Western Illinois tries to three-peat in College Hoops 2K8 sim


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 27, here’s a recap of everything that happened last season:

  • Coming off our fifth national title in program history, the Leathernecks set out to try to become back-to-back champs for the first time ever. We enter the new year ranked No. 16 in the preseason polls and rated as a 99 overall.
  • We had a strong non-conference season, losing only two games and earning a signature victory over No. 1 BYU. After going undefeated in Summit League play and winning the conference tournament, we were named a No. 4 seed in the NCAA tournament.
  • We beat No. 13 seed Stanford in the first round, knocked off No. 5 seed Georgetown in the second round, beat No. 1 seed Florida State in the Sweet 16, defeated No. 6 seed Vanderbilt in the Elite Eight, beat No. 1 seed BYU in the Final Four, and knocked out No. 10 seed Georgia Tech to win the national championship. It’s the sixth national title in program history and the first time we’ve ever won back-to-back championships.
  • We recruited for four scholarships and landed two players: five-star shooting guard Sammy Yan out of Vallejo, CA (No. 10 overall), and four-star center Elvin King (No. 2 at his position). We rolled over the two other scholarships to next year.

Read: Western Illinois, Year 26, 2032-2033

Read: Western Illinois’ NCAA tournament run in Year 26, continued


Here’s the first look at the roster for Year 27

On paper, we’re entering this year trying to three-peat as national champions. If we’re going to do it, it will have to be with a completely new starting lineup.

All five starters from last season’s national championship winner have gone off the NBA. Albert Jagla and Cecil Sinville left as juniors to become top picks in the draft. Alexis Willingham, Skip Clemmons, and J.J. Bracy also became first round NBA draft picks after graduating. It’s a new era in Macomb, with last season’s top reserves taking over to become the stars of the team. We won’t have a single senior on the squad.

Let’s meet the starting lineup:

  • PG Goran Kent, redshirt junior, 86 overall: Kent has been a bit of a disappointment since entering the program as the No. 90 overall recruit in his class. He has great size for a lead guard at 6’6, but he’s a slightly below average shooter from three and has been turnover prone. While the fanbase has been critical of him during his first two years on the bench, he is very good defensively and occasionally gets hot as a shooter. Native of Rochester, MN with C potential.
  • SG Neil Modrovich, junior, 90 overall: Mod God has looked like a future offensive star since arriving in Macomb, and now he finally gets his chance to be the leading man as a true junior. The 6’5 shooting guard has one of the better three-point ratings in program history (90 rating) and rarely hesitates to pull the trigger from deep. We expect him to become a high volume outside shooter with accuracy who should establish himself as our primary option. Former No. 62 overall recruit out of Cleveland with B+ potential. Projected lottery pick.
  • SF Nic Cummings, redshirt junior, 91 overall: Cummings is also ready to step into the spotlight after being our sixth man last year. The small forward just seems to get bigger and stronger every year, while making modest improvements as a shooter (78 three-point rating). Cummings is a power wing who’s at his best playing in transition and attacking the rim. He has elite strength for a small forward, and elite on-ball defense. Two other cool things about Cummings: 1) he kind of looks like Eminem, 2) he has the highest dunk rating I think ever at 97. Please dunk on some fools for us, Slim Shady. Former No. 110 overall recruit out of San Jose with C+ potential. Projected lottery pick.
  • PF C.J. Cesar, redshirt sophomore, 85 overall: While last year’s starting four J.J. Bracy was a tad undersized and had a game built on skill, Cesar is a converted center who should help us establish an identity as a tough, physical team down low. The 6’11 big man is easily our strongest player and our best rebounder while being tied for our best shot blocker. Don’t expect him to take many jump shots: we’re running a two-post offense this year that will be built on beating teams up inside. Former No. 201 overall recruit (No. 9 center) out of Cincinnati with B- potential.
  • C Daron Coulter, redshirt sophomore, 84 overall: Coulter enters the starting lineup for Cecil Sinville after he became the first player in school history to leave after only three years on campus. Coulter isn’t as dynamic as Sinville offensively and he’s certainly not as athletic, but he does have one major thing going for him: at 7’3, he’s the tallest player we’ve ever had. Coulter plays his game around the basket, walling up at the rim on defense and scoring in the paint on offense. We have had a run of great centers here recently (the last four — Kevin Brazzle, Artie Snipes, Dick Copeland and Sinville — all entered the draft early) and we’re excited to see if DC can continue the tradition. Former No. 196 overall recruit (No. 7 center) out of Charlotte with C potential.

