The start of Western Illinois’ NCAA tournament run in Year 24, continued
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 in the first round of the NCAA tournament, here’s a recap of everything that has happened so far this season:
- Western Illinois went on a Cinderella run to win the national championship as a No. 13 seed last season, our fourth title since I took over the program. Watch our “One Shining Moment” video here. We lost two starters from that team to the NBA, but enter the new year with the rest of the rotation still intact. Somehow, we were unranked in the preseason polls.
- We went 5-5 in the non-conference schedule, before again sweeping the Summit League and winning the Summit League tournament. We were given a No. 10 seed in the big dance.
- We recruited for five scholarships, landing four-star shooting guard Neil Modrovich out of Cleveland at the end of the early signing period.
Here’s a look at our roster entering the NCAA tournament:
Championship-or-bust. That’s the goal as we prepare for the 2031 NCAA tournament.
Our Leathernecks have four national championships since I arrived in Macomb ahead of the 2007-08 season, but we’ve never won in back-to-back years. This team is good enough to do it. We returned three starters, all on the perimeter, all now seniors.
Point guard Koko Reeves is the smallest player in program history at 6-foot, but he silenced his doubters by providing knockdown shooting during our tournament run last season. Edwin Wolfe, a former five-star JUCO recruit, started the game 7-for-7 from three-point range against UNLV in the Final Four last season. Wolfe also has a 95-rating in steals, which is the highest on the team. Then there’s Jitim Dupree, the 6’10, 242-pound small forward who went off for 30 points or more three times during our run through the bracket. Dupree was named Final Four MOP for his performance, and could go down as perhaps the greatest player in school history if he powers us to another title.
The questions come in the front court. J.J. Bracy and Dick Copeland have plenty of pedigree — Bracy is the second-highest rated recruit in program history (No. 24 overall), and Copeland’s A rating in potential is our highest ever — but they still have to prove they can carry us on the biggest stages. Both players are only 6’8, so we aren’t as big as we have been the last few years when we’ve had 7-foot-plus centers. How we handle our lack of size inside will be one of the biggest storylines entering the tournament.
I can’t wait to see what we get from our young bench. 6’5 point guard Alexis Willingham and 6’8 wing Skip Clemmons both proved themselves as dependable players during our run through March last season, and should be even better as sophomores. There’s also two exciting freshmen who will be making their NCAA tournament debuts: 6’3 shooting guard Albert Jagla (the highest rated recruit in program history at No. 17 overall), and 6’11 center Cecil Sinville (our first-ever No. 1 ranked center prospect). We’ll need all nine guys to accomplish our goal and win the title.
Our opponent in the first round of the NCAA tournament is No. 7 seed Pitt. We enter the game as a 99 overall, while Pitt is rated as a 91. Here’s how the two teams matchup:
If we can win in the first round, we’ll likely face No. 2 seed South Florida in the round of 32. We blew out the Bulls during the regular season, but they’re a talented team who could certainly give us trouble in a potential rematch.
We streamed the game against Pitt on Twitch on Monday night. As always, I am not controlling Western Illinois — we’re watching a simulated game.
We want back-to-back titles. The journey starts here in the round of 64 against the Panthers. Let’s go!
Win, 100-93! Wow, I never expected we’d need a huge second half rally just to survive the opening round, but that’s exactly what happened. That game was stressful.
We were down 75-65 with under seven minutes left when I took a timeout. We decided to close with the true freshman Sinville at center, with Dupree sliding up to the four, and Clemmons in at the three with our starting guards. We needed to an offensive surge, and it was our defense that provided it.
After Edwin Wolfe hit a three out of the timeout, we forced a steal on the other end that led to a Koko Reeves layup. We went into our full court trapping defense, and got another steal that led to a Koko three. We forced a steal again off the ensuring inbounds pass that led to a layup for Jitim Dupree. Then it was Skip Clemmons time.
The 6’8, 240+ pound sophomore wing went off in the closing stretch, hitting three straight three-pointers to give us the lead for good. Clemmons finished with 21 points, with almost all of them coming in the second half. It is so nice to have another big wing who can hit shots coming off the bench. This team might not have a ton of size inside, but it does have so much lineup versatility.
The end result was a 22-2 run that transformed the game and gave us the win.
We won this game because we caught fire from three and were able to force a bunch of turnovers on defense. The win did mask some real issues for us, though, most notably in the front court.
We’re just not as stout in the middle at either end as we have been in the past. Copeland’s lack of size at 6’8 really hurts him. He finished with only four points and six rebounds, and didn’t have much a rim protection presence. Our power forward J.J. Bracy was solid, but he’s not big or dynamic enough to cover up any shortcomings at center the way Allen Cunningham once was. I thought Sinville gave us some decent minutes off the bench — he’s our biggest player at 6’11 — but he’s still a true freshman.
Here are the team stats from reader Tom:
I feel more relieved than encouraged after that one. At least maybe we found the right closing lineup? One thing is for sure: we’re definitely going to need to straighten out our defense.
Next up, we face No. 2 seed South Florida in the round of 32.
No. 10 seed Western Illinois vs. No. 2 seed South Florida, round of 32, 2031 NCAA tournament
We actually faced South Florida during the regular season in a game we streamed on Twitch. We won that game easily, but USF’s overall talent level was impressive. I’m not surprised they ended up with a No. 2 seed.
You may recall that USF is led by a created character from the winner of one of our bracket contests. Rudolpho Butt Jr. — an ode to a former assistant coaching target we had years back — is now a 7-foot junior power forward who is projected as a lottery pick in the NBA draft. He’s a three-level scoring threat who also provides rim protection at the other end. It’s going to be a tough matchup for our boy J.J. Bracy.
