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 2020 for full context. As a reminder, we simulate every game in this series and only control the recruiting and coaching strategies. Dynasty mode runs for 40 years.
Before we pick up with the Leathernecks at the start of Year 40, here’s a recap of everything that happened last season:
- Western Illinois entered Year 39 trying to three-peat as national champions for the first time in program history. We lost two starters early to the NBA coming into the season, but still had enough talent to be ranked No. 10 overall in the preseason polls.
- We ran through the regular season schedule, losing only one game to UCLA during the non-conference season and sweeping Summit League opponents once again. We entered the NCAA tournament at 29-1 on the year and earned a No. 4 seed to the big dance.
- We beat Brown in round one, knocked off Georgia Tech in the round of 32, beat Indiana in the Sweet 16, and lost to Florida in the Elite Eight. We know enter the final season of my career tied with John Wooden with 10 national championships.
- We added three players in our last ever recruiting class: five-star JUCO SF Jerald Obasohan, four-star SG Erwin Walls, and four-star PF Kenny Butler.
Here’s a first look at our roster for Year 40:
It feels like only yesterday that a fresh-faced, 25-year-old came to the small town of Macomb, Illinois with big dreams. Coach Rick was hired by Western Illinois to do the impossible: win a national championship with arguably the worst team in college basketball. After 39 seasons at the helm, our tiny program has accomplished that and so much more. Now it’s time to hang it up.
Our journey at Western Illinois is finally coming to an end. In literal terms, College Hoops 2K8 forces mandatory retirement upon coaches in dynasty mode after 40 seasons. All good stories need closure either way. As we start our final season, we have some big stakes attached to our swan song.
Western Illinois has won 10 national championships in the Ricky Charisma era. That ties us with UCLA legend John Wooden for the most in history. What started as a mission to win a single national championship has now left us with a different goal: to become the undisputed greatest program in the history of the sport.
While we failed in our bid to three-peat last season — falling to Florida in the Elite Eight — we did bring back all four breakout juniors for this season. We only lost starting center DJ Foster to graduation. Yeah, it’s been a while since we last published Year 39 (thanks for your patience), so let’s go over the roster:
- PG Christano Ngounou, junior, 89 overall: Ngounou made major strides after being forced into the starting lineup last season, and now looks like a rock solid contributor going into our final year. An international recruit out of Cameroon, Ngounou is a fast 6’3 guard with lockdown defensive ability and a slightly above average three-point shot. We have bigger names on this squad who will be expected to carry the scoring load, but Ngounou is going to play a huge role because he’s way better than every other point guard on the roster. We need quality minutes from him in the tournament. Former five-star international recruit with B potential.
- SG Bernie Doyle, redshirt senior, 92 overall: Doyle is an incredible talent who enters his senior year looking to fully blossom into a superstar. The 6’9 shooting guard uses his immense size on both ends of the floor. He’s elite at getting into the passing lanes and forcing steals (a team-high 1.8 per game as a junior) on the defensive end, and has a sweet three-point stroke offensively. Doyle is such a smooth scorer and dominant defender that it feels like he has the natural talent to develop into an all-great in his senior year. Let’s hope he’s up to the challenge. Former No. 36 overall recruit from Detroit with C potential. Projected lottery pick.
- SF Floyd Keller, redshirt senior, 92 overall: Keller checks every box for a small forward. He has good size at 6’7. He has a three-point rating in the mid-80s. He’s the best dunker on the team. He’s an elite offensive rebounder for a wing with a rating in the low 90s, which helps equip him to play minutes at the four. After a tough shooting night in our Elite Eight loss last season — he went 1-for-7 from three — we’ll need Keller to be consistently great if we want one more run through the bracket. Former No. 101 overall recruit out of Dallas with C+ potential. Projected second round pick.
- PF Oscar Fray, redshirt senior, 88 overall: Fray enters his third year as a starter with a fascinating combination of size and skill that could set him up for a breakout senior year. The 7-foot power forward is a great three-point shooter for his position with a rating just below 80. Defensively, he’s the top-rated shot blocker on the team, and also does a pretty good job on the glass. Former No. 118 overall recruit out of Lynn, MA with C potential. Projected second round pick.
- C Brody Munoz, redshirt senior, 92 overall: Munoz finally gets the spotlight as a senior after backing up DJ Foster — a one-time NCAA tournament Most Outstanding Player — for his entire career up to this point. We’re expected big things, and not just because he’s tied for the highest rated player on the roster going into the regular season. What Munoz lacks in elite size at 6’11 he can make up for with strength, agility, and rebounding. We expect him to be really good at forcing turnovers, grabbing putbacks, and helping fortify the paint. Former No. 169 overall recruit (No. 6 center) out of Nashville with B potential. Projected lottery pick.