We’re going to play four guys off the bench. Redshirt freshmen Duncan Martinez (a 6’2 point guard) and Warren Schultz (a 6’9 small forward) will be the first two players off the pine, and are already two of the best three-point shooters on the team. We’re also playing both of our true freshmen, 6’4 shooting guard Sammy Yan (77 overall, C+ potential), and 7-foot center Elvin King (80 overall, B potential). Yan has surpassed Jagla as the highest-rated recruit in program history (No. 10 overall) and King is the second highest-rated true freshman we’ve ever had entering the program. I was tempted to redshirt Yan, but the Twitch chat convinced me to play him. We’ll see if that proves to be a wise decision or not.

Recruiting

Rolling over two scholarships from last year means we have a total of four open to offer out this year. Last season brought us high end talent on the recruiting trail. This year we would just really like depth. After scanning the available prospects, I decide to offer the following players:

  • SF Dominic Mayes out of Washington, DC, ranked No. 68 overall
  • C Thom Towe out of Garden Grove, CA, ranked No. 167 overall and No. 5 at his position
  • SG Howard Bruce out Queens, NY, ranked No. 80 overall
  • PG Otis Callier out of Houston, TX, ranked No. 133 overall

We also have a created player to make for the winner of last year’s bracket contest: Chris Dobbertean. Chris does a great job covering college basketball at Blogging the Bracket, so make sure to check out his work. Here’s what he sent me:

This game lacks good centers, so we’re making me as a 6-11, 250 lb. center. From Niagara Falls, just to see what that does in recruiting. Let’s go with a more finesse center.

Done and done. As always, we do a bracket contest every year with the winner getting to create a five-star recruit in their likeness or as a created player. We don’t go after created players but we will keep tabs on them throughout their careers.

We begin the season unranked in the polls and rated as a 94 overall. This is our weakest team in a while because of so much turnover from last season, but I still think we can compete. Let’s get into it.

Non-conference season

We decided to go a little lighter than normal with our non-conference schedule this year after losing the entire starting lineup. We divided our non-con slate into three parts:

  1. Games against Horizon League teams. Occasionally we like to pick a conference and schedule a bunch of games against teams in that league. This year we picked the Horizon. We’re facing UIC, Cleveland State, Wright State, Loyola-Chicago, Valparaiso, and Green Bay. We went undefeated in these games.
  2. Measuring stick games against top teams: We faced Louisville in our second game, which was a matchup against created player Aaron Downs (88 overall true sophomore), who was made in the likeness of Tim Duncan. The Cards are unranked and rated as a 92 overall entering the game. They beat us by 15. We also faced No. 25 Villanova with created player Abby Johnston, a junior point guard. We took home a win in that game, 79-72.
  3. Great Alaskan Shootout: We’re taking the ‘Necks to Alaska for the classic early season tournament. We get three games there against Weber State (win, 90-74), Michigan (loss, 96-65), and Texas Tech (loss, 87-78).

Best win of the season: Let’s go with Villanova, a program that’s been a perennial factor in the NCAA tournament throughout this simulation. This was a nice win, with Cummings dropping 16 points, ModGod adding 14 points, and Kent finishing with nine points, nine assists, and 2-of-2 from three-point range.

Anything else fun happen during the season?: We had a legitimate point guard controversy. After Kent played a few bad games in Alaska, we decided to move Martinez into the starting lineup. D-Mart was electric in his first start as we beat Valpo (16 points on 5-of-5 shooting) but slowly came back down to Earth. We decided go back to Kent as the starter just before we entered conference play.

Summit League play

We almost always go 18-0 in conference play, but we have had a few seasons where we dropped a game. Can we run the table in the Summit again?

No.

