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.
We pick up with the Leathernecks in the Final Four of the 2029 NCAA tournament, but first here’s a recap of everything that’s happened so far this season.
- Coming off a disappointing loss in the round of 32 to No. 1 seed Xavier last season, the Leathernecks enter the new year ranked No. 19 in the preseason polls. We have three new starters.
- We went 6-5 in the non-conference schedule before sweeping the Summit League and winning the conference tournament once again. We earned a No. 11 seed to the NCAA tournament, entering at 27-5 overall.
- We beat No. 6 seed UConn, 103-89, in round one. We defeated No. 3 seed Maryland, 95-91, in the round of 32. In the Sweet 16, we beat No. 7 seed Richmond, 136-71, for our biggest NCAA tournament blowout ever. Then we defeated No. 8 seed Tennessee, 100-92, in the Elite Eight to reach the Final Four. Read a full recap of our road to the Final Four here.
- We recruited for one scholarship, but didn’t land anyone yet.
Read: Western Illinois, Year 22, 2028-2029
Read: The start of Western Illinois’ NCAA tournament run in Year 22, continued
Here’s a look at our roster heading into the Final Four:
The Leathernecks are back in the Final Four for the fifth time since I took over as head coach. We’re looking for our fourth national title. I know how hard it is to make this round watching my teams flame out in the Elite Eight three straight years earlier this decade. To end the 2020s with another national championship is everything we want.
Maybe this run shouldn’t feel so surprising given the talent level on the roster. We’ve tried to build a program that can compete for a national title year in and year out. We’ve tried to build a program that peaks in March. Even as we’ve succeeded in those goals, just getting to the Final Four requires so much good luck. We looked dead in the water against UConn, trailing by double-digits in the first half, until we put on a full court press and ran away with the game. After a win over Maryland in the next round, we got a gift when Richmond upset top-seeded Xavier, the team that knocked us out of the tournament last year, on their side of the bracket. All we did against Richmond is put up a program-record 136 points and post our biggest margin of victory ever in NCAA tournament with a 65-point win.
We needed luck in the Elite Eight, too. If Wilbur Ager’s three-point with about 17 seconds remaining rims out, Tennessee would have had a chance to beat us on the last possession. Instead, Ager made the shot and the dream of winning another national title continues.
Our opponent in the Final Four is No. 1 seed George Washington. In addition to being the first top-two seed we’ve faced on this run, the Colonials also have the benefit of having a created player in the middle from our annual bracket contests. That’s senior big man Steven Frye, who has turned into GW’s leading scorer. Here’s a look at GW’s roster. Here’s how the two teams matchup:
More than anything else, it’s head coach Ricky Charisma’s legacy on the line during Final Four weekend. In Year 22 of 40, we’ve already put together a Hall of Fame-worthy resume. Now we want to go down as the greatest college basketball coach of all-time. Here is some historical context, via reader Josh:
13th coach in history to make 5+ final fours (Coach K and John Wooden T-1 with 12).
6th fastest to do it from the start of their HC career — behind only Denny Crum (13 years), Tom Izzo (15 years), Coach K (17 years), Dean Smith (17 years), and Roy Williams (18 years).
WIU’s 18th consecutive year of making March Madness, which is the T-8 longest streak by any program in NCAAB history (Kansas holds the record, which is active, at 30).
From a coach standpoint, Coach Charisma’s run of 18 consecutive trails only Coach K (24), Dean Smith (23), Tom Izzo (22), Bill Self (21, multi-school), Roy Williams (20, multi-school), Mark Few (20).
We need our junior point guard Jamie Burke to take care of the ball. We need 7-footers Kevin Brazzle and Artie Snipes to dominate the glass. We need our star wings Mathew Alloway and Wilbur Ager to knock down outside shots and get to the rim on offense. Knowing the winner of this game faces the winner of No. 1 Kansas vs. No. 9 USC for the national title only adds more pressure.
We streamed this game on Twitch on Wednesday night. As always, we’re watching a simulated game; I’m not controlling Western Illinois. Final Four. National championship game on the line. Let’s go!
Win, 106-80! We’re going to be playing for a national championship.
This one was basically never in doubt. What a great game from junior shooting guard Mathew Alloway, who came out scoring 10 of our first 12 points. He was on fire from literally the opening tip:
I thought he might have a chance to surpass Wilky Henry’s 46-point game against Ole Miss in the tournament a few years back, but another player eventually took over. What started as the Alloway game quickly turned into another show-stopping performance from 7’2 junior center Kevin Brazzle.