We have an incredibly deep bench for our final season. Center Logan Polk (85 overall) will be our sixth man, and should be able to form a three-man front court rotation with the two starters in the tournament. After that, we have a lot of options but not a lot of good options.
Here’s the rest of the bench: wing Jaycee Queen (80 overall), wing Jerald Obasohan (79 overall), guard Archie Howell (78 overall), wing/guard James Haranga (74 overall), guard Edwin Walls (74 overall), and power forward Kenny Butler (74 overall).
This is really it. Year 40. The last dance. What a ride it has been. We start the season at No. 4 in the polls.
How did the regular season go?
For our final regular season, we tried to schedule a good mix of local schools and historic big conference rivals with a couple in-season tournaments thrown in for good measure.
Here’s how the regular season went:
- Win over Bradley
- Win over Nebraska
- Win over UTEP
- Loss to Southern Illinois
- Win over Florida
- Loss to Northwestern
- Win over New Mexico
- Win over DePaul
That sets up a rivalry game against Illinois. We’ve played the Illini in almost every season, and we don’t want to end this dynasty without one more dub. The losses to Southern Illinois and Northwestern were a real bummer, and we need a palate cleanser. Let’s go!
Big win, 102-68. Look at Cristano Ngounou hanging 17 points and six assists on the Illini. Love seeing both starters in the front court — seniors Oscar Fray (13 points, 10 rebounds) and Brody Munoz (18 points, 11 rebounds) — each dropping a double-double, too. And how about our new five-star JUCO addition Obasohan chipping in 12 points off the bench? Really promising performance from the boys.
We get a big win over Kansas in our next game. That sets up another marquee game with a program we don’t like very much out of the state of North Carolina: Duke. We’ve battling with Duke on the court and on the recruiting trail for 40 freaking years. Can we end this rivalry with a dub?
Ugh, loss, 88-83. Nice games from Bernie Doyle (19 points, four assists) and Oscar Fray (14 points, 12 rebounds), but it isn’t enough. That’s our third loss of the season. Get bent, Duke.
We end the year with three more non-conference games.
- Win over Illinois-Chicago
- Win over American
- Win over Arizona State
While we may have lost the final battle to Duke, I won the war over Coach K with a significantly better career by any measure (more on that in a minute). Now it’s time to jump into conference play in the Summit League.
Did we go undefeated in conference season?
Yes we did, another perfect 18-0 stretch.
Now we enter the conference tournament. Can we punch one more automatic bid to the NCAA tournament?
- Win over UMKC
- Win over Southern Utah
- Win over UL-Calcutta
We’re going to the NCAA tournament for the last time, but that isn’t even the headliner after winning the Summit League. Im taking home the conference tournament championship, I won game No. 1,171 of my career. That currently puts me ahead of Coach K for the most wins all-time.
We have built a great legacy at Western Illinois. Before we enter the NCAA tournament, let’s take a look at our statistical leaders:
What a year for Munoz. Dude sat on the bench for four seasons before finally getting a starting spot, and all he did was lead our team in scoring at 17.2 points per game. Fray was awesome, too, averaging a hair under 15 points per game while chipping in nearly two blocks and six rebounds per game. It’s good to see Keller and Doyle both hit double-figures in scoring. I’m a bit surprised Cristano couldn’t even put up seven points a night after his big game against Illinois, but the assist and steals numbers are solid. We’re going to need him in March.
The Leathernecks are heading into the NCAA tournament at 32-3 on the year. I can’t wait to see what seed we get.
2047 NCAA tournament
Well, we couldn’t end this dynasty without getting swindled by the Selection Committee one more time. We’re a No. 6 seed in the NCAA tournament. I thought we should have been a top-four seed without question.
We’ll open the tournament with a game against No. 11 seed Syracuse. Sheesh. Before we get to the game, let’s check in on our roster one more time:
I’m loving the way this group progressed through the year. We have two awesome wing scorers with an elite combination of size and shooting in Keller and Doyle. We have plenty of beef up front with Munoz, Fray, and Polk. Ngounou entered the program as a 77 overall and shot up to a 92 in three years without a redshirt. The bench also really improved during the season and should give us plenty of different lineup options in March.
