Stop me if you've heard this before, but Illinois and John Groce just missed out on a recruit that listed Illinois as one of their final schools they were deciding on. In what has become a recurring theme in Champaign, the team was in the running for another marquee recruit and just missed out. This time it was Lima point guard Xavier Simpson, a four-star guard out of Ohio that was supposedly deciding between Illinois, Iowa State, Wisconsin, Miami and Pittsburgh. What makes the decision even more shocking is no one was aware that Simpson had even visited Ann Arbor, with Simpson's decision coming off of two impressive visits to Champaign and Madison.
If there's anything that makes this sting a little less for the Illini it should be noted that this also a considerable miss for the Badgers, who appeared to take over as front runners for Simpson this past week. With Wisconsin not really knowing if Bo Ryan plans to remain in Madison past this season (he said he was retiring...then almost immediately started backtracking), it has to be somewhat concerning that the Badgers still don't have a commit for next season even after the recent success the last two seasons, just missing out on a national championship several months ago. Oh, and back to Illinois, at least this didn't happen this time:
What makes the decision by Simpson even more interesting is how involved Illinois has been with the Lima native and how his decision to chose Michigan seems like a pretty big blow to the allure of Illinois. The Champaign Room recently commented on this yesterday, pointing out that the program has recruited him the longest, commonly frequented his AAU games, offers an almost immediate starting spot (compared to Michigan, who still will have Derrick Walton Jr.) and even is nearby family members of Simpson. Yet when everything was said and done Simpson spurned the program that had been after him for the longest and is in desperate need of a point guard for next season.
Groce has gotten Illinois in the thick of things with a laundry list of highly talented recruits, but repeatedly struggles to close the deal. That has become increasingly problematic when targeting point guards, missing out on a laundry list of talented prospects including Jalen Brunson, Quintin Snider, Marcus LoVett, Demetrius Jackson and even a number of senior transfers before landing on Khalid Lewis. Now if the NCAA doesn't grant Tracy Abrams a sixth year of eligibility, Groce will need to hurry and find a point guard for 2016 as Jaylon Tate is the only true point guard set to currently have eligibility next season (Abrams could, but we won't know for sure for awhile).
Luckily Illinois still has a few targets, including Charlie Moore, a four-star point guard from nearby Chicago that recently swung by campus and is set to make an official visit later in the month. Of course there's set to be considerable competition for the guard, ranked 58th in the 2016 class by Rivals, as he's set to visit California this weekend and Pittsburgh next, before visiting Illinois at the end of the month (followed by a visit to Memphis). Also in the mix is a laundry list of schools including Xavier, St. John's, Ole Miss, Iowa and Missouri. While the Chicago native is essentially in the Illini's backyard, recent events wouldn't make it surprising if he chooses to avoid Illinois like many recent point guards. That would still leave Milwaukee native Te'Jon Lucas in the mix, but he's a bit lesser of a prospect (three-star, unranked) that currently has offers from Memphis, Old Dominion, UIC and USC. While a bit more realistic of an option, he'd be a bit of a downgrade from someone like Simpson or Moore.
The recent string of recruits seriously considering Illinois and then heading elsewhere has started to leave a bit of a bad taste in the mouth of the Illini fan base. Of course the repeat misses on the recruiting front, mixed with back-to-back disappointing seasons and an off-season likely to lead to a third missed NCAA Tournament has some fans murmuring about moving on from Groce. While Groce has shown the potential to do big things in Illinois, it's starting to feel like whenever he starts making progress something happens and his team falls back down to earth. For an Illinois program that has historically had quite a bit of success, the time for Groce to get the ball rolling is starting to run out. Now entering his fourth season as the coach in Champaign, Groce desperately needs to find his point guard of the future or it could lead to his eventual downfall.