Brazzle finished with 26 points and 19 rebounds, showing why he’s a projected top pick in the NBA draft. This was the best game he ever played, and it felt like him stating his case as the best center in program history. GW had no prayer of keeping him off the offensive glass or stopping from finishing inside.
The bench also looked good. Snipes had 13 points and showed that we won’t be taking a huge step back next year when he inherits the starting center spot from Big Braz. Jitim Dupree, another projected starter next year, had 11 points and flashed his shot-making potential at 6’10. Just a great game all around that was actually pretty boring to watch because it was such a beat down. We’ll take that every time.
In the national championship game, we will face .... No. 1 seed Kansas. Of course. It couldn’t be any other way.
No. 11 seed Western Illinois vs. No. 1 seed Kansas, national championship game, 2029 NCAA tournament
There is so much history between us and the Jayhawks. We beat Kansas in the title game for our first ever national championship back in Year 8. We’ve faced Kansas three other teams in the tournament and have a record of 3-1 against them in the dance. This might be our hardest matchup with Bill Self’s team (yes, he’s still the coach) yet.
Kansas enters the game rated as a 100 overall. Here’s a look at their roster:
This roster is ridiculous. A few things that stand out:
- The Jayhawks have a starter rated in the 90s at all five positions
- They have a 7’3 center in Onyekwe. It has to be the first time in his life Brazzle won’t have a size advantage in his matchup.
- They have a true sophomore rated as a 91 overall, sheesh
- Corbin Thomas at 96 overall is going to be a hell of a matchup for Alloway at two guard
The keys to the game? Well, they are the same as always. We need to take care of the ball. We need to rebound. We need to hit our threes and run them off the line. We also need to win the foul battle, getting to the line when we need easy offense and avoiding putting KU there on the other end.
The Western Illinois Leathernecks won the national championship in Year 8, Year 13, and Year 20. Can we do it again in Year 22? We also streamed this game on Twitch on Wedneday night. Let’s. Go!!!
Loss, 88-85. Oh my goshhhhh. I think I felt my soul actually leave my body when the final buzzer sounded.
Where do we even begin? I guess we’ll start with this wild sequence and horsesh*t foul call that cost us the lead and then the game. After Ager missed another three-pointer, Kansas threw an alley-oop for an and-one that gave them their first lead of the second half with under one minute left.
We had a few buckets during this game that should have been an and-one but the refs didn’t give us the continuation. How the hell did Kansas get it on this? Charge??? Anyone???
Ager got a good look at a go-ahead three on the next possession, but he missed it so badly it bounced over the backboard and went out of bounds, not even giving us a chance at an offensive rebound. That was the story of the night for our lone senior — Ager finished 1-of-10 from three-point range in this game. It’s kind of amazing he still put up 22 points and nine rebounds on the night given that.
After some free throws both ways, we had one more chance to save our season. Inbounding under our own basket, down three with 10 seconds left, Mathew Alloway struggled to break KU’s press before finding Burke a deep three. It was off the mark, and we lost.
I’m just going to do some bullet points for everything else:
- Onyekwe, Kansas’ 7’3 center, just killed us. It’s not just that he put up 21 points and 20 rebounds, though he did also do that. One game after Brazzle posted 26 points and 19 rebounds against George Washington in the Final Four, he was held to only nine points and six rebounds. Onyekwe did something we hadn’t seen any other center do this year: get Brazzle in foul trouble. Brazzle only played 20 minutes because he sat the rest of the first half after picking up two early fouls. The dominant advantage we’ve had inside against our opponents all tournament run just wasn’t there.
- I got desperate in this game pretty early. With Kansas leading 18-7 just eight minutes into the game, I switched to a full court press defense and went small with our lineup, putting Dupree (a natural small forward but 6’10) at power forward and also going with 6-foot Koko Reeves at point guard. We erased the deficit almost immediately. Then the computer coach of our Leathernecks one-upped me: they went even smaller, putting Dupree at center. That’s when we went on a big run. Kansas had multiple seven-footers and might have been the biggest team we had ever seen during this simulation. We roasted them by going super small. That is a decidedly modern idea for a video game that was released in 2007, so consider my impressed and surprised.
