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 start Year 21 of Coach Rick’s tenure at Western Illinois, here’s a recap of everything that has happened so far last season:
- Western Illinois entered the season seeking redemption after losing to Cal in the first round of the NCAA tournament the previous year. We struggled against a difficult non-conference schedule before sweeping the Summit League and again capturing the conference tournament championship. We entered 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 defeated No. 2 seed Pepperdine, 93-70, in the Final Four. We then beat No. 5 seed Villanova, 97-67, to win the national championship. Read a full recap of our Final Four performance + the offseason here.
- We recruited for one scholarship and landed five-star JUCO shooting guard Edwin Wolfe after the season.
It’s our third national championship since I arrived at Western Illinois. Hang the damn banner!
Absolutely historic, hilariously dominant run for our ‘Necks, winning by an average of 27.3 points per game during our six-game sweep of the tournament. Did I mention that we were a No. 12 seed? We’re the lowest-seeded team ever to win the national championship — breaking our own record as a No. 10 seed in 2015 — and we did it with easily the largest margin of victory for any national champion ever.
When I took over at Western Illinois as a fresh 25-year-old head coach, I knew the school (read: the game) had a mandatory retirement policy after 40 years. We have now crossed the halfway point of the dynasty. A few numbers to contextualize our accomplishments here so far:
- Overall record: 531-126
- Summit League regular season championships: 18
- Summit League tournament championships: 15
- NCAA tournament appearances: 17
- Sweet 16 appearances: 8
- Final Four appearances: 4
- NCAA tournament record: 36-14
And three ‘ships. The goal is turn the worst college basketball program ever into the best college basketball program ever. We’re coming for you, Coach K.
The best news? We return four starters from last season. While our stud small forward Wilky Henry is off to the NBA, everyone else is coming back, including iconic power forward Allan Cunningham. In the previous two times we won a national championship, we lost in the first round the very next year. We can’t let that happen again this season.
We’re running it back.
Here’s a first look at our roster heading into Year 21.
Back-to-back national championships is one thing we yet to accomplish during our time at Western Illinois. We want national title No. 4 and we have the team to do it.
Let’s meet the starters. If you click the link on their name it will reveal their full attributes.
- PG Tron Whaley, redshirt senior, 90 overall: Whaley is everything we want out of a point guard. He has great size at 6’4, he’s the team’s best three-point shooter with an 87 rating from behind the arc, and he’s been less turnover prone than some of our lead guards in the past. He also has a sick name. Tron famously scored 21 points in the first half of our Sweet 16 win over No. 1 Dayton last season before leading us to a national title. He already feels like a top-three point guard in program history, but another title could have him going down as the best to ever play the position for the ‘Necks. Former No. 128 overall recruit with C+ potential.
- SG Mathew Alloway, redshirt sophomore, 87 overall: Alloway was a rare freshman starter for the Leathernecks last season and provided a steady scoring presence on the perimeter. He’s grown an inch to 6’7 over the offseason and projects as a burgeoning two-way force at shooting guard. Alloway has improved to an 81 rating in three-point shooting with promising defensive playmaking ability. He still needs to work on his awareness at both ends. The former Mr. Basketball out of Minnesota was once the No. 31 overall recruit and has B- potential.
- SF Wilbur Ager, redshirt junior, 91 overall: Ager is our only new starter, and he has big shoes to fill at small forward after Wilky Henry’s legendary NCAA tournament run last season. A 6’7 wing, Ager is a bit shaky as a three-point shooter (75 rating), but has a well-rounded skill set and no glaring weaknesses in his game. Former No. 110 overall recruit out of Chicago with C+ potential.
- PF Allan Cunningham, redshirt senior, 92 overall: Cunningham has a chance to go down as the greatest player in program history as he enters his senior season. The 6’11, 292-pound power forward is a consistent scorer with a damn near unstoppable skill set. Ham uses his massive size advantages to bully opposing fours down low, but also can step out and rip three-pointers. He has proven time and time again that he is one of the most dependable players we’ve ever had during streams. We can’t wait to see how he closes out his legendary career. Former No. 67 overall recruit and projected top pick in the NBA draft.
- C Pat Giddens, redshirt senior, 94 overall: It’s shocking to see Giddens return for his senior season after being projected as a lottery pick last season. Giddens starts the year as the second highest rated player in America. While he struggled to live up to his lofty overall rating for much of his career, Giddens proved his worth anchoring our title run in the middle last year. Giddens’ lack of height (6’9) could still be a problem against the wrong matchup, but he is hilariously large at nearly 300 pounds. Last year’s tournament run should silence any lingering questions about his game.
