The hits just keep coming for John Groce and the Fighting Illini. In a stunning turn of events, four-star point guard Xavier Simpson gave a verbal commitment to Michigan over Illinois, Wisconsin, and others during an announcement ceremony on Wednesday afternoon.
The Lima, OH native is ranked as the No. 69 player in 247Sports' composite rankings, the No. 87 player by Rivals, and the No. 55 player by Scout. Apart from his final list of schools, Simpson also held offers from Indiana, Purdue, Iowa, Pittsburgh, and Xavier.
The Wolverines came out of nowhere. In the hours leading up to this decision, recruiting 'experts' were predicting that Simpson would select the Badgers, but Michigan evidently made up a monumental amount of ground this morning. Cassius Winston, John Beilein's top point guard target, eliminated Michigan from his list on Tuesday and that prompted the last-minute interest.
UPDATE: Simpson took a visit to Michigan on Sunday following his trip to Madison.
<blockquote class="twitter-tweet" data-partner="tweetdeck"><p lang="en" dir="ltr">For those thinking this came out of nowhere, it did not. Simpson visited michigan Sunday afternoon/evening.</p>— Sam Webb (@SamWebb77) <a href="https://twitter.com/SamWebb77/status/641689127738605573">September 9, 2015</a></blockquote>
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Again, this is just shocking. Let's quickly go over a few of the factors that were in Illinois' favor:
- Illinois was recruiting Simpson the longest (offered a scholarship on January 17th). Michigan presumably offered this morning
- At least one member of the Illinois coaching staff was in attendance at every one of Simpson's AAU games this Summer
- Simpson has family members living near the Champaign-Urbana area (!!)
- Playing time. Simpson should contribute as a freshman at Michigan, but he'll be behind Derrick Walton Jr. on the depth chart. At Illinois, he probably would've been given every opportunity to start over Jaylon Tate.
None of the above makes any sense. But you know what does? Michigan's recent on-court success. It's simple, when a program wins, talented high school players will take notice.
TL;DR - The Xavier Simpson recruitment is proof of how quickly Illinois basketball's perception has diminished over the past decade.
Illinois has three open scholarships for the 2016 recruiting class. However that number could increase to four if Tracy Abrams doesn't come back to play for a sixth year.
So where does Illinois' point guard search go from here? Believe it or not, there are still a few realistic options. Four-star guard Charlie Moore (Chicago, IL) took an unofficial visit to Illinois on Friday and he's scheduled to return for an official visit on September 25th. The Illini coaching staff also had in-home visit with three-star guard Te'Jon Lucas (Milwaukee, WI) on Wednesday; he'll visit Illinois on September 17th.
Elsewhere, four-star small forward Xavier Sneed (Florissant, MO) took an official visit to Champaign the weekend of August 29th. There's no public timetable for a decision, but all signs seem to indicate that the Illini are the leader in his recruitment. Sneed narrowed his list to the Illini, Creighton, Kansas St., Wichita State, and Xavier a few weeks ago.
But a commitment from Moore, Lucas, Sneed, or any other perimeter player still wouldn't solve Illinois' impending frontcourt problems. The big men most commonly associated with the Illini are James Banks (IN) and Clevon Brown (TX), but the chances of them joining the Orange and Blue are diminishing by the day. It's likely that the coaching staff will eventually turn their attention to the 5th transfer market to fill this need.
So, overall, this is not a good day for the Illini -- but we should be used to that. John Groce's countless hours spent recruiting point guards are bound to pay off eventually, right?