And no again:

Two losses in conference play. What the hell. That hasn’t happened since the first couple years of this dynasty. I know we lost a bunch of talent over the offseason, but I still can’t believe we lost to Southern Utah and IUPUI. Inexcusable. We had previously gone undefeated in conference for like seven or eight straight years.

End of season stats: Before we go into the tournament, here’s a look at our end-of-season stats:

Our center has led us in scoring the vast majority of the years for whatever reason. Not this time: Neil Modrovich aka Neil Diamonds aka the Mod God carried us all season long at shooting guard. I really can’t remember a guard having this great of a season as a scorer since the heyday of Lubos Hatten back in Year 11.

We know we need to win the conference tournament to continue our forever March Madness streak. We haven’t headed into this tournament with two conference losses in, like, 25 years. Please, please, please let us get three dubs here.

Summit League tournament

We open the tournament against UMKC.

Win, 84-76. Wow, that was closer than expected. Five ‘Necks score in double-figures, led by Martinez with 18 points off the bench. That sets up a rematch against Southern Utah in the semifinals after they beat us during the regular season.

Win, 62-61. Oh my goshhh. That could have been disastrous! Praise ModGod that we were able to hold on. Now we can UL-Calcutta in the title game. We streamed this game on Twitch.

Win, 93-68. It wasn’t pretty, but we’re going dancing once again.

2034 NCAA tournament

We earned a No. 13 seed to the NCAA tournament. Our first round opponent in No. 4 seed Baylor. We’re rated as a 96 overall entering the game, while the Bears are rated as a 97 overall.

Here’s a look at our roster:

Modrovich has sustained as a projected lottery pick, so I’d say there’s like a 75 percent chance he enters the draft after this year. Cummings has been downgraded to a ‘first rounder’ in the eyes of NBA scouts, so it’s probably 65-35 he comes back for his senior year. Regardless, I really like the way this roster has come along. Martinez and Schultz are both capable of handling tournament minutes as knockdown shooters with overall ratings in the low 80s. I like the way the true freshmen King and Yan have progressed. Coulter and Cesar … even Kent have made nice improvements.

For a ‘rebuilding year’ after we lost all five starters, I still think we’re pretty damn good. Are we good enough to win a tournament game? To make the Final Four? To THREE-PEAT? That’s why we play sim the games.

We streamed the game against Baylor on Twitch. As always, I’m not controlling Western Illinois, we’re watching a simulated game. Let’s go!

(To watch the game, click here.)

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Win, 102-83! We’re moving on to the round of 32.

That game was tight in the first half, but we pulled away in the final 20 minutes as our second half team! usually does. I thought our perimeter looked amazing. Where was all the Kent hate in this one? The 6’6 junior point guard finished with 14 points, eight assists, and zero turnovers on 6-of-7 shooting from the field. Modrovich was also excellent, scoring 20 points, knocking down 4-of-9 shots from three, and even grabbing five steals.

And then were was Cummings. That was a superstar-type of performance: 27 points on 11-of-19 shooting to power the win. I had mentioned earlier that Cummings has the highest dunk rating in program history. He finally showed it off in this game, yamming on three straight possessions at one point:

Our front court was more up-and-down. C.J. Cesar finishing with only two points on 1-of-6 shooting is super disappointing because I have high hopes for him. Our 7’3 center Coulter was fine but didn’t make a huge impact. I did love what I saw from the 7-foot true frosh Elvin King (11 points) off the bench.

We are marching onward. The win sets up a second round matchup with No. 5 seed USC.

No. 13 seed Western Illinois vs. No. 5 USC, round of 32, 2034 NCAA tournament

USC enters the game as a 97 overall, which is one point better than us.

Sweet 16 on the line. It feels so good to be in a position to possibly push through to the second weekend during what’s supposed to be a down year. This is what sustained success looks like. We need to win this game before we start patting ourselves on the back, though.

We streamed this game on Twitch. Click here to watch it. Let’s go!

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Win, 95-71! Sweet 16 here we come!

Look, we could talk about the way our starters broke open the game at the end of the first half, the way we dominated the paint, or how we overcame tough nights from Modrovich and Kent. Or we can just watch Nic Cummings dunk.

