Welcome back to our simulated dynasty with the Western Illinois Leathernecks in College Hoops 2K8. You can find a full explanation of this project + spoiler-free links to previous seasons here. Check out the introduction to this series from early April for full context. As a reminder, we simulate every game in this series and only control the recruiting and coaching strategies.
Before we pick up with the Leathernecks at the start of Year 26, here’s a recap of everything that happened last year:
- Western Illinois entered the new season looking to rebound from a disappointing round of 32 exit at the hands of South Florida the previous year. We had to replace three starters on the perimeter, but were now fully turning over the program to four redshirt juniors who were once the highest-rated recruiting class in program history.
- We went 5-5 in the non-conference schedule, then swept through the the Summit League and conference tournament once again. We were given a No. 12 seed in the NCAA tournament.
- We beat Seton Hall in the first round. We knocked off No. 4 seed Wisconsin in the round of 32. We beat Tennessee in the Sweet 16. We defeated Alabama in the Elite Eight to advanced to the Final Four. We beat Florida, 104-75, in the Final Four. Then we beat Xavier, 100-76, to win our fifth national championship in program history.
- We landed three-star small forward Warren Schultz and four-star point guard Duncan Martinez on the recruiting trail.
NATIONAL CHAMPS! Hang the damn banner:
We won our first national title in Year 8. We also won it all in Year 13, Year 20, and Year 23. Our fifth championship ties head coach Ricky Charisma with Coach K for the second all-time behind John Wooden’s 10 rings.
We plan on running this dynasty through 40 years (when the game forces mandatory retirement). We’re not done stacking titles just yet.
We’ve never gone back-to-back before.
In the four other times we’ve entered a season as the defending champions, we haven’t even made it past the second round in the NCAA tournament. We have the team to do it this year. The mission is clear: repeat as national championships for the first time in program history, and continue rewriting the college hoops record books.
Here’s a look at our roster entering Year 26:
We lost only one player from last year’s national championship team: center Dick Copeland, who left after his redshirt junior season to be a projected top pick in the NBA draft. Everyone else is back, and we’re welcoming two new redshirt redshirt freshmen into the rotation: 7’3 center Daron Coulter and converted power forward (from center) C.J. Cesar.
This is very likely to be the final year at Western Illinois for each member of our starting lineup. We have two projected top picks, two projected lottery picks, and one projected first rounder. That’s right: all five of our starters are projected to get taken in round one of the NBA draft after this season. This is their last dance. Let’s meet the starting lineup:
- PG Alexis Willingham, redshirt senior, 93 overall: Willingham stepped into the starting lineup for the first time as a junior and gave us a 6’5 floor general who could shoot from three, get his teammates involved, and disrupt the game defensively. He put up modest scoring numbers throughout most of our NCAA tournament run, but then exploded for 21 points and eight assists in the national title game to (controversially) earn MOP honors. Willingham was also super clutch off the bench in our national championship game win during his redshirt freshman year, dropping 15 points to help us hang banner No. 4. He’s probably already a top-three Leathernecks point guard since I took over. How high do we raise him if he leads us to back-to-back honors for the first time? Projected lottery pick. Former No. 68 overall recruit with C+ potential.
- SG Albert Jagla, redshirt sophomore, 92 overall: Jagla is coming off arguably the greatest six-game tournament runs in Leathernecks history: he averaged 24.1 points per game on incredible efficiency during our mad dash to the title, and even dropped 40 points on Seton Hall in round one. He has a complete scoring package: he can rip threes, get to the basket at will with a team-best quickness rating, and convert consistently in transition. He’s improved from an 86 overall to a 92 overall since the start of last season. Jagla is the highest-rated recruit in program history as the former No. 17 overall player in his class. Projected top pick in the NBA draft with B+ potential.
- SF Skip Clemmons, redshirt junior, 92 overall: Clemmons has continued our tradition of big wings who can score the ball and wreck havoc defensively. If Jagla emerged as our go-to scoring option last year, Clemmons was a wonderful plan B. He’s massive for a natural shooting guard at 6’9, 260 pounds and feels like he can absolutely be our team’s biggest star in any given game. Projected first rounder and former No. 38 overall recruit with C potential.