We’re going to be playing five guys off the bench for a 10-man rotation. Sophomore center Kevin Brazzle will be our sixth man as a 7’2 big man already projected as a first round pick by NBA scouts. He’ll be joined in the front court by fellow sophomore L.F. Neal, a 6’10, 201 pound string bean who flies all over the court whenever he’s in the game. 6’10 wing Jitim Dupre will get minutes at small forward as a freshman, while legendary recruiting bust Vitor Andrisevic gets a handful of minutes at the two in his senior year, and sophomore Jamie Burke runs backup point.
We also welcome one new recruit this year, five-star JUCO shooting guard Edwin Wolfe from Federal Way, Washington. Wolfe comes in as a 70 overall with C+ potential, which is for sure disappointing. He’ll redshirt.
This isn’t just a huge season because we’re trying to repeat as national champions — we also have four scholarships to recruit for to ensure the future of the program is as bright as the present. Power forward is the biggest position of need, because we have four players who will be redshirt sophomores next year with a hole at the four. I considered going after a five-star JUCO power forward, but ultimately think it’s most important to focus on getting good guards.
After surveying the available options, I decide to use my early visits on the following players:
- PG Alexis Willingham out of Chicago, No. 68 overall and No. 28 at his position
- SG Jeromy Perry out of Atlanta, No 55 overall and No. 16 at his position
I also offer center Dick Copeland, ranked No. 113 overall and No. 2 at his position, and power forward J.J. Bracy, ranked No. 24 overall and No. 2 at his position, on first day we’re allowed to extend scholarships.
We also have a player to create for the winner of last year’s bracket challenge: reader Gavin. His created player requires a little explanation because it’s a reference to one of the most infamous moments in the history of our Twitch stream. A few years back, we lost an assistant coach during the offseason. As I went to hire someone new, the Twitch chat was going wild telling me to hire a man named Rudolpho Butt. I hired a different coach instead, and the chat turned on me quick. It remains a running joke to this day. The created player reader Gavin created is choosing to make? 6’11 power forward Rudolpho Butt Jr. As a reminder, we don’t go after the players we recruit to preserve the integrity of the game, but we’ll follow Butt Jr. throughout his career.
It’s time to begin the regular season. We start the year rated as a 99 overall. Let’s run it back.
First game: @ Dayton
It seems like only yesterday we were creating Matt Boswell as the winner of our first ever bracket contest. Now he’s a senior power forward at Dayton and one of the best players in America. Can’t believe it’s been four years! While many are saying Boswell’s reputation took a hit after he predicted he would be ‘dropping 28’ on Giddens in the Sweet 16 last year only to get completely demolished, we still respect what he’s accomplished during his college career. Now let’s send him out as a loser.
Loss, 89-81. Man, not how we wanted to open the year. We just fell apart in the second half offensively. Giddens had a nice night scoring the ball, but he also gave up 28 points to Dayton’s starting center. Boswell had 11 points as he was limited to 18 minutes because of foul trouble. More troubling: our shooting. It’s going to be tough to win any game when you only hit four three-pointers. Henry was our most prolific shooter last season so we’ll have to prove we can still rain threes without him.
Next we’re in the Hawaii Invitational tournament aka We Couldn’t Get the Rights To Call It The Maui. Win a championship and we take you to Hawaii, those are the rules. Our first game is against Harvard.
Win, 91-65. Ham going ham with 22 points, 10 rebounds, and three blocks on 11-of-13 shooting at the foul line. Love to see Tron with nine dimes to one turnover.
Next up, we face Michigan State, who is unranked but enters at 4-0 on the season.
Win, 101-82. GIDDENS, what a game. A cool 25 points, seven rebounds, and four stocks. Big is beautiful. Nice to see Ager consistently force his way to the line and give us some scoring on the wing. Bench brought it, too. Now we’re in the title game of the tournament against No. 21 Alabama.
We streamed the simulated game on Twitch. It should tip off when you press play.
Maui Hawaii Invitational champs! This felt very similar to our streams last season, when we turned every game into a blow out shortly after halftime and it never felt like there was any chance we were going to lose. We had six scorers in double-figures, and I was really impressed with Ager and Giddens in particular. Our Stream Team just keeps whooping ass. Let’s keep that energy going.