This is going to be a tough run, starting with Syracuse. The Orange have knocked us out of the big dance before, and consistently put together really strong teams.
Our last dance starts now. As always, we’re simulating every game, I’m not controlling the ‘Necks.
Win, 105-73! What an absolute beatdown. We’ve moving on to the round of 32.
Long-time followers of the series will know that our Leathernecks have always been known as a second half team. It happened in a big way in this game. Syracuse ended the first half strong to cut our lead to nine points, but we quickly turned it into a blowout out of the break.
I thought this was a tremendous all-around team effort. Six players hit double-figures in scoring with no one putting up more than Floyd Keller’s 15 points. Everyone who played recorded an assist. I loved this play from the first half when we set two screens for our five-star JUCO Obasohan that helped get him an easy layup.
Our bench is a big question mark coming into this tournament, mostly because it’s filled with a lot of fresh faces who haven’t played big minutes in clutch spots before. I have to say, the performance of our reserves in our tournament opener was super encouraging. Obasohan in particular looks like a keeper after scoring 10 points on 4-of-5 shooting and knocking down a three. We always need wing depth, and he should be able to provide that on this run.
The clear highlight of Obasohan’s night: this sick two-handed dunk in transition for an and-one.
We love to turn defense into offense, and Ngounou and Doyle’s ability to get into the passing lanes really helps us out there.
Speaking of Ngounou in transition: he had a beautiful finish on the break to put the game fully out of reach. That’s what you want out of your point guard.
The win sets up a second round game against Colorado State
The Rams have been a solid program throughout this sim dynasty, regularly making NCAA tournament appearances. We have a decisive edge in talent heading into this game.
We are one win away from going to the Sweet 16 and extended our run in the big dance. One time, ‘Necks. Let’s go!
Win, 109-79! We’re going to the Sweet 16!
We didn’t need to be a second half team in this one. Our ‘Necks blew the doors off Colorado State from the opening tip-off. I thought we played a great game offensively thanks to our inside-out ball movement.
We had five scorers in double-figures in this one, but it was senior starters Bernie Doyle and Oscar Fray leading the charge. We know Doyle is capable of taking over a game at his best, and he was awesome in this one: 20 points on 7-of-13 shooting from the field and 4-of-6 shooting from three. The real story was Fray, though.
Fray was probably the least appealing long-term prospect of our recruiting class when he entered the program alongside Doyle, Keller, and Munoz. That was mostly because of his 74 rating and C potential grade. While he’s always been rated a few points lower than his classmates, Fray’s skill set on the court is so important to us. He’s a massive 7-foot power forward who can protect the rim and shoot threes. What more do you want?
Fray went off in this game: 22 points, eight rebounds, two assists, two steals on 9-of-11 shooting. I love watching the big man shoot from deep. This was from NBA range.
Here’s one more catch-and-shoot three for good measure.
Fray might get slept on a little on this team, but he’s absolutely critical to our success if we want to win it all.
I also want to shout-out the bench for another solid performance. I liked what I saw out of Obasohan (11 points) and Howell (10 points). Since we already have two Obasohan clips in this post, why not make it three? Love him hitting this triple in the first half to help us open up the lead.
The win sets up a Sweet 16 game vs. Alabama
We’re now four wins away from ending this dynasty with a national championship. A Sweet 16 game against Bama is going to be an absolute battle.
In our simulated future, the Tide have become a basketball school. This program seems to make the tournament every year, and they’ve given us plenty of trouble in the past.
A trip to the Elite Eight is on the line. Let’s go!
Win, 112-69! We’re onto the Elite Eight!
Say it with me: SECOND. HALF. TEAM. After a tight first half left us with a six-point lead coming into the break, our ‘Necks absolutely torched the nets in the second half to come away with the blowout win. Seriously: we scored 66 points in the final 20 minutes. That was an offensive clinic at its best.
I had a good feeling about the second half when Cristano got this three hit the rim like 50 times before falling. Sometimes you need some good luck on your side.
A couple possessions later, Floyd Keller came down a ripped another three. We finally had a double-digit lead, and we’d never look back.
It was great to see Keller (15 points) get going from deep. He hit all three of his attempts from beyond the arc.
While we don’t have any clips of the front court from this game, they absolutely deserve credit for the win.
Fray turned in another incredible performance, this one somehow even better than his last. He ended the game with 25 points, 14 rebounds, four assists, three steals, and three blocks on 10-of015 shooting. He didn’t attempt a three (booooo) but he dominated the game on both ends. His front court mate Munoz was almost as good. The senior center finished with 20 points and 16 rebounds. We kept going inside — Munoz and Fray combined for 35 (!) field goal attempts — and they were making the Bama defense pay.
