Western Illinois plays a wild Final Four game in our College 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 29, here’s a recap of everything that happened last season:

  • The Leathernecks returned four starters from an Elite Eight team the previous year. We were unranked in the preseason polls but started the new campaign rated as a 97 overall.
  • We had an impressive non-conference season, but lost another game during Summit League play, our third conference loss in the last two years after a long undefeated streak. After winning the conference tournament, we were given a No. 7 seed heading into March Madness.
  • We beat Michigan in the first round, defeated Xavier in the second round, beat Duke in the Sweet 16, defeated Indiana in the Elite Eight, beat Ole Miss in the Final Four, and took out Clemson in the national championship game to win our seventh national championship in program history.
  • We recruited for three scholarships and landed two players: No. 9 center prospect Vinnie Harmon and No. 92 overall small forward Spanky Fanning.

Here’s a look at our roster as we begin Year 29:

We only lost two players from our last year’s national championship team: superstar small forward Nic Cummings (the highest rated player in program history at 97 overall) and guard Goran Kent. Everyone else is back. While our stacked front court should again serve as the foundation of the team, I’m also excited to see what our new tandem of starting wings can do.

Let’s meet the starters:

  • PG Duncan Martinez, 89 overall, redshirt junior: Martinez is the highest-rated three-point shooter in program history, entering the season with a 92 rating from behind the arc. He’s not the most polished ball handler or passer, but it sure feels nice knowing we have a knockdown shooter on the perimeter. He had a solid but unspectacular debut as a starter last season, but we feel like he could be in a for a big year as a junior. Former No. 69 overall recruit out of Chicago with C potential.
  • SG Sammy Yan, 89 overall, true junior: Yan is the highest rated recruit in program history as the former No. 10 prospect in his class, but he’s been decidedly average in his first two years coming off the bench. Let’s see if he’s more comfortable in the starting lineup. Yan is an elite finisher, a mediocre three-point shooter, a great defensive rebounder, and a solid ball handler and passer. He’ll have to prove himself come tournament time. Bay Area native with B- potential.
  • SF Warren Schultz, 88 overall, redshirt junior: I’m super excited about Schultz finally getting an opportunity to be a starter as a junior. Coming off a strong tournament run as a reserve, Schultz gives us a 6’9 wing with elite shooting ability (89 three-point rating). He’s also one of the best dunkers we’ve ever had with a 95 rating. Former No. 107 overall recruit from Jacksonville with C potential.
  • PF C.J. Cesar, 93 overall, redshirt senior: Cesar dominated the paint on both ends of the floor during our run to the national championship last season. A converted center, Cesar doesn’t give us much shooting at the four but he’s as reliable as they came as a rebounder, interior scorer, and shot blocker. He can out-muscle pretty much any opponent with a 95 rating in strength. Former No. 9 center recruit out of Cincinnati with B- potential. Projected lottery pick pick.
  • C Elvin King, 90 overall, true junior: Both King and senior Daron Coulter are starting the year at 90 overall, which is a great problem to have. We’re going with King as the starter for two reasons: a) he has a higher potential rating (B grade) and will likely end the season as the superior player, b) Coulter has greater positional versatility because of his impressive outside shooting, which makes him more valuable off the bench. King was the former No. 2 center recruit in the country and was super impressive in last year’s tournament run. Feels like he could be an all-timer with a big season. Projected top pick in the draft.

We’re bringing the 7’3 Coulter off the bench as sixth man, where he’ll be flanked by three redshirt freshmen: power forward Mitch Hunter, Kiwi shooting guard Dave French, and 5’10 point guard Rashaun Diggs. Center Thom Towe, who might be the most impressive redshirt freshman of the bunch, will only play mop up duty on the bench just because we already have so much front court depth.

We are also redshirting both of our true freshmen. Center Vinnie Harmon and small forward Spanky Fanning — yes, that’s his real name — are each rated as a 74 overall with B- potential.

Recruiting

We have three scholarships to recruit for this season. We want two guards and a power forward. We decide to offer the following players:

  • SG Rodrigo Milton, No. 42 overall and No. 13 at his position
  • PG Deon Bro, No. 39 overall and No. 19 at his position
  • PF Kody Douby, No. 56 overall and No. 3 at his position

Are we swinging for the fences a little bit? Yeah, but if we land even one of them it should be a dope class because there are some quality backup options on the board.

We also have a character to create from the winner of our bracket contest, reader Tim. Here’s what he hit me with:

Ay yo Coach, long time reader, first time Bracket Challenge Winner.

This game loves bigs, and the world needs DEKE VAN JR. now more than ever.

How about 7’ tall to honor our 7th Title? A Center like his father. And his father’s father (probably).