- PF J.J. Bracy, redshirt junior, 94 overall: Bracy lost his starting spot during our NCAA tournament run last year, but he returns for his senior season as our highest-rated player with a fascinating all-around skill set. He’s the highest-rated shot blocker in program history (98 rating), while also being a very good rebounder, an excellent passer, and a capable shooter (77 rating from three-point range). He’s also a little undersized for a four at 6’8, 226 pounds, and often hasn’t been aggressive looking for his own offense. The second high-rated recruit in program history at No. 24 overall. Projected lottery pick with C+ potential.
- C Cecil Sinville, junior, 90 overall: We made a coaching adjustment as we entered the NCAA tournament last season, moving Sinville from sixth man to starting center. I’m not sure we win a national championship without that move. Sinville gave us an athletic 7-foot center in the middle who could finish inside, rebound, and defend the paint. He also flashed surprising three-point range and even hit us with a Jordan Shrug. As a projected top pick it looks like he’s going to be the first player to ever leave after only three years in school. Former No. 27 overall recruit (and No. 1 center) and projected top pick with A- potential.
We also have plenty of depth on the bench this year, but most of it is unproven. We decide to go with a 10-man rotation, giving all of the starters 30 minutes per night and each of the bench options 10 minutes. Redshirt sophomore Nic Cummings (85 overall) gives us a 6’7 wing with the highest dunk rating on the team (94 rating) and some shooting ability. Neil Modrovich returns for his sophomore season at shooting guard after flashing great outside shooting ability as the rare true freshman for us last year. We also have 6’6 point guard Goran Kent to go along with Coulter and Cesar joining the rotation.
The incoming freshmen class of point guard Duncan Martinez (former No. 69 overall recruit) and small forward Warren Schultz (former No. 107 overall recruit) will each redshirt. Both players have C potential and are already rated among the best three-point shooters on the team. I’m feeling really good about both long-term.
This is such a huge year in recruiting — we have four scholarships to offer out, and very likely will have to replace our entire starting lineup next year. Ideally we want two guards and two front court players, but really we just need to restock the program with talent.
After scanning the available prospects, I decide to extend scholarship offers to the following players:
- 6’2 SG Damian Mitchell, No. 63 overall, out of Houston
- 6’10 PF Toree Berrelleca, No. 100 overall, out of Detroit
- 6’11 C Donnell Bean, No. 97 overall, out of Topeka, Kansas
- 6’6 SF Bud Zuzak, No. 47 overall, out of St. Louis
Mitchell and Berrelleca are our biggest priorities. We also have a recruit to create for the winner of last year’s bracket contest, reader John. This is what he sent me:
I was thinking Bud Richards Jr. Make him a 6’7 do everything SF. I was a teenager in the early 90s and loved watching Scottie Pippen fly around even as a Celtics fan, so that would be the mold.
Bud Richards was, of course, our very first recruit at Western Illinois in this dynasty. Love the strong call back. We created Bud Jr. and will follow his college career as he goes through school. As a reminder, we don’t go after the recruits we create to preserve the integrity of the sim.
We enter the rated as a 99 overall (!) and we’re No. 16 in the polls. Let’s go!
It’s time to start the regular season
We start our year with a tournament that features games against Lipscomb and South Carolina State. We win both games easily, with Bracy popping off for 20 points and Jagla and Clemmons each scoring 15 points in the win against S. Carolina State. OK, that might have been a little too easy as a tune-up.
OK, now we have the real opener vs. Purdue. The Boilermakers are only rated in the low 80s, but it’s still a Big Ten team that shouldn’t be a pushover. Give me a dub:
Win, 105-65. Sinvile with 24 points, Willingham with 20 points, Clemmons with 19, and Bracy with an extremely Bracy line of 15 points, seven rebounds, four assists, and five blocks (!). Seems like Jagla didn’t try in this one, which is also cool. So much for Purdue being a bigger test than those mid-majors.
Now we’re on to Minnesota, who has been a solid program throughout this sim. Can we get another win over a Big Ten team?
Loss, 66-59. Dang. That felt like a winnable game, but I guess it’s hard to earn a victory when you miss 19 three-pointers and have your starting center finish 0-of-7 from the field. On the plus side, I love the production out of Bracy (15 points, 10 rebounds, four blocks), who is off to a wonderful start to his senior season.
Villanova is up next. The Wildcats are a damn good program and just added a standout new point guard in the likeness of reader Abby’s created player as the former winner of the bracket contest. Let’s go!
Loss, 75-69. Our starting backcourt shot 3-for-18 from the field, Abby finished with 14-5-4, and once again we couldn’t hit a three-pointer to save our life. I want to see them again in the tournament when we’re streaming.