- Kansas figured out the press eventually, but I never switch out of it. I’m regretting that a bit, maybe it would have been best to show them a junk zone or something before switching back to the press. I’m also regretting not trying that small ball lineup again. It’s just so hard to do when they have a 7’3 center already gobbling up every rebound.
We were so, so, so close to title No. 4. That one is going to sting for a long time, especially because we have several underclassmen all projected as first round picks in the NBA draft.
Brazzle is a projected top pick and is as good as gone. Alloway and Burke are both projected first rounders as a juniors. We’ve had guys return for their senior year when projected as first rounders before, so we’re holding out hope it can happen again, but you never know.
I can’t believe we lost that game. Onto the offseason.
Before we get into the offseason: congrats to James A. for winning the bracket contest. He’ll get to create a player next year.
- Kansas is national champs. They join the two title club with Louisville, Maryland, UCLA, and UConn. We’re the only team with three titles during this simulation.
- Brazzle wins Summit League Player of the Year and we take four spots on the First Team All Summit roster. Even better, Rudolpho Butt Jr. is named National Freshman of the Year after averaging 13 points per game for South Florida. Butt Jr. was the created player by former bracket contest winner reader Gavin as an ode to our one-time assistant coaching target.
- WELP. Alloway, Burke, and Brazzle all go pro. Wow. Ager also graduates. All four are drafted into the NBA. Our title chances for next year just took a giant hit. I can’t believe we lost both guards. Ugh. I am of course happy for my guys. Brazzle was amazing. Alloway was had a great career as a three-year starter and was everything we wanted him to be in the tournament this year. Burke was fine (?) but never really stood out. That was great recruiting class and now only LF Neal is left.
- I get offered head coaching jobs by Iowa, DePaul, and many more, but turn them all down. I have a lifetime contract at Western Illinois and I’m very happy about that.
- We lose one assistant coach, and replace him with a guy with solid B ratings across the board, plus a B+ teaching rating. He does have A ambition
We have one scholarship to recruit for and it’s been offered out all season. Now the question becomes: will five-star All-American shooting guard Albert Jagla officially commit to the ‘Necks?
Yes! Jagla officially becomes the highest rated recruit in program history as the No. 17 overall prospect in the country and the No. 4 shooting guard. J.J. Bracy only got to hold that honor for one year. Jagla is kind of short (6’2) and didn’t have amazing numbers, but we have him scouted at A potential and he fills a big need for our perimeter of the future alongside last year’s class of Alexis Willingham and Skip Clemmons.
This rules. Can’t wait to see what Jagla is rated. Now we have to set our schedule for next year.
@ Georgia Tech, @ Northwestern, NIT Season Tip-Off Challenge, @ Michigan, @ Missouri, @ San Jose State, @ West Virginia, @ Vanderbilt, @ South Florida, Golden Bear Classic.
Onto to Year 23.
Here’s a full look at our roster for next year:
Worst roster we’ve had in a minute. We’re feeling the downside to turning into an NBA factory. I’m still excited to see what this team can do.
Jagla comes in at a 75 overall with B+ potential. We’ll take it. He’ll redshirt. We also switch him to No. 23.
We’re stream the regular season in Year 23 on Monday, Sept, 21 at 8:30 p.m. ET on Twitch.
Watch Western Illinois Year 23 regular season play-through
What we’re watching: Western Illinois Year 223regular 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: Monday, Sept, 21
Tip-off time: 8:30 p.m. ET
I hope to see you there. Go ‘Necks. More more quick pieces of news ....
Vote for the Leathernecks Hall of Fame!
It’s time for another induction ceremony for the Leathernecks Hall of Fame. We’ll pick three players to have their jerseys retired and honor them in a separate post. I’ve already decided that small forward Bert Draughan — a starter on two Final Four teams for us and a member of our Year 13 national championship team — will enter the Hall of Fame and have his No. 20 retired.
I’m leaving the other two players up to a fan vote. Here’s how we’ll do it.
- Click this link to view the options for the Leathernecks Hall of Fame. (The correct link is in now)
- Vote for two (2) players. I couldn’t figure out how to limit the number of votes to two so please respect the rules.
- I’m also outsourcing the player write-ups on each Hall of Fame inductee to the fans. I’d like each player’s write-up to be about 300 words. If you’re interested, comment on this post below with the player you’d like do a write-up for with your favorite memory of that player. I’m going to say we’ll give it to the person who makes the best case for their player in the comment, not first come, first serve. We’ll publish the Hall of Fame post sometime in the next couple weeks.