The choice is clear:

Cummings was awesome again and is starting to give me shades of Wilky Henry. He wasn’t the biggest reason why we won this game, though. That honor belongs to our two big men, C.J. Cesar and Daron Coulter.

This is a throwback, two bigs lineup for the ‘Necks that would never fly in modern day NBA ball, but works wonderfully at this level. Cesar is a converted center who is super strong inside. Coulter is 7’3. Add in the production from 7-foot freshman stud Elvin King, and our three big man rotation finished the game with 55 points and 27 rebounds. Unreal.

Holy cow, I can’t believe we’re going to the Sweet 16. The win sets us up for a game against No. 9 seed Notre Dame.

No. 13 seed Western Illinois vs. No. 9 Notre Dame, Sweet 16, 2034 NCAA tournament

This Irish team is legit, entering the game as a 96 overall. At this point, I’m going to need to see a team beat us before I believe it will actually happen.

Seriously: after winning back-to-back national titles and earning two tournament wins with a way worse team this year, we are currently on some type of historic March Madness tear. No one expected this team to be in this situation, so why stop now?

We streamed this game on Sunday night. Elite Eight on the line. The dream of the three-peat is still alive. Let’s go!

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Win, 95-86! The No. 13 seed Leathernecks are on a true Cinderella run once again.

Man, I was sweating during that one. It’s been literally years since we were last involved in a close game coming off our GOAT roster that blew the doors off everyone on the way to back-to-back national titles. Just making it to the second weekend is a moral victory for this year’s squad, so it’s about time we got into a nail-biter. Notre Dame seriously tested us, but we made enough plays late to pull it out.

We were up 11 points with just over eight minutes left when the Irish made their run, cutting down our lead to just two points with under two minutes left. On the biggest possession of the game, C.J. Cesar tipped in a Neil Modrovich miss.

It was a wrap from there.

Mod God played maybe his best game yet as a Leatherneck. He finished with 29 points on 11-of-23 shooting, converting on drives inside and of course splashing three-pointers. I really think he might be the best pure outside shooter we’ve ever had.

Cesar (15 points, 11 rebounds) and Kent (12 points, six assists) were both solid, too. Of course Cummings delivered as well, posting 15 points and five assists, and delivering his nightly sick dunk.

Seriously, this is a nasty move.

I can’t believe it’s really happening, but we’re moving on to the Elite Eight. George Washington will be our opponent.

No. 13 seed Western Illinois vs. No. 2 George Washington, Sweet 16, 2034 NCAA tournament

George Washington has been one of the very best teams in the country throughout this sim. That’s made them something of an upstart rival for us over the years as both programs consistently faced off in March.

Mostly recently, we knocked off GW in the Final Four in Year 22 (before losing to Kansas in the title game), and then beat them in the national championship game in Year 23.

The Colonials have another loaded roster. They enter the game at 100 overall, three points better than us. I never thought we’d be in position to make the Final Four this year, so it feels like we’re playing free and loose and with nothing to lose. Even better, the dream of a three-peat is still on the table.

We streamed this game on Twitch. Let’s go!

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Loss, 89-87. Absolutely devastating. Our season is over.

What a ridiculous game. It looked so good for us in the first half. We took an eight point lead into the break thanks to remarkable first half shooting (9-of-16 from three) and an obscene individual performance from perhaps the most unlikely candidate on the team: Goran Kent. Kent entered the halftime locker room with 21 points, hitting five threes and basically completely dominating the half.

GW would answer out of halftime. They had the lead not even three minutes in the second half, and traded big shots with us the rest of the way. Suddenly the clock struck midnight for Kent. His scoring went away and started turning the ball over like crazy, finishing with nine turnovers on the night.

We still had a chance to win at the very end. After a GW miss, we came down the court trailing by two with about 40 seconds left. We worked the ball into Cesar in the paint, and he kicked out to Duncan Martinez for three.

BANG.

Did I sound excited?

Unfortunately, we still had to get one more stop. With the shot clock turned off, GW patiently passed the ball around the perimeter until they finally got a clean look. Their star wing Doug Miles drained it to put them ahead two.