Michigan State is up next. The Spartans have fallen back into mediocrity since Tom Izzo retired, but in recent years they appear to be building the program back up to legitimacy. Still need a win here.
Win, 73-67! What a freaking game for Bracy: 26 points, 11 rebounds, and three blocks on 9-of-13 shooting. We still struggled from three-point range — which doesn’t really make any sense, we have five good shooters in the starting lineup — but I’m happy we could grind a win.
We have our two early conference games next week, but more importantly, it’s also the end of the early signing period. It’s not going well so far: Mitchell and Berrelleca each got offers from other schools they like better, and it looks like we might lose Zuzak and Bean, too. Going 0-for-4 in our early offers would be pretty much devastating in a year we need to recruit for four scholarships because we have so few points to work with as such a small school. That’s always been the challenge of this dynasty. In the short term, we’ve offered five-star shooting guard Sammy Yan out of Vallejo, CA, who would be our highest rated recruit ever as the No. 10 overall player in the class. We have also offered three-star 6’10 power forward Hollis Miggins (No. 124 overall) out of Milwaukee.
We win both of the early conference games, but we lose out on Zuzak as we win to the next week. We have a ton of ground to make up on Yan, so decide to offer another shooting guard in Vakeaton Sykes, rated No. 36 overall and No. 9 at his position. Sykes is 6’4 and from Lansing, MI. We aren’t even close to landing anyone yet. The recruiting situation is starting to get dire.
Next up we have Northwestern. The Wildcats have made several tournament appearances over the years (an improvement on real life!), and they’ve also whooped our ass multiple times during the regular season. We can’t let Northwestern touch up arguably our greatest team ever. Crush them, please.
Win, 82-57. Blow out, baby. Sinville was dominant (20 points, seven rebounds), the seniors Willingham and Clemmons were both solid, and our bench chipped in quite a bit, too. As we sim to the next week, we get more bad news in recruiting: Bean gets an offer from Kansas State. Miggins gets an offer elsewhere, too. We scan the available options and decide to swing for the fences twice: 7-foot center Elvin King (No. 99 overall, No. 4 center), and 6’2 point guard Elliott Ortega (No. 11 overall, No. 5 at his position). Both are probably long-shots, but at this point I’m hoping we can one or two impact guys and then fill some available backup plans late to salvage the class. It definitely isn’t going well right now, though.
We now start a three-game week with our biggest game of the season: at No. 1 BYU. This would be huge for our hopes getting a decent seed for once in the big dance. We streamed this game on Twitch:
Win, 93-79. Down goes No. 1! Sinville was a complete monster (21 points, 19 rebounds, four blocks). We’ve had a lot of great centers in program history, but I think he’s up there as one of the most impactful ever (he’s also our highest-rated center recruit ever, the No. 1 player at his position in his class). Jagla and Clemmons were as consistent offensively as ever, and I also thought Modrovich hit a few big shots off the bench. Really impressive win. I wouldn’t be surprised if we see BYU again in March.
Next up is Iowa. This is a game we have to win.
Win. 63-45. Light work. We finally knocked down some threes, and let Sinville and Bracy takeover from there.
Next up we have Indiana. The Hoosiers are rated as an 89 overall and enter at 12-2 on the season:
Win, 80-69. Clemmons and Willingham carried the offense, and Jagla added 13 points and 13 rebounds. Always satisfying to beat the Hoosiers. That win puts us at 10-2 on the season. As I sim to the next week, we enter the polls again at No. 24
We have a massive game to end non-conference season: against No. 8 Illinois. We have played the Illini a bunch through this dynasty, but this might be the first time it’s been a battle of two ranked teams. The Illini enter as a 96 overall and should absolutely be one of the better teams in the NCAA tournament this year. This is our last chance to get a statement win before we head into Summit League play. Let’s go!
Win, 96-72! Beatdown. Willingham was tremendous with 18 points, Jagla and Sinville each scored 13, and Cummings chipped in 11 points off the bench. We hit 10-of-20 three-pointers, which is exactly what we’re looking for. We still run this state. There’s no better way to go into conference play. We move up to No. 19 in the polls with the win.
We haven’t lost a game against a Summit League opponent in many years. Can we keep the streak alive?