Not the best Bernie Buckets game (9 points on 3-of-10 shooting), but I clipped this shot from the first half, so I might as well embed it here.
Elite Eight, here we come.
The win sets up an Elite Eight matchup against No. 1 seed Indiana
Our run in the NCAA tournament has been a breeze up to this point, but I fear things about to get a lot more difficult. Our plucky No. 6 seed is about to run into one of college basketball’s blue bloods: the top-seeded Indiana Hoosiers.
The Elite Eight has been something of a bugaboo for us. We lost in this round last year. We’ve lost in this round many times before. I don’t want it to happen again.
A Final Four trip is on the line. As always, we’re watching a simulated version of this game; I am not controlling the Leathernecks. Let’s go!
Loss, 96-86. Oh my gosh. And just like that, our dream of ending this dynasty with a national title is over.
I am devastated. I really thought this team was good enough to send me out on top, but it wasn’t meant to be. The Hoosiers’ outside shooters did us in. Indiana’s guard-heavy lineup caught fire from deep (10-of-21 for 47.6 percent), and our perimeter attack couldn’t keep up. We only hit 6-of-22 (27.3 percent) attempts from three.
What happened to our second half team this time? We were only down two going into halftime, but we were outscored by eight over the final 20 minutes. Tough scene.
There were some solid individual performances. Munoz went out strong with 23 points and 10 rebounds. Bernie Doyle dropped 21 points and hit this three-pointer to keep us in it early.
Floyd Keller just didn’t give us enough on the wing. He shot 1-of-8 from three in the loss. He did give us a little juice in transition, at least.
Cristano played all 40 minutes, and had eight points and nine assists. I really wish I got another year with him as a senior next season.
Unfortunately there is no next season. After 40 years at Western Illinois, our sim dynasty is over. Here are some final numbers on the series:
- Final record: 1,177-213
- 10 national championships (tied with John Wooden for the most in men’s college basketball history)
- 15 Final Four appearances
- 25 Sweet 16 appearances
- Final NCAA tournament record: 113-27
- 38 Summit League regular season championships
- 35 Summit League tournament championships
- 38 seasons with 20+ wins
- 61 players drafted
The thing I’m most proud of? After we made the NCAA tournament for the first time in Year 3, we didn’t miss it again the rest of this dynasty.
Is Ricky Charisma the greatest men’s college basketball coach ever?
I think so. Here’s how we stack up to other top coaches in NCAA history in important categories.
- Ricky Charisma: 1,179
- Mike Krzyzewski: 1,170
- Jim Boeheim: 1,083
- Roy Williams: 903
- Bob Knight: 899
- Dean Smith: 879
- Jim Calhoun: 877
- Adolph Rupp: 876
- Bob Huggins: 828
- Eddie Sutton: 806
- Ricky Charisma: 110
- Mike Krzyzewski: 94
- Roy Williams: 77
- Dean Smith: 65
- Jim Boeheim: 57
- Tom Izzo: 52
- Jim Calhoun: 49
- John Wooden: 47
Final Four appearances
- Ricky Charisma: 15
- Mike Krzyzewski: 12
- John Wooden: 12
- Dean Smith: 11
- Roy Williams: 9
- Tom Izzo: 8
- Rick Pitino: 7
- Denny Crum, Adolph Rupp, John Calipari: 6
Consecutive tournament appearances
- Western Illinois: 36
- Kansas: 31
- North Carolina: 27
- Arizona: 25
- Duke: 24
- Michigan State: 23
- Gonzaga: 22
- Ricky Charisma: 84.7
- Mark Few: 83.44
- Sam Burton: 83.33
- Clair Bee: 82.444
- Adolph Rupp: 82.1
- John Wooden: 80.3
- Ricky Charisma: 10
- John Wooden: 10
- Mike Krzyzewski: 5
- Adolph Rupp: 4
- Roy Williams: 3
- Jim Calhoun: 3
- Bobby Knight: 3
Who is the best player in Western Illinois history?
That’s the big question within the fanbase right now. Before we get to it, let’s look back at our greatest recruiting wins.
We landed five five-star recruits out of the domestic high school ranks during my time at Western Illinois. We also signed nine five-star JUCO recruits, and six five-star international recruits from places like New Zealand (shout-out Dave French), Montenegro (anti shout-out Vitor Andrisevic), France (what up, Kim Kone!), and Cameroon.