As we sim to the next week, I see that my shooting guard recruit Perry gets an offer from Troy that he likes better than ours. Bummer, but that means I can start visiting Bracy, who still doesn’t have any other offers and already has significant interest in our Leathernecks. Landing Bracy would be huge because he would get us two coaching points that have alluded us for the first 20 seasons: a) landing a five-star recruit in season, and b) signing an All-American. He’d also be the highest-rated recruit in program history. Here’s hoping. I also offer a scholarship to Skip Clemmons, a 6’6 shooting guard ranked No. 38 overall, to replace Perry.
Next up we have No. 17 LSU. The Tigers have quietly been a consistent winner in this simulation and might have their best team yet this season. This will be a big test.
Loss, 96-60. Woof. LSU just blew the doors off us from the opening tip. What an awful shooting night outside of Ham. That’s why he’s an icon. I’m hoping this is an instance of us being a better stream team than a sim team.
Next we have Louisville. The Cards beat us in a regular season game that we streamed last season and entered the NCAA tournament as a No. 1 seed. It seems like they’ve lost a lot of talent off that team and enter this game at 3-1 on the year.
Loss, 75-73. Man, that’s a tough one. Giddens was excellent, everyone else was just okay, and we coughed up the ball way too much with 10 turnovers. I need more out of my wings Ager and Alloway, who are way too talented to be combining for 11 points
As we sim to the next week, we have some news: J.J. Bracy is a Leatherneck!
YUGE. Bracy is the highest-rated recruit in program history at No. 24 overall, according to reader Evan’s Leathernecks Recruiting Database. He gets us the two coaching points as our first All-American and first five-star to commit in-season. He also plays a position of need and will likely slot into the starting power forward spot as a redshirt sophomore playing with four other seniors. It will be interesting to see how good he is during the stream games because he’s definitely undersized for a power forward at 6’6 and his numbers don’t blow you away. Hopefully he grows. Always great to land the Mr. Basketball in Illinois either way.
More news: Rudolpho Butt Jr. has signed with South Florida!
I feel like he’s going to be the most dominant create-a-player we’ve made yet. Can’t wait to follow his college career.
We’re also in position to land Alexis Willingham, who is at 100 percent with no other offers as we head into the second week of the early signing period.
We play this week Charlotte and then have our two early conference games
Win, 85-67. Wooo. Charlotte is also perennially excellent in this simulation, so it’s pretty great to beat them by 18. Our offense was spread around evenly to like every player the roster; no one with more than 10, everyone on the bench chipping in with a bucket or two. Then we win both of our early conference games big and that pushes us to 6-3 on the year.
As I sim to the next week, Alexis Willingham commits!
Willingham is a great get as the No. 68 overall recruit. He already has good size at 6’2 and will hopefully grow once he gets into school. I love his scoring ability (16.3 points per game) and his accuracy from three-point range (45.8 percent from deep). Turnovers are high, but that’s okay. It’s big-time to get any four-star recruit at the early signing period. It is really rare that we land multiple recruits at the early signing deadline, so I am thrilled by this.
We are also in great position for both of our other targets: center Dick Copeland and shooting guard Skip Clemmons. We lead by far for Copeland, and he doesn’t have any other offers. He’d be our highest-rated center recruit ever (No. 2 at his position) though he’s also short for a five man at 6’8. Clemmons has elite size for a shooting guard 6’6, 226 pounds and is also a 47.2 percent three-point shooter. Would be our best class ever if we can land both in the spring.
We have two games this week: home against Illinois and on the road against Kansas at Phog Allen. Let’s keep the momentum going vs. our forever rival the Illini.
Loss, 68-67. Ugh. Illinois is decent this season but they don’t have anyone close to 90 overall, so this is a big upset. Throw out the record books when these two programs meet, I guess. Our wings really let us down. How are Alloway and Ager only combining for three shot attempts on the night? On the streams it feels like Alloway averages three shot attempts himself every two minutes.
Now Kansas. Jayhawks are in something of a rebuilding year but are still talented af. Please show that Illini loss was an aberration.
Win, 89-69. Hell yeah. Look at our 7’2 backup center Kevin Brazzle go to work: 22 points in 24 minutes. That’s how you get on the NBA’s radar as a redshirt sophomore. We’ve never had anyone leave that early, but it would be kind of awesome to see him do it even if hurts us in the short term. Ham was great as well with 23 points. We only have one regular season game left and it’s against No. 2 Florida.
Florida is totally stacked and has one of the best rosters in the country. This is measuring stick game.
Loss, 82-78. Tough loss, but I like that we competed. Giddens has put together a really solid non-conference season and is taking a big jump up in production as a senior to help fill the scoring void left by Wilky Henry. I wouldn’t be surprised if we see Florida again in March.