Yes, we can. We finish a perfect 18-0 in league play once again and will enter the conference tournament at 27-2 overall. We even move up to No. 15 overall in the polls. Before we start the post-season, let’s take a look at the stats:
Willingham and Jagla were tenths of a point away from giving us a team with all five starters averaging double figures. We needed Bracy to step up in his senior year to replace some of what we lost with Copeland, and he’s done exactly that by averaging a team-best 15.8 points per game, leading us in blocks, and even hitting 39 percent of his threes. Now we need him to carry it into March. Sinville has also been really great, showing why he’s projected as a top pick. Jagla also hit 49 percent of his threes (!) — we need him hitting from the outside consistently if we’re going pull off this back-to-back thing.
Now it’s time for the conference tournament.
Summit League tournament
Our first game is against Fort Wayne.
Win, 73-56. Bracy leads the way with 18 and six in the win. Next up we face South Dakota State in the semifinals.
Win, 92-44. Another monster game for Bracy with 18 points and nine rebounds. Albert Jagla chips in 16 points int he win. Now we face Southern Utah for the conference tournament championship and the auto-bid to the big dance:
Win, 91-39. Poor Southern Utah, that got out of hand fast. 20 for Sinville, 17 for Bracy, and we’re going to the NCAA tournament once again!
2033 NCAA tournament
We’re a No. 4 seed, with a first round matchup against No. 13 Stanford. A power-five team as a No. 13 seed! Sheesh.
Here’s a look at our roster going into the tournament:
Obviously, we’ve had some super talented teams at Western Illinois during my tenure. We have five national titles. I’m telling you: I really think this is the most loaded team we’ve ever had.
Just look at that roster. All five starters are rated as 93 overall or above. Each of our seniors — Alexis Willingham, Skip Clemmons, and Bracy — already have two national championship rings. Bracy joins the hallowed 96 Club which makes him tied for the highest rated player in program history. All five of our starters are projected as first round NBA draft picks, with Sinville and Jagla projected as top picks. We also have Nic Cummings (89 overall) and Neil Modrovich (88 overall) leading a deep bench that has both size and shooting.
We’ve never got won back-to-back championships before, but this has to be the team to do it. It’s likely our last chance at a title for a few years. With all five starters projected to graduate or leave early for the pros, next season is definitely setting up to be a rebuilding year.
Before we can think about winning another championship, we need to get past Stanford in round one. Here’s how the two teams matchup:
We’re going to face Stanford in the first round of 2033 NCAA tournament on Sunday, Nov. 8 at 8:30 p.m. ET on Twitch. But before we get to that, let’s run another bracket contest.
Join our bracket contest!
We’ve been running a bracket contest for the last few seasons, and it’s been a ton of fun. We’re opening it up to anyone who wants to enter as long as you turn in your bracket before we stream our first NCAA tournament game on Sunday, Nov. 8 at 8:30 p.m. ET on Twitch.
Here’s a look at the full 2032 NCAA tournament bracket:
How does scoring work?
We use a standard scoring format. You get one point for correctly guessing the winner in a first round game, two points for correctly a winner in a round of 32 game, four points for correctly guessing a winner in a Sweet 16 game, eight points for correctly guessing a winner in an Elite Eight game, 16 points for correctly guessing a winner in the Final Four, and 32 points for correctly guessing the national champion.
How do I enter?
2. After opening, in the top left select File > Make a Copy
3. Make your picks
Once your picks are entered, you can track scoring with Sean’s Blog Team app that works on desktop and mobile.
What does the winner get?
The winner gets to create themselves or a character as a five-star recruit ahead of next season. We won’t go after the created recruits at Western Illinois to preserve the integrity of the game, but we’ll follow the career of your character throughout our series.
Please enter the bracket contest and join us on Thursday, because it’s going to be really fun. Here’s how you can watch Western Illinois vs. Seton Hall in the NCAA tournament on Sunday, Nov. 8 at 8:30 p.m. ET on Twitch.
No. 4 seed Western Illinois vs. No. 13 seed Stanford, first round, 2033 NCAA tournament
Game: No. 4 seed Western Illinois vs. No. 13 seed Stanford, first round, 2033 NCAA tournament
How to watch: My Twitch channel. You don’t need to sign up for anything to watch, but you do need to register for an account to comment. Do it, it’s fun.
Tip-off time: 8:30 p.m. ET
IF we win: We’ll keep streaming NCAA tournament until we lose or hit the Final Four.
Come hang on Sunday. Go ‘Necks!