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Western Illinois, Year 28, 2034-2035

The Leathernecks return four starters from last year’s Elite Eight team in our 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 28, here’s a recap of everything that happened last season:

  • The Leathernecks entered Year 27 coming off back-to-back national championships for the first time in program history. While completing the three-peat was the goal, we knew it wasn’t going to be easy after all five starters were selected in the first round of the NBA draft from last year’s team.
  • We opened the year with a good-not-great performance in non-conference play highlighted by an upset of No. 25 Villanova. We then entered Summit League play looking to continue our undefeated streak in conference, but lost two games, falling to Southern Utah and IUPUI respectively. We then sweated out a couple conference tournament games but ended up punching our automatic berth with a win in the championship game. We were given a No. 13 seed entering March Madness.
  • We upset Baylor in round one, beat USC in round two, and defeated Notre Dame in the Sweet 16. Our shocking tournament run ended against George Washington, who beat us and went on to win the national championship.
  • We recruited for four scholarships and landed four players. The class ranked No. 16 in the country.

Here’s a first look at the roster for Year 28:

Last season’s inspired run to the Elite Eight has me thinking this year’s team deserves to have championship aspirations. We only lost one player, but it was big one: true junior shooting guard Neil Modrovich — one of the great outside shooters in program history — left for the NBA as a projected lottery pick. His co-star last year, Nic Cummings, was projected as a first rounder but decided to return for his senior season.

Let’s meet the starting lineup:

  • PG Duncan Martinez, 86 overall, redshirt sophomore: The only new starter in our lineup this year, Martinez is a 6’2 guard who is tied for the best three-point shooter on the team with an 87 rating. He’s more of a scoring guard than the PGs we’ve had in the past. We want to see if he’s able to take care of the ball and hold up defensively, but it’s going to be so nice to have another knockdown shooting threat on the perimeter. Former No. 69 overall recruit from Chicago with C+ potential.
  • SG Goran Kent, 91 overall, redshirt senior: Kent moves from point guard to shooting guard to accomodate Martinez. He has the size for the position at 6’6 and also profiles as a solid perimeter defender. He struggles to shoot the ball from deep, entering the year with a 73 rating from three-point range. Kent earned plenty of criticism from the fanbase last year for finishing with eight turnovers in our Elite Eight loss to GW (worth noting he also had 21 points in the first half), so hopefully he can redeem himself. Projected second round pick from Rochester, MN, former No. 90 overall recruit with C potential.
  • SF Nic Cummings, 95 overall, redshirt senior: Cummings’ decision to return for his senior year gives a chance to win it all this season. We’ve never had a player finish above 96 overall, so it’s possible Cummings ends this season as the highest-rated player in program history. He’s a massive wing at 6’8, 257 pounds who is known for his high-flying dunking ability. His three-point shot has never been his strength, but he’s improved to respectable (77 rating) entering his final year of college ball. Projected top pick, former No. 110 overall recruit from San Jose.
  • PF C.J. Cesar, 89 overall, redshirt junior: Cesar is a converted center who helps us fortify the paint on both ends. The 6’11 big man is our best rebounder, tied for our best shot blocker, and is a dependable inside finisher. He doesn’t provide the shooting we’d ideally like at the four, but his size + tenaciousness inside provides an element most of our opponents can’t match. Projected first round pick, former No. 9 center recruit from Cincinnati with B- potential.
  • C Darron Coulter, 88 overall, redshirt junior: Coulter is the biggest player we’ve ever had standing 7’3. He actually has a surprisingly good face-up jumper with good range, but he’s not a super dynamic athlete. Will that limit him as a rim protector and rebounder? One thing Coulter does have going for him: a team best defensive awareness rating in the low 90s. Projected first round pick, former No. 7 center recruit from Charlotte with C potential.

We’re going to play three guys off the bench all about equal minutes. True sophomore center Elvin King looks like a total stud: a 7’1 big man who scores effortlessly and gives us the athleticism we need on defense. Redshirt sophomore wing Warren Schultz gives us great size (6’9) and is tied with Martinez for the best three-point shooter on the team. We also have 6’4 true sophomore shooting guard Sammy Yan, who is the highest-rated recruit in program history (No. 10 overall) and projects as an elite finisher down the road.