Seattle, WA after his pops lead the new SuperSonics to a few titles.

Those who have been following the series since the beginning will remember Deke Van as the senior leader on our first ever national title team in Year 8. This is everything I ever wanted out of a created character.

We’re ranked No. 10 in the preseason polls to begin the new year. Let’s go!

Regular season

This ended up as our strongest regular season in a long time. We stayed in the top-25 for the majority of the year and only had three losses before conference play. We lost a rivalry game to Illinois, fell to a Stanford team that was ranked No. 3 in the polls at the time, and lost to unranked Arizona.

Other than that, we cleaned up. Our best wins were beating No. 4 UCLA and winning a rivalry game against DePaul. If we can go undefeated in Summit season again and win the conference tournament, we’re likely going to get a great seed.

Summit League play

Can we go 18-0 in league play? Yes we can.

Along the way, I pick up career win No. 800. That earns us our first coaching point in like 15 years. We’re entering the Summit League tournament at 24-3 overall, ranked No. 23 in the polls. Can we add three more wins in the Summit League tournament to lock in the automatic bid?

Yes we can. We’re going to the NCAA tournament once again at 27-3 overall. Outstanding year so far. Before we sim to Selection Sunday, let’s check out the end of season stats:

The decision to start King could not have gone any better. He joins an elite group of ‘Necks to have 20 points per game, and he did it in only his third year on campus. As far as pure talents go, he’s clearly the best on the team and might be one of our best ever. I also love how Coulter gravitated towards his sixth man role to finish second on the team in scoring. I really thought Schultz and Martinez would level up this year, which didn’t really happen.

Good thing we all know legends are made in March.

How did recruiting go?

We targeted three top-60 prospects during the in-season recruiting period. Guess what? We didn’t land any of them. Fortunately, we are poised to land one prospect on the first day of the spring signing period:

  • SG 6’5 Scott Doornekamp, No. 111 overall and No. 22 at his position

We also have offers out to 6’5 point guard Randolph Pompey (rated No. 138 overall) and 6’7 power forward Ernesto Mack (No. 104 overall, No. 8 at his position). We’ll have to outlast high-major programs to get either of them after this season ends.

We also have some news on our created recruit for the year, Deke Van Jr.

The Deke legacy continues at South Florida. We’re super excited to see how he develops. As always, we create a recruit every year for the winner of the bracket contest, but don’t offer them at Western Illinois to maintain the integrity of the sim.

Time for Selection Sunday. What seed will we end up with?

2036 NCAA tournament

We enter the tournament as a No. 7 seed. Our opponent in the first round is No. 10 Arizona State. The Sun Devils are rated as a 94 overall. We’re rated as a 100 overall.

Here’s a look at our roster heading into the tournament:

This team is going to have to win in the front court. King, Cesar, and Coulter are all true centers with elite size/strength combinations that should be a matchup nightmare for whoever we play. I’d love to see Yan finally live up to his recruiting ranking. This is also a huge opportunity for Schultz and Martinez to join the pantheon of the great Leathernecks at their position.

The start of our tournament run is here. As a reminder, we’re watching a simulated game — I’m not controlling the Leathernecks.

Let’s go!

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Win, 97-70. Blew ‘em out to start the second half and it was a wrap from there.

Really promising start to this tournament run from Schultz. We love a big wing who can shoot and Schultz — at 6’9, 228 pounds — certainly fits the bill. He’s a pure shooter who has all the tools to go on a Wilky Henry-like run through March.

I also like what Rashaun Diggs showed on the bench. He’s so tiny at 5’10 and like 160 pounds, but he’s tracking to be one of the better shooters we’ve had. Good to see him knock down a couple triples.

The win sets up a matchup with No. 2 seed BYU in the round of 32

BYU is rated as a 94 overall. This is a talented roster that could give us some trouble.

A Sweet 16 berth is on the line. Let’s go!

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Win, 84-77! We’re going to the Sweet 16!

Oh my, that was close. BYU had the lead with under seven minutes left in the second half when I decided to make some manual subs. We went with the jumbo package: King at center, Cesar at the four, and 7’3 marksman Daron Coulter at small forward. It paid off in a big way:

Coulter added another bucket late to finish with 11 points. King added 17 points and 13 rebounds for good measure. Our front court is coming to play right now. I also love what I saw out of our redshirt junior point guard Duncan Martinez, who finished with 17 points, seven assists, and four steals. He’s more of a bucket getter than a pure point, but we’ll take all the buckets we can get right now.

The win sets up a matchup with Seton Hall in the Sweet 16

We’re in the Sweet 16. Can this charmed tournament run continue?

Win, 118-78! We ran them off the floor from the opening tip. We had a 23 point lead going into halftime and kept running up the score from there.