We enter conference season at 7-5 overall. Can we run the table the rest of the way? Yes we can. We sweep the Summit League once again and enter the conference tournament as the top seed at 23-5 overall. Here’s a look at our end-of-season stats.
Our big men just wrecked everything in their way this year. Giddens took a big scoring leap as a senior (19.2 points per game) to lead the team, Cunningham continued to prove he’s one of the most reliable performers in program history, and Brazzle showed why he’s a projected first round draft pick by becoming our third leading scorer despite being our sixth man. Pretty nice to have a 7’2 backup center with that type of ability.
Here’s a look at the shooting percentages. My first thought: Giddens better than 35 percent from three on respectable volume??? I’ve never seen him hit a three with my own eyes. Also this team needs to be jacking way, way more threes. We have shooters everywhere. That will be nice to have in our back pocket come tournament time.
Now it’s time for the Summit League tournament
2028 Summit League tournament
Time to lock down the automatic bid to the NCAA tournament. Our first game is against IUPUI.
Win, 91-43. Ham, Giddens, Brazzle, all wonderful. I love my big, beefy boys. How is anyone supposed to matchup with three bigs so huge and so skilled? Next game is against Southern Utah.
Win, 101-59. Throwing Giddens and Brazzle out there against Summit League centers is just unfair. Now we face UL-Calcutta for the conference tournament title and the automatic berth to the NCAA tournament. Let’s go!
Win, 95-57. We’re going dancing!
I am fascinated to see what seed we get this time around. There were a few impressive wins on our resume, but also a couple bad losses in the non-conference slate. I’m thinking we could get anywhere between a No. 8 seed and a No. 12 seed. Avoid that 8-9 matchup might be for the best just so we don’t have to see a top-seed in the second round.
2028 NCAA tournament
Welp. We get a No. 9 seed and a first round matchup with No. 8 Michigan. If we win, top-seeded Xavier will be waiting in the round of 32. The quest to repeat is going to get very interesting in the first weekend.
Here’s a look at our roster heading to the tournament:
There’s a strong case to be made that this is our best roster ever.
All five starters are rated as a 90 or above. We have nearly 600 pounds and 190 overall points in the front court. Knock down shooters in the backcourt. Another 90-rated player off the bench and oh yeah he’s 7’2.
I’m also shocked to say Giddens is our highest-rated center ever. At 96 overall, he’s tied with Ime Terrell, Bert Draughan, Billy Assel, and Vernard Fulton as the highest rated player in program history, per reader Evan’s database. There’s so much depth on this team, too. There’s only one question: who will fill Henry’s void as our go-to perimeter scorer? Ager, Alloway, and Tron are all talented enough to do it, but someone will need to step up if we’re going to repeat.
We’ve never streamed a game against Michigan before, so this is going to be a fun matchup. Here’s a look at how the two teams stack up:
We are a 100 overall in every category but coaching — and the two bonus points we just got for landing Bracy will help with that in the offseason. Here’s a look at Michigan’s roster.
I’m feeling great about our chances at repeating, but the first weekend is going to be a massive test. We’re streaming the first weekend of the 2028 NCAA tournament on Thursday, Sept. 3 at 8:30 p.m. ET on Twitch. More info on that in a second. But first, let’s get to this year’s 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 Thursday, Sept. 3 at 8:30 p.m. ET on Twitch.
Here’s a look at the full NCAA tournament bracket.
This is everything you need to know:
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.
Can I see the rosters for the other teams?
Yes. You can find the rosters for every team on the right side of the bracket in the East and West regionals here. You can find the rosters for every team on the left side of the bracket for the South and Midwest regionals here. Just arrow over to scroll through the rosters.
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. Michigan in the NCAA tournament.
No. 9 seed Western Illinois vs. No. 8 seed Michigan, first round, 2028 NCAA tournament
Game: No. 9 seed Western Illinois vs. No. 8 seed Michigan, first round, 2028 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 face the winner of No. 1 seed Xavier vs. No. 16 seed South Carolina State in the round of 32 immediately following the first round game. I’m also thinking we’ll stream the Sweet 16 game too if we win. Why not?
A few links before I get out of here.
- Reader Luke started his own spin-off series in NCAA Football 14 with Akron. He’s doing his first stream on Friday night. Catch up on Coach Luke’s series here and and subscribe for updates.
- Reader Thanh wrote an e-book on the first eight years of Coach Rick at Western Illinois. It’s super fun and adds a new layer of depth to our project.
- Continue the discussion on our subreddit.
I’ll see you Thursday on Twitch. Go ‘Necks.