We also welcome four new freshmen to the team, all of whom will redshirt. They are:

  • PG Rashaun Diggs, 75 overall, C- potential: We threw out Hail Mary offer to Diggs on the last week of the recruiting period and he ends up being tied for our highest rated freshman. He’s super tiny (5’10, 159 pounds), he’s a great three-point shooter, and he’s underdeveloped as a passer and ball handler at the moment. Former No. 120 overall recruit.
  • PF Mitch Hunter, 75 overall, C+ potential: Hunter was only rated as the No. 201 overall recruit in his class, but we liked his profile. He’s already grown an inch to 6’9 and should be a really solid five-year power forward for us.
  • C Thom Towe, 74 overall, B+ potential. Towe was the No. 5 overall center recruit this year and should eventually continue our tradition of outstanding big men. He’s already grown an inch to 6’10 and projects as an old school big man.
  • SG Dave French, 70 overall, B potential. French is a five-star international recruit from New Zealand. A natural 6’3 point guard, he went up two points on his overall rating when we switched him to shooting guard. Impressive ball handler and passer with a promising shooting projection. We’re hoping he adds a couple inches of height during his time in school.

Recruiting

We have three scholarships to recruit for this season. We’re thinking Diggs might be best served as a sixth man long-term, so we’re targeting two big wings (as well as a center) on the trail. After scanning the available prospects, we decide to offer the following players:

  • SG Stephan Ibekwe out of Oak Park, IL, No. 36 overall recruit
  • SF R. Guerrero out of Milwaukee, No. 93 overall recruit
  • C Esa Griffin out of Florissant, MO, No. 48 overall recruit and No. 3 center

We also have a recruit to create for the winner of our bracket contest, and it’s a highly anticipated character: 7-foot center Bryant ‘Big Country’ Reeves Jr. As always, we don’t go after created recruits, but will follow their careers.

We enter the season rated as a 97 overall but unranked in the polls.

Regular season

Our schedule this year is all over the map. We scheduled two games vs. in-state teams (Illinois State and Southern Illinois), two early season tournaments (the NIT Tip-Off Classic and Golden Bear Classic), a couple true road games against elite programs (@ Kentucky and @ Villanova), and then put Wichita State, @ Hawaii, Marquette, and Arizona State on there too.

Let’s go!

  • Win vs. Illinois State: Cummings with 24 points, Coulter with 16 points, Kent with 10 points, nine assists, and six rebounds.
  • Win vs. *Missouri: Cummings with 15 points to lead the way. Elvin King had 13 points and six rebounds. Meanwhile Kent is turning into the guard version Bracy as a low-scoring jack of all trades, finishing with 10 points, nine rebounds, eight assists.
  • Win vs. *Rice: 21 points for Cummings, Coulter finishes with 18 points, seven rebounds, five assists and five stocks. Elvin King adds 15 points off the bench.
  • Win vs. Wichita State: Six of our eight players finished in double figures, led by Duncan Martinez’s 19 points.
  • Win vs. Hawaii: Front court doing work: Coulter with 21 points, Cesar with 16 points and 10 rebounds.
  • Win vs. *Ohio State: Win by three! C.J. Cesar led the way with 17 points and six rebounds. Kent: 10 points and seven assists.
  • Win vs. *West Virginia: Win by four! Cesar led the way with 32 points. Only fellow centers Coulter and King (12 points each) also finished in double figures.

We’re 7-0! Unfortunately it wouldn’t last for long: we dropped our next game against Marquette (a heartbreaking three-point loss). We then rebounded with a win over a tough Southern Illinois team, lost to Arizona State, beat Kentucky, and lost to Villanova.

Now it’s time for Summit League season

We entered last season with about a seven-year winning streak in the Summit League only to lose two conference games for the first time since my opening years at Western.

Can we get back to running the table in the Summit?

Nope. A seven-point loss to South Dakota State. Is the Summit League getting better or are we getting worse? Dropping a conference game was more understandable last year when we were replacing all five starters, but this season we have four starters back from an Elite Eight team. I didn’t expect this. It won’t matter as long as we can take care of business in the Summit League tournament, though.

Before we get there, let’s take a look at the end-of-season stats:

Coutler absolutely did work during Summit League season. I guess that’s what happens when you’re 7’3. I’m also impressed with Cummings’ scoring ability (15.5 points per game), and the boost King gave us off the bench (11.9 points per game). This team doesn’t have quite as much shooting as some of our other squads considering we start two traditional bigs in the front court, but Cummings, Martinez, and Schultz off the bench all proved to be snipers.

I’m already thinking about which lineup combination will be best come tournament time, but we have to get there first. Let’s go punch that automatic bid.

Summit League tournament

First game is against Oakland.

Win, 92-62. 19 points for Cesar, 17 points for Cummings, 14 points for King off the pine. Next up is Fort Wayne.

Win, 85-50. Martinez was incredible, finishing with 20 points and eight assists on 8-of-13 shooting. Coulter added 17 points in the win. Now we face Southern Utah in the title game.

Win, 92-63! Blowout, baby. We’re going to the tournament once again. Our front court absolutely did work in that: 30 points for Coutler, 22 points for Cesar, 20 points for Cummings.

Let’s keep that energy going into March. We enter the NCAA tournament at 31-4 on the season.