The highest-rated recruit in program history was Sammy Yan at No. 10 overall in 2032. He was pretty much a disappointment. The program’s all-time leading scorer was center Vinnie Harmon with 2,452 career points during his career. He was the No. 122 overall recruit and the No. 8 center (those that followed the series or played the game know that centers are always weirded underrated on the recruiting trail).
Here are some more numbers during tournament games only (aka, the games we streamed), from the amazing Leathernecks Database maintained by our fans:
The highest rated player in program history is a tie between small forward Nic Cummings and point guard Duncan Martinez, who are the only players to reach 97 overall. Cummings in particular is a great choice for the GOAT. He ended his career with three national titles, though only one as a starter. He’s top-10 for me, but not No. 1.
The people’s choice for the GOAT is Deke Van, the legendary center who helped carry us to our first national title in Year 8. Deke’s turn from from Year 7 goat to Year 8 GOAT is the most memorable we’ve ever had. We couldn’t have done any of this without you, Deke.
As the series went on, other great players emerged who finished with gaudier stats and better resumes.
My personal favorite might be Bert Draughan, Mr. Basketball out of Chicago (No. 29 overall recruit), who went on to win a title with us in Year 13 and also starred for our Year 11 team that began the season 35-0 before losing to Michigan State in the Final Four. Harmon is another fine choice. Skip Clemmons helped us win three national titles in Year 23, Year 24, and Year 26. Albert Jagla, Clemmons’ former teammate, played a big role in our first back-to-back championship squad, and is arguably the greatest perimeter bucket-getter in program history.
All-time favorite moment? Impossible to say. The first one that comes to mind is Kim Kone’s go-ahead corner three in the 2024 tournament. Najeeb Goode’s steal vs. UCLA in the Final Four to help us win our second title in Year 13 also stands out. There was also the time superstar power forward Allen Cunningham took off his pants mid-game.
Thank you to everyone who read, watched, and interacted
I started this series on April 11, 2020, a few weeks after the pandemic had shut down all ‘real’ sports. At the time, I was gearing up to cover the 2020 NCAA tournament. That never happened. I had college basketball on my mind, and I always wanted to write something on ‘College Hoops 2K8’, probably my favorite video game ever. This project is what came of it.
I had no idea if anyone was going to read this. I definitely did not think I’d finish out all 40 years like a complete lunatic. I didn’t think I’d write the equivalent of multiple books in terms of total word count.
Just before I dropped the first post in the series, I tweeted this:
Got a real dumb blog post coming— Ricky O'Donnell (@SBN_Ricky) April 11, 2020
I wrote around 70 posts in the series, counting the inaugural Hall of Fame induction (read a big Deke Van retrospective at that link) and two posts of my Deke Van x Seattle Supersonics spin-off. I’m estimating I wrote 200,000 words in this series. That’s about the length of “The Fellowship of the Ring.”
I still can’t believe everything that came from this series. The Washington Post wrote a profile on it. I went on WGN TV and did a few radio spots promoting it. We sold a Deke Van t-shirt with Homefield Apparel. Our series inspired a new friend in Japan named Thanh Nguyen to write a pair of e-books adding greater depth to our story. Friend of the program Mike Rutherford did an amazing hype video for our first championship run. When I moved the series to Substack for a few months, more than 7,000 people signed up for email updates and still remain. Our first Twitch stream for the Year 8 Final Four drew more than 7,000 total viewers, and had 2,500 concurrent viewers on it at as we were closing out the win. On SB Nation, the series has been viewed more than 500K times.
What really made the project special was always the community around it. Some quick shout-outs:
- The Leathernecks Database is an amazing companion to this series. You can get lost in there. Thank you to the diehards to helped maintain it, and reader Evan for starting it.
- Thanks to my guy who started the Leathernecks Nation instagram fan page and whoever is behind the wondrous fake Deke Van twitter account.
- Thanks to everyone in the Discord who maintained ‘Necks discussion always and forever.
Thank the diehards that came out for every Twitch stream. I don’t want to name names because I’ll forget someone, but you know who you are. I love you all. I also want to thank the readers for keeping up with the recaps, and everyone who emailed me feedback throughout the series. I also want to thank my buddy Scott for introducing me to the game and running through multiple 40-year dynasties with me way before I ever considered blogging through it like this. This series would not exist without him.
What a ride it’s been. As I sim through to the end of the calendar, I’m greeted with this message.
Thank you, everyone. Go ‘Necks.