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Western Illinois’ Final Four run in Year 20, continued

The epic conclusion of Western Illinois’ Cinderella run to the Final Four as a No. 12 seed in College Hoops 2K8.

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, I simulate every game in this series (even the ones we watch on Twitch) and only handle the recruiting and coaching strategies.

We pick up with Western Illinois in the Final Four of the 2027 NCAA tournament. Here’s a recap of everything that has happened so far this season:

  • Western Illinois entered the season seeking redemption after losing to Cal in the first round of the NCAA tournament last year. We began the new season rated as a 96 overall with three new starters. We went 3-6 against a difficult non-conference schedule before sweeping the Summit League and again capturing the conference tournament championship. We enter the NCAA tournament at 24-6 overall.
  • We earned a No. 12 seed in the NCAA tournament. We defeated No. 5 seed Minnesota, 89-72, in the first round. We beat No. 4 seed Ole Miss, 116-85, in the round of 32 as senior wing Wilky Henry set a program record with 46 points. We defeated No. 1 seed Dayton, 109-82, in the Sweet 16, and then we beat No. 2 seed Indiana in the Elite Eight, 105-69. You can read a full recap of our road to the Final Four here.
  • We recruited for one scholarship and are poised to land five-star JUCO shooting guard Edwin Wolfe after the season.

Read: Western Illinois, Year 20, 2026-2027

Read: Western Illinois’ NCAA tournament run in Year 20, continued


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

It seems like just yesterday I was a fresh-faced 25-year-old taking over arguably the worst program in college basketball. Now in my 20th season, our Leathernecks are making their fourth Final Four appearance and looking for their third national championship.

Our opponent in the Final Four is No. 2 seed Pepperdine. The Wave enter the game at 34-2 on the season. You can find their roster here. We’re rated as a 99 overall, they’re rated as a 94 overall. Here’s how the two teams stack up:

I could feel the heat when we started this tournament run. The program came maddeningly close to breaking through in Year 16, Year 17, and Year 18, which each ended with a loss in the Elite Eight. The first round exit last season only made matters worse. Part of me always felt like this would be the year before the year given that three of our top players are juniors. At least that’s what I was telling myself when we were under-seeded yet again by the committee and given a difficult opening round matchup vs. talented Minnesota team in the 5-12 game.

I was expecting an all-out battle with the Golden Gophers, and we got it — for the first 20 minutes. Second half team has become a rallying cry for our Leathernecks on the Twitch streams, and we pulled away after halftime again. From then on, it’s been nothing but blowouts.

  • Round of 32 vs. Ole Miss: This was The Wilky Henry Game. Our senior small forward set a program record with 46 points on 10-of-16 shooting from three-point range.
  • Sweet 16 vs. Dayton: The Flyers were the top-seed in our region, but we turned the game into a beatdown by halftime. Junior point guard Tron Whaley led the way with 21 points even as he sat on the bench the entire second half.
  • Elite Eight vs. Indiana: Just a 36-point victory to punch our ticket to the Final Four, no biggie.

We were winning by an average of 27.75 points per game on our road to the Final Four. We have never approached anything like this before, not even during our two other national championship seasons. This team was firing on all cylinders, but it didn’t mean a thing without the ring.

This team just has so many weapons. Junior power forward Allan Cunningham — 6’11, 290 pounds — is an absolute monster on the interior and has soft touch out to three-point range on his jump shot. He feels like the best four in program history. Wilky Henry is everything we want out of a wing — big, athletic, always ready to fire from three. Tron Whaley has given us a point guard who can take care of the ball and stretch the floor. Mathew Alloway has a super bright future and has held his own as a freshman starter. Pat Giddens is comically large and is finally starting to play up to his rating.

I am very confident entering the Pepperdine game. I am nervous about the potential national championship game matchup against the winner of Villanova vs. Maryland. As we simulated into Final Four weekend, Tron Whaley goes up one point to 90 overall, and Alloway goes up one point 86 overall. That has to be a good sign.

We streamed this game on Twitch on Sunday night. As always, I’m not controlling Western Illinois; we’re watching a simulated game played by the computer. I’m not playing any of the games in this series, I only do the recruiting and set the coaching strategies. The game will start when you press play.

FINAL FOUR, LET’S GO!

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Win, 93-70. We’re going to the national championship game!

No star performance this time around — the whole team balled out. Again, we blew this game open in the second half. The most impressive thing is we didn’t even have a particularly good shooting night, only hitting 26 percent of our shots from behind the arc. It didn’t matter because we dominated the glass and made so many big plays defensively — 20 combined stocks (steals + blocks), many of them leading directly to offense going the other way.

Honestly, I thought our center Pat Giddens was the player of the game. Giddens has been heavily criticized by the fanbase throughout the year despite being a projected lottery pick and the highest rated junior in the NCAA tournament at 94 overall. While Giddens has been knocked for being unpolished as a scorer and a little underwhelming as a rim protector, he put it all together vs. Pepperdine. He made some sweet moves offensively and anchored the defense with six blocks. I know the fan who wrote “The Case for Pat Giddens” on our Subreddit had to be thrilled.

There really isn’t too much else to say about this one. We were clearly the better team at both ends of the floor. Here are some clips from reader Abby, starting with my favorite play of the night: this monster dunk from backup freshman center Kevin Brazzle:

Great ball movement leading to the Wilky Henry three:

Brazzle with the block, Wilky Henry with the powerful two-handed slam. This is when the flood gates really started to open:

One win away from title No. 3.

