at VCU, obviously done a bang-up job, Illinois athletic director Thomas said earlier this month. He's a sharp guy. He's someone that has a strong background. He's done great things at VCU. I think we'll have great interest in this job. I don't think there's any doubt it's a high-profile job. And, in my mind, [it's] probably one of the top 15 or 20 jobs in the country.

Weber was fired this season after Illinois finished 17-15 overall and 6-12 in the Big Ten. He has posted a .675 winning percentage (210-101) throughout his tenure with the Fighting Illini and has led them to six NCAA tournament appearances.