We had one last chance in the final seconds, but Martinez’s pass sailed out of bounds.

What a game. I suppose you can’t win them all. I’m still really proud of this team running all the way to the Elite Eight after losing all five starters from the year before. The dream of a three-peat remains a carrot to chance in the future.

It will be fascinating to see if Modrovich (a projected lottery pick) and Cummings (a projected first rounder) decide to turn pro or return for their senior seasons. Onward.

Offseason

  • George Washington beat No. 7 seed San Jose State (!) in the Final Four. Minnesota beat Florida on the other side of the bracket. George Washington then beat Minnesota, 79-75, to win the national title. Am I going to claim we were the second best team in the country now? Absolutely.
  • Long-time Twitch commenter Big Country Reeves wins our weird, shortened bracket contest. He is creating Bryant Reeves Jr., a five-star center recruit out of Vancouver.
  • Former created recruit Bud Richards Jr. wins national freshman of the year at Indiana.
  • Modrovich leaves for the NBA, Cummings comes back. Wow. We’re going to have a really interesting team next year if we can nail a few of these available scholarships this offseason.
  • I get offered jobs by Georgetown, Ohio State, and others, but turned them all down. We’re in Macomb through Year 40.
  • We lose an assistant coach, but replace him with someone who has an A+ teaching rating. That should really help our roster develop.
  • My record now stands at 748-164 with six national titles at age 52.

Recruiting

We have four scholarships to fill this year and didn’t land anyone in season. However, we do have a recruit ready to commit on the first day of the spring signing period.

We land three-star center Thom Towe, rated No. 167 overall and No. 5 at his position, once the signing period begins. The other three players we’re chasing still aren’t close to committing.

We lose four-star small forward Kenny Lindsey the next week. We instead decide to extend an offer to three-star power forward Mitch Hunter, a 6’8, 233-pound big out of Atlanta. Hunter commits a couple weeks later. He’s only rated No. 201 overall and No. 34 at his position, but we like his size and think he could be a sleeper.

We land another recruit we’ve been chasing all season later in the signing period: five-star international point guard Dave French out of New Zealand. We’ve had a few standout international recruits through the years, but there also seems to be more volatility even among the five-star guys. We’re taking a chance on French because we like his size at 6’3 and there’s weren’t many better domestic options.

We still have one scholarship left to fill on the last week. I decide to throw a Hail Mary offer at Rashaun Diggs, a 5’10 point guard out of Colorado Springs who was just named Mr. Basketball in-state. Diggs — ranked No. 121 overall and No. 47 at his position — commits on the final day of the signing period. After only bringing in partial classes the last couple years, we have finally filled all four scholarships.

Our incoming class is ranked No. 16 in the country.

Now it’s time to set our schedule for next year. This is what we go with:

Vs. Illinois State, NIT Season Tip-Off Classic, vs. Wichita State, @ Hawaii, @ Marquette, vs. Southern Illinois, @ Arizona State, @ Kentucky, @ Villanova, Golden Bear Classic

Year 28

Here’s a first look at our roster for Year 28.

We move Kent to shooting guard, where he goes up from an 89 to a 91. Martinez will start at the point for us as a redshirt sophomore.

Here’s the ratings on the new freshmen:

  • Diggs is a 75 overall with C- potential
  • Hunter is a 75 overall with C+ potential. He’s also already grown an inch to 6’9.
  • Towe is 74 overall with B+ potential. He’s also already grown an inch to 6’10.
  • French is a 68 overall with B potential. He goes up to a 70 when we move him to shooting guard.

The other big question hanging over this year: should we redshirt Yan as a sophomore?

We’re going to be streaming the regular season in Year 28 on Monday, Nov. 30 at 8:30 p.m. ET on Twitch. Here’s how you can watch.

How to watch Western Illinois Year 28 play-through on Twitch

What: We’ll simulate through Western Illinois season in Year 28 and stream one regular season game. We’ll also recruit for three scholarships.

Where: My Twitch channel

When: Monday, Nov. 30 at 8:30 p.m. ET

See you there. Go ‘Necks.

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