We’re onto the Elite Eight!

The win sets up a game against Xavier in the Elite Eight

Xavier has been a powerhouse throughout this sim. We’ve seen them so many times in big games. Add another one to the list.

Final Four trip on the line. Let’s go!

Win, 105-92. Now back in the Final Four!

Great balance throughout the starting lineup in this one. The redshirt juniors Martinez and Schultz carried us from the perimeter, each scoring 21 points. How about the redshirt freshmen Mitch Hunter (6’9 power forward) and Dave French (6’4 two guard) each hitting double-figures in scoring off the bench? We were in control pretty much the entire way.

I never thought we’d be back on college basketball’s biggest stage after losing a superstar like Nic Cummings to graduation, but here we are.

Western Illinois vs. West Virginia, Final Four, 2036 NCAA tournament

The Mountaineers are rated as a 99 overall. They’re the highest rated team we’ve faced on this tournament run so far. WVU is a No. 2 seed, we’re a No. 7 seed.

National championship No. 8 is within sight, but we need a win this game to have a chance at it. Let’s go!

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Loss, 112-110 in overtime. I think that’s the wildest game in program history.

We were down 10 points with 10 minutes left. We were down 16 points with just over six minutes left. We were down 20 with 3:45 left! That’s when we turned up the defensive pressure and started getting steal after steal to stake our comeback.

Things started getting real weird once the clock ticked under two minutes. Just watch this sequence:

Halfcourt alley-oop and-one followed immediately by a steal for a bucket? I was shaking. We still had some work to do to send this one to overtime.

It happened on the weirdest play possible.

“WHAT!!!!!!” — me watching that live. Holy cow, still can’t believe that happened.

West Virginia would miss a shot at the end of regulation and we headed to OT. After an ending like that, we have to win, right? Obviously not. WVU cut through our defense like it wasn’t even there, and we couldn’t hit enough shots to keep up.

What a game, and what a way to lose. 20-point comeback in three and half minutes and we still drop it in overtime. Ugh.

The dream of another national title is deferred to next year. Let’s get to the offseason.

Offseason

  • West Virginia wins the national championship over Wisconsin
  • Elvin King wins conference player of the year
  • King leaves for the draft as a true junior. He’s the third player in program history to stay only three years. Coulter and Cesar also got drafted. Our front court is going to look totally different next year.
  • We put our coaching point into discipline, which is now a B+. Just please don’t call me Ricky Discipline.
  • We lose an assistant coach, and replace him with someone with an A teaching rating, B scouting rating, and C ratings in offense and defense.
  • I get offered a bunch of jobs at bigger schools and turn them down.

Recruiting

Doornekamp commits on day one. He didn’t play AAU so we don’t have much data on him, but he’s a 6’5 shooting guard ranked No. 111 overall. I’m thinking he’ll be able to play both wing spots and (hopefully) give us more shooting true freshman Spanky Fanning provides.

Two more scholarships left to recruit for. We’ve had offers out to Ernesto Mack and Randolph Pompey. We end up landing them both:

Pompey (No. 134 overall) enters the program as a 6’5 point guard, but should have the size to play all three perimeter positions if he grows another inch or two while he’s in school. I’m also hoping for a growth spurt out of the 6’7 Mack (No. 104 overall), who showed nice shot-blocking ability and is ranked No. 8 at his position.

Solid three-man class. Probably not a superstar in the mix, but each should be a foundational piece for us moving forward.

Now it’s time to set our schedule for next year.

This is what we’re going with:

Vs. Northwestern, @ Notre Dame, @ DePaul, Great Alaskan Shootout, vs. Valpo, vs. UIC, @ Washington State, @ South Florida, @ Marquette

Year 30

Here’s a first look at our roster:

One thing you’ll notice about this roster: we swapped the position of our guards. Martinez is moving from point to shooting guard, where he goes up two points to 96 overall. The program record for overall rating is Nic Cummings at 97 overall — will D-Mart match it or surpass in-season? We’re moving Yan to the point in his place because we think it’s a better fit for his skillset despite lowering his overall rating two points. Yan is a really solid ball handler and passer, and has never been a takeover scorer. We’re thinking Martinez will get more scoring opportunities on the wing.

Here’s where our true freshmen came in:

  • SG Scott Doorenkamp: 77 overall with C+ potential
  • PF Ernesto Mack, 76 overall with C potential
  • PG Randolph Pompey, 76 overall with D potential

All three players have already grown an inch. Doornekamp and Pompey are now 6’6 while Mack is 6’8.

The next stream will be Monday, Jan. 11 at 8 p.m. ET on Twitch. For email updates to this series, subscribe here.



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