Our opponent in the national championship game is No. 5 seed Villanova, who defeated Maryland in the other Final Four game.

No. 12 seed Western Illinois vs. No. 5 seed Villanova, national championship game, 2027 NCAA tournament

Villanova was the team we didn’t want to see. The Wildcats have been about as good in our simulation as they’ve been in real life lately, which is to say: really damn good. Nova is the rare team with the size up front to compete with Ham and Giddens. They have dynamic guards too who will be a threat out past the three-point line.

Nova enters the game rated as a 100 overall, one point higher than us. Here’s a full look at the Villanova roster:

This is going to be our toughest test of the tournament. It’s been five games and five blowout victories so far. Something tells me that’s not going to happen again against Villanova.

We streamed this game on Twitch on Sunday night. We had more than 1,700 people watch at least part of the stream and we hit 500+ concurrent viewers at one point. The game will tip off when you click play, but you should click through and watch it on Twitch’s interface to read all of the comments. Thank you everyone who came out. New fans are very much welcomed and appreciated.

One win away from a national title. LET’S GO!

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Win, 97-67! THE WESTERN ILLINOIS LEATHERNECKS ARE NATIONAL CHAMPIONS FOR THE THIRD TIME IN PROGRAM HISTORY.

Just pure dominance, man. I can’t believe we just 30-pieced Villanova in the title game. This team just completed a six-game NCAA tournament run where they won by an average of 27.3 points per game.

And we’re the lowest-seeded team to ever win the NCAA tournament, breaking our own record back in Year 8. Not bad for a No. 12 seed.

Our best players carried us in this one. What more can we say about Wilky Henry? The man is a legend. He finished the title game with 30 points on 13-of-19 shooting to complete arguably the most brilliant individual tournament run in program history. Allen Cunningham was every bit as good. He finished with 21 points, 13 rebounds, and six assists, and was named Most Outstanding Player of the tournament.

Ham turned the game with 17 minutes left. We were only up five when he unleashed this poster dunk for the and-one.

It was pretty much curtains for Nova from there. We have had some great teams at Western Illinois in my 20 seasons as head coach, but this feels like our most complete group ever. We had size, we had shooting, we had depth. At no point did I ever think we were going to lose. What a team.

Here are a few clips from the title game, starting with this three + stare-down (!) from Silky Wilky:

Ham from NBA range!

Wilbur Ager with the MJ shrug:

Legends, all of them.

Western Illinois became America’s team with an unlikely run to the national championship in Year 8, or 2015. Our second title in Year 13, or 2020, solidified the fact that this program is for real. Now our third title in 2027? Well, that just proves we’re one of the greatest college basketball programs of all-time.

This one’s for you, Neck Nation. There’s only one thing left to do at this point: enjoy this “One Shining Moment”.

Please check out our beat writer Matthew Morrow on what this third title means the fanbase and the legacy of head coach Ricky Charisma. To whoever edited the Wikipedia page for the most national championships by one head coach in college basketball history ... thank you.

The game gives you 40 seasons before it forces you to retire, and I plan on playing it out. I’m coming for you, Coach K.

National champs, baby. Let’s hang the banner!

The scary thing? We could be just as good next year if Giddens and Ham decide to bypass the NBA draft to return for their senior seasons. Let’s go to the offseason — just skip to the end of the title game to watch me play through it on Twitch.

Offseason

  • Your 2027 national champions: the Western Illinois Leathernecks. 12-seed. Soak it in.
  • Wilky Henry gets selected in the NBA draft. One of the all-time greats
  • GIDDENS AND CUNNINGHAM ARE COMING BACK. Oh my. I thought we were for sure losing one of them. Year 21 is about to be lit.
  • We lose an assistant coach. I love seeing our guys get head coaching jobs. I think we found a pretty good replacement: 72-year-old Leighton Merriex, who has an A+ rating in teaching and a B+ rating in scouting. Welcome to the staff.
  • We only had one scholarship to recruit for this season, and we’re been chasing the same player all year. He signs on the first day of spring recruiting: five-star JUCO shooting guard Edwin Wolfe out of Federal Way, Washington. We’re excited to add to him to the program. We’ve had a few stellar JUCO players through the years and we’re hoping he can be next.

Now it’s time to set our schedule for Year 21. Here’s what I came up with:

@ Dayton, Maui Invitational, @ LSU, @ Louisville, @ Charlotte, vs. Illinois, @ Kansas, @ Florida.

Year 21 is going to be a ton of fun. In addition to having a team that can repeat as national champs, we also have four scholarships to recruit for. We need to make sure our present is as bright as our future.

Year 21

Here’s a first look at our roster for Year 21:

We start the year at No. 18 in preseason polls. How are we not No. 1???? The disrespect never ends.

Unfortunately, Wolfe came in lower than we were hoping: he’s a 70 overall with C+ potential. He’ll redshirt. Either way, we’re totally stacked next year. We’re going to stream the regular season in Year 21 on Friday, Aug. 28 at 8:30 p.m. ET on Twitch. Please join us.

Western Illinois, Year 21, 2027-2028 regular season stream

Game: Western Illinois Year 21 regular season stream. We’ll watch one regular season game, recruit for four scholarships, and sim to the NCAA tournament.

How to watch: My Twitch channel

Date: Friday, August 28

Tip-off time: 8:30 p.m. ET // 7:30 p.m. CT.

I hope to see you there.

NATIONAL CHAMPS! Go ‘Necks.