2035 NCAA tournament

We’re a No. 7 seed, facing No. 10 Michigan. We’re rated as a 100 overall entering the tournament. Michigan is rated as a 91 overall.

Let’s take one final look at our roster before we head into the tournament.

Nic Cummings is now officially the highest rated player in program history. We have had several players who ended their careers rated as a 96 overall, but we’ve never had a player who reached 97 overall. If we’re going to embark on a deep tournament run, Cummings needs to be our biggest star.

We only have an eight man rotation this year, but all eight guys can play. Everyone is rated as an 86 overall or higher, with four of our starters rated in the 90s. We are lowkey loaded. The goal entering the tournament is hang banner No. 7. Anything less will be a disappointment.

First, we need to knock off Michigan. As always, we’re watching a simulated game between the computers. I’m not controlling Western Illinois. Let’s go!

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Win, 97-67. Just a total beatdown from start to finish.

Cummings was excellent, finishing with 28 points on 9-of-16 shooting from the field and 5-of-8 shooting from three. Hopefully that’s a harbinger of things to come. King was also great, finishing with 16 points and 10 rebounds. He looks like our best big man right now. I’m also really enjoying the work Cesar is doing in the paint (14 points, 10 rebounds). He’s the tone setter for this team as another physical presence inside.

Next up we face No. 2 seed Xavier.

No. 7 Western Illinois vs. No. 2 Xavier, round of 32, 2035 NCAA tournament

This is going to be a battle. Xavier is a perennial powerhouse in this sim, and they have what looks like one of their best teams ever.

Both teams enter the game rated as a 100 overall, but Xavier is the rare team with perfect ratings in every category but shooting. While we’re merely a 97 in offense and a 98 in defense, the Musketeers have 100 ratings down the board.

Major nerves for this one. It could easily be our toughest game for the rest of the tournament, and it comes in the second round. Losing here would feel like a disaster. Winning would have me dreaming of another national title.

Let’s go!

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Win. 108-101! Oh my, what a game.

Xavier had us sweating. It was a one-point game with six minutes left when I made some manual subs and found a lineup I think we can rock with the rest of this tournament run: Martinez at point guard, Cummings at the two, Schultz at the three, Cesar at the four, and King at center. That lineup shutdown any hope of a Xavier comeback and pushed us into the Sweet 16.

A couple other things I liked:

  • GORAN KENT getting hot from deep. Kent has been maligned throughout his ‘Necks career, but he’s one of our highest rated players and needs to come through for us in this tournament run. Kent’s biggest shortcoming is that he’s a below average three-point shooter, but he knocked down four big triples in this one. I’m not sure we win this game if he doesn’t get hot from deep.
  • Coulter and King were both so good, combining for 32 points and seven blocks. Just huge, considering that Cesar had a rare off-night.
  • Another superstar performance from Nic Cummings: 25 points, six assists, and three steals on 8-of-11 shooting, including this big dunk:

That sets up a Sweet 16 matchup with Duke.

Western Illinois vs. Duke, Sweet 16, 2035 NCAA tournament

Duke has fallen off a little bit since Coach K retired, but they’re still a solid program. The Blue Devils enter the Sweet 16 rated as a 95 overall.

After a thrilling win over Xavier, we can’t afford a letdown. Let’s go!

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Win, 102-80. Second half team!

Duke was giving us the business throughout the first 20 minutes, taking a three-point lead into the halftime break. We came out on fire in the second half and quickly turned the game into a blowout in our favor.

Cummings is going full Wilky Henry/Jitim Dupree at this point as a senior star who’s having a special March. He popped off for a career-high 38 points powered by 7-of-13 shooting from three-point range. King was also fantastic off the bench once again, finishing with 17 points, nine assists, and five blocks. He’s only a true sophomore, but as the former No. 2 recruit at his position, I think it’s fair to start wondering if he’s one of the best pure talents we’ve ever had at center.

We’re back in the Elite Eight, where we’ll face Indiana.

Western Illinois vs. Indiana, Elite Eight, 2035 NCAA tournament

The Hoosiers have reached the Elite Eight as a No. 5 seed. They’re led by sophomore small forward Bud Richards Jr., who was created by a former bracket contest winner as the son of our first ever recruit at WIU. Indiana enters the game rated as a 98 overall.

We lost in the Elite Eight last year, and can’t let it happen again. Let’s go!

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Win, 117-74! An absolutely dominant performance from start to finish puts us back in the Final Four.

This game was never close. As Bud Jr. battled foul trouble, Cummings got hot on the wing and stockpiled points at all three levels. He finished with 35 points, seven rebounds and five assists in the win, and also had several nasty dunks:

King also put together another star performance, finishing with 20 points, nine rebounds, four assists, and four blocks on 9-of-13 shooting. He’s absolutely in our closing lineup if we find ourselves in a tight Final Four game.

