Illini Visit Primer: Xavier Simpson

The Illini are ready to prove their point to top 2016 point guard target Xavier Simpson during his official visit this weekend.

Read Derek Piper's position primer on Xavier Sneed here.

John Groce and the Illinois basketball staff are set to embark on a big weekend in Champaign, as top 2016 targets Xavier Simpson and Xavier Sneed will begin official visits on Friday.

The opportunity is there for the taking, and the Illini will do their best to show that the ‘X-Men’ are best suited in the orange and blue. Simpson and Sneed have been major priorities for the program. Based on the wish list, Groce could not have planned a better combo to kick off the official visit slate on campus.

A big focus will be on Simpson being the most talented option to fill the Illini's biggest need. Illinois has a lot to sell to one of the top point guards in the Midwest. An official visit is their shot to prove their point with a perfect pitch.

Going Illinois’ Way

The sell to Simpson is the same as any other high-level point guard that Groce has pursued during his tenure. It would seem to be a very attractive pitch, even though the Illini have failed to land their desired playmaker to this point. Simpson would have the opportunity to start as a freshman in the Big Ten and take the keys to the program from the day he steps on campus. His game fits perfectly with Groce’s ball-screen offense, and the Illini look to have the best supporting cast to put around him from the beginning.

The Illini are hard-selling the fact that Simpson could come in and have talented veterans like Malcolm Hill, Kendrick Nunn and Leron Black at his disposal. He’d also be able to play alongside Jalen Coleman-Lands, who was the best three-point shooter in the EYBL last summer. Illinois will also sell that they have been in the mix the longest of the schools remaining in the mix. Groce and assistant Dustin Ford have built a strong relationship with Simpson and his father, Quincey, since offering back in January. They have consistently pursued him like their top priority, even through the ever-changing landscape of his recruitment.

Simpson has said that he is looking for a destination where he can lead, play right away and have a great relationship with the coaching staff. There’s no question the Illini check all of those boxes. As a whole, the Illinois staff believes they have put in the most effort and have provided the best opportunity for Simpson to be successful at the next level.

Going Against Illinois

There isn’t much that the Illini can’t offer to Simpson in their pursuit. The one aspect that other coaches may use to their advantage is that they’ve sent point guards in to the NBA. Iowa State head coach Steve Prohm has Isaiah Cannan (2013 second-round pick) and Cameron Payne (2015 first-round pick) on his resume from his tenure at Murray State. Miami head coach Jim Larranaga has made Shane Larkin (2013 first-round pick) a big part of his sell. Larkin is a fellow Ohio native, so there is a good amount of relatability with Simpson.

What else is going against Illinois—outside of what fans consider a point guard curse? The unpredictability of Simpson’s recruitment is something that makes this a difficult situation. In addition, it seems that Simpson hasn’t put much value in the happenings of his recruitment before August. The Illini offered him six months before Miami did, but the Hurricanes were the first to secure an official visit between the two. Simpson also seems open to other options, as he may even visit Wisconsin after picking up an offer from Bo Ryan on Tuesday.

Confidence In A Commitment 

(On a scale of 1-10, 10 being the highest): Three (3) — All that is known from Illinois’ perspective is that Simpson is coming this weekend, they feel good about their pitch and they will get a swing at him. Groce and his staff know better than to assume anything else, as is the case for recruiting in general. Heading into this week, the Illini figured to be one of three major players for Simpson, along with Iowa State and Miami. It remains to be seen if Wisconsin or anyone else joins that group, and it will largely depend on how long Simpson wants to wait out the process.

No one expects Simpson to pull the trigger this weekend. The hope for Illinois is that he will be ready to make his decision shortly after visiting Miami during the second weekend of September. There is a worry at Iowa State that they have lost ground during the weeks since his official visit earlier this month. The Illini could come away from the visit with momentum, as many expected with Iowa State, but would they be able to sustain that until the decision date? In-home visits after his slate of officials could also be crucial in swinging the result one way or another.

While some fans will consider the confidence level low, there probably isn't another program in this race that has a higher number at this point. The Simpson camp has kept people guessing and there is still quite a ways to go in this one.

Commitment Impact

The impact of Simpson’s potential commitment would truly break the scale. He is exactly the kind of point guard Groce has been relentlessly searching for since taking the job in Champaign. The Illini would turn a painful weakness into an unquestioned strength, as they prepare for a bright future ahead. A playmaker like Simpson is the missing key for Groce to take this program to where he wants to go. With his Big Ten-ready skill set, Simpson would turn the Illini into legit contenders in the conference next season and beyond.


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