A long and unpredictable ride during the recruitment of four-star point guard Xavier Simpson is nearly over, as Simpson prepares to announce his collegiate destination on Wednesday.
Illinois and Wisconsin were the most recent official visit spots for one of the top playmakers in the Midwest. Simpson was in Madison this past weekend, and the Badgers appear to be confident going into the decision - after extending an offer exactly two weeks ago.
There were positive vibes for the Illini after Simpson's trip to Champaign the weekend prior. Many believed that John Groce and Illinois had a slight edge going into the visit to Wisconsin. There was even a feeling that Miami could be the bigger threat of the remaining trips, but the Hurricanes are now out of the mix. Iowa State was Simpson's first official visit, and they seem to be on the outside looking in as well.
The twists and turns of this race have been impossible to predict. Back in May, Simpson nearly committed to Xavier before cancelling the decision announcement. There have been plenty of curve balls to follow.
Simpson hesitated on locking in an official visit to Illinois earlier in August. But after being on campus, Quincey Simpson said the Illini proved to be a "great fit". As early as last week, Wisconsin seemed like an unlikely match with Bo Ryan's future and Bronson Koenig holding down the point guard spot. But there has been buzz that Ryan could extend the length of his 'Last Ride', and his success in recent years has been nothing short of elite.
The Illini haven't beaten Ryan and the Badgers on the court since Groce took over in Champaign. High-profile recruitments haven't been Ryan's expertise, but he has had some good point guards at his disposal. Xavier Simpson could join the likes of Devin Harris and Jordan Taylor has early impact playmakers in Ryan's system.
Meanwhile, Groce had a record-setting point guard at Ohio in D.J. Cooper but he hasn't found the answer at Illinois heading into Year Four. Xavier Simpson could be the one to change that, or he could be the latest high-level point guard target to give the Illini the 'bridesmaid' designation.
If He Chooses Illinois
Adding Xavier Simpson would be the biggest recruiting victory of Groce's tenure. He fits the bill perfectly when it comes to a high-impact point guard who can be inserted into the starting lineup from Day One. The Illini would turn a painful weakness into an unquestioned strength, as Xavier Simpson would answer one of the most crucial questions facing Groce and his future status.
Illinois could cordially tell Charlie Moore that they have their point guard. After a long battle, they could feel good in saying it was all worth the wait. Xavier Simpson would be a great fit along with veterans Malcolm Hill, Kendrick Nunn and Leron Black during the 2016-17 season, and the Illini would be contenders in the Big Ten that year and beyond.
If He Doesn't Choose Illinois
Although Xavier Simpson didn't seem like much of a possibility for the Illini two months ago, losing out on the battle this late in the game would be painful. Teams fell by the wayside as time went on, but Illinois stayed in it the entire way. The Illini put in a lot of effort in their campaign to Xavier Simpson since offering back in January. It is hard enough to lose to a conference foe in a recruiting battle, but especially when you feel you outworked the competition. Ryan has never seen Simpson play in person, and he wasn't on the radar until very recently.
The Illini would still have their chance with Moore, who took an unofficial visit to Champaign on Friday. It was a great sign to have him back on the Illinois campus for the second time this summer, and he will be back for an official on Sept. 25. Moore is headed to Cal this weekend for his first official visit, and Cal looks to be the biggest threat to the Illini. Milwaukee Te'Jon Lucas is still an option for Illinois as well, but they need to lock in an official visit date to be legitimate contenders.
What's The Buzz?
There was quite a bit of buzz for the Illini after Xavier Simpson's official visit to Champaign. It was considered to be an eye-opening trip for the family, and there are a laundry list of reasons why Illinois makes sense. The Illini have been in the mix the longest, they offer the best immediate opportunity and supporting cast, and they are the closest to home. In fact, Simpsons have family in the Champaign area.
"We got a lot of family that is here in Champaign. So it'd be like a home away from home for Xavier," Quincey Simpson said after the visit. "He'd be around family here and I'd feel real comfortable with him being here."
With that being said, Wisconsin has been all the talk since the decision date was announced on Monday. That makes sense given that they were the last visit, and recent history suggests that the final visit on the slate generally turns out to be the landing spot. But that isn't always the case.
It's only natural to make predictions, but there hasn't been a feeling of complete confidence with this situation. The Simpson camp has kept people guessing throughout and that isn't likely to change until the decision is officially announced. It's logical to think that the Wisconsin visit could have been the nail in the coffin for Illinois, or it could have confirmed that Illinois was the right destination.
According to a source, the Illini staff was still up in the air about the pending result on Monday. They still feel good about what they put on the table with their sell, even if most people believe the odds are going against them. Simply put, the Illini feel that they deserve to land Xavier Simpson and it seemed like a strong possibility heading into this past weekend.
The wild winds of recruiting can shift up until the final hour, and that should certainly be taken into account. The Illini shouldn't be written off just because Wisconsin got a visit, and it wouldn't be shocking if Xavier Simpson picked either one of those schools.
While the Simpsons will likely elect to keep things quiet until Wednesday afternoon, there is a good chance that more information comes to light by the end of the night. Could the buzz shift one last time?
Stay tuned to IlliniInquirer.com for the latest.