Our opponent in the national semifinal will be Ole Miss.

Western Illinois vs. Ole Miss, Final Four, 2035 NCA tournament

The Rebels are a No. 1 seed and enter the game rated as a 98 overall. Both teams already know Clemson is waiting in the national championship game.

We’re two wins away from our seventh national title. Let’s go!

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Win, 103-75.

This game is barely worthy of a recap: we were up by 22 points at halftime, and the game never got any closer. Goran Kent was terrific and might have rewritten his legacy in real time. The 6’6 senior guard finished with 23 points and six assists to help pace the blowout. He did all of his damage in the first half, and he was hitting from everywhere:

To just blow out a No. 1 seed in the Final Four like that is damn impressive. This team is becoming an all-timer before our eyes.

After we narrowly won a thriller in the round of 32 vs. Xavier, we haven’t really been tested since. Clemons has one last shot to stop this dynasty from rolling forward.

Western Illinois vs. Clemson, national title game, 2035 NCAA tournament

No one expected Clemson to be here. The Tigers enter the national title game as a No. 9 seed, using a small ball attack based on speed and shooting to fuel the run. Clemson doesn’t have a traditional big man on the roster, but this is still a dangerous team. The Tigers are rated as a 99 overall.

Western Illinois has won six national titles through our first 27 seasons. We’re one win away from No. 7. Let’s go!

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Win, 88-80! Western Illinois are national champions of the 2035 NCAA tournament!

Wow, Clemson played us tough. It was only a two-point game with just over 7 minutes left when he went on a run to secure the win. That started with this pretty up-and-under from C.J. Cesar, who might have been the best player on the floor in this one:

Cesar and King each scored 17 points to lead us in scoring in this one. I thought King might be the rare MOP to come off the bench, but instead Cummings won the award. He was absolutely deserving.

This team won the title by dominating near the basket. Coulter is the tallest player we’ve ever had at 7’3, Cesar was able to overpower opposing fours at both ends with his strength, and King looks like a future NBA stud. Cummings also absolutely lived up to the billing as the highest rated player in program history at 97 overall. He was the driving force behind so many of our tournament runs, and also gave us more highlight dunks than anyone we’ve ever had before. Our guards did enough not to mess it up, which is actually quite the compliment. Kent was being compared to the worst players in program history, but he proved himself in this run. Martinez should still have a bright future, and the same can be said for Schultz and Yan off the bench.

Number seven! This one is for you, ‘Necks Nation.

The goal for this series to win end our career with the most national championships in college basketball history. Only John Wooden, with 10 titles, is standing between us and history. The game forces mandatory retirement after Year 40. There’s more work to be done.

That’s now three national titles in four years. Kent and Cummings are the only players graduating. Cesar and Coulter are both projected first round picks as juniors, so we’ll see what they do. We also have three scholarships still to recruit for. Let’s go to the offseason.

Offseason

  • Reader Tim wins the bracket contest. He’s creating Deke Van Jr. ahead of next season. Can’t wait.
  • Cesar and Coulter both decide to come back! Cummings gets drafted (he was a projected top pick), and Kent goes undrafted.
  • We lose an assistant coach and replace with a coach who is a B+ in teaching. That means our player development could take a small hit.
  • We turn down every job offer once again. Leathernecks 4 Life.

Recruiting

We enter the spring recruiting period with three available scholarships and a ways to go on the players we’re chasing. We land our first recruit a couple weeks into the period when No. 9 center Vinnie Harmon commits to the ‘Necks.

Two weeks later, we land our next target: 6’5 small forward Spanky Fanning. Yes, that’s his real name. Fanning is rated as the No. 92 overall prospect in the country.

We were recruiting five-star international shooting guard Josh Samuel out of Nigeria with our last scholarship. We got him up to 99 percent interest, but he didn’t commit. That one stings.

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

vs. Southern Illinois, vs. Illinois, @ DePaul, @ Oregon State, @ Stanford, @ Arizona, @ UCLA, @ Oregon, @ Washington State

Heavy on the Pac-10 with some local matchups to start the season.

Year 29

Here’s a first look at our roster for Year 29:

Fanning and Harmon are each rated as a 74 overall with B- potential. They will both redshirt.

We’re going to stream the regular season + the first two NCAA tournament games in Year 29 on Sunday, Dec. 13 at 8:30 p.m. ET on Twitch. Here’s how you can watch:

How to watch Western Illinois Year 29 play-through on Twitch

What: We’ll simulate through Western Illinois’ regular season and first two tournament games if we get that far in Year 29. We’ll also recruit for three scholarships.

Where: My Twitch channel

When: Sunday, Dec. 13 at 8:00 p.m. ET

See you there. Go ‘Necks.