Here’s a look at USF’s roster:
The Bulls enter the game rated as a 97 overall.
We streamed this game on Twitch. We’ve actually never made it past the round of 32 in years when we’ve been defending a national championship. It’s time to change that now. Let’s go!
Loss, 80-72. Our dream of repeating as national champions dies again in the round of 32. This is such a painful way to head into our offseason.
We just couldn’t hit a shot in the second half. Sometimes, that’s all it comes down to. Dupree — who was so brilliant during last year’s tournament run on his way to winning Final Four MOP — was gunning until the end, but just couldn’t catch a rhythm. He ended the night 5-of-19 from the field, and 4-of-13 from three. With our best player struggling, we needed someone else to emerge as the star of the night, and it just didn’t happen.
Bracy was particularly dreadful going against RBJ for most of the night, finishing 0-of-6 from the field. Copeland and Willingham were great in the first half, combining to score 20 points. They were both pretty much invisible in the second half, combining to score only six points out of halftime.
We tried messing with the lineups, and we experimented with different versions of our full court press, but we just couldn’t make enough plays to win the game. Full credit to South Florida. They had a lot of ballers on that team.
I guess we can’t make a deep run every year. It just hurts because this was the last game for Koko Reeves, Edwin Wolfe, and Jitim Dupree, all of whom were so instrumental in our national championship last year. Tough way to go out, but I’m still excited for the future of the program. This is going to be a big offseason for recruiting. Let’s get into it.
- We have co-winners of the bracket contest: Aaron Downs and Eric Judd. They gave me some fun characters to create, which we’ll do at the start of the Year 25 stream.
- South Florida makes it all the way to the national title game, where they lose to …. Maryland. That is the Terps’ third national title in this simulation, which is the most of any team that is not Western Illinois. We’re stuck on four titles for another year.
- Dupree gets drafted, Reeves and Wolfe do not. I really think Jitim is one of our greatest players ever.
- Kansas, North Carolina, and UCLA are among the schools who offer me their head coaching job …. no thanks. We’re staying in Macomb.
- We lost an assistant coach and replaced him with a guy who has B- grades in offense and defense, a B+ grade in teaching, and A- discipline.
On the first day of the spring signing period, we land a big man: 6’9 center C.J. Cesar out of Cincinnati is a Leatherneck.
Cesar is the No. 9 center, and is rated as the No. 210 player in the class. He’s the second player we’ve landed in this class, after getting a commitment four-star shooting guard Neil Modrovich during the season. He gives us some badly needed front court depth. We’re also chasing 7’2 center Daron Coulter, so it’s possible Cesar ends up at power forward for us long-term. Either way, we’re excited to land him, and still have three other scholarships to fill.
In addition to Coulter, we also have offers out to top-100 point guard Drake Amous and four-star shooting guard Theo Cowans. It isn’t going so well: Amous commits to BYU, and Cowans commits to Texas Tech. As we search for backup plans, we get some good news: Daron Coulter becomes our third commitment of this recruiting class.
Coulter is the No. 7 overall center, and is rated No. 196 overall in this class.
We’re thrilled to have a center with elite size for the future, especially since that was a weakness of ours this past season. I’m feeling really good about the three plays we have locked down so far, but we still have two scholarships left.
With only two weeks left in the recruiting period, we have to work fast. I decide to offer four-star shooting guard Alfred Soto, and three-star power forward Spanky Falls. Both choose other programs during the final day of the signing period. That means we’re rolling over two scholarships to next year, which isn’t the worst case scenario. We were originally slotted to have zero available scholarships next season, because we won’t have any seniors. Now there’s a pair of offers at our disposal if we find some truly special talent.
As for our created players, Abby commits to Villanova, and Justin Kossak commits to NC State. We’ll follow their careers throughout our simulation.
It’s time to set the schedule for next year. This is what we decide to go with:
@ Illinois, @ Loyola (IL), @ Tennessee, @ SMU, @ Kansas State, @ South Florida, @ Boston College, @ Virginia Tech
Here’s a look at our roster for Year 25.
Our reserves from the last couple years are now fully entrenched in the starting lineup. I can’t wait to see what Willingham, Clemmons, and Jagla can do as our starters on the perimeter. I always loved this junior class, and this will be their last season full together: Copeland is already projected as a top pick in the NBA, which means he’s as good as gone after this year. Willingham and Bracy are also projected first rounders. We’ll see what happens there.
One thing we are lacking for the upcoming year: depth. I believe we’re only going to have an eight-man rotation. We’ll have one big (Cecil Sinville), one wing (Nic Cummings), and one guard (Goran Kent) off the bench.
We’re going to redshirt all three members of our incoming recruiting class. Here’s how they graded out:
- SG Neil Modrovich: 74 overall, A- potential. We’re thrilled to see Modrovich looks like he’s going to be awesome. I believe it’s the first time in program history we’ve had a guard with a potential rating this high. Former No. 62 overall recruit.
- C Daron Coulter: 75 overall, C potential. Coulter has already grown an inch to 7’3, which means he’s the tallest player in program history before he’s ever played a game. He should be an excellent five-year big man for us. Landing him was a major addition for our future. Former No. 196 overall recruit.
- C C.J. Cesar: 74 overall, B- potential. Cesar is moving to power forward, where he maintains as a 74 overall. He’s limited as an outside shooter (50 three-point rating), but he’s already an A- in strength, and looks like he’ll be a great offensive rebounder. Former No. 210 overall recruit.
We’re going to stream the regular season in Year 25 on Sunday, Oct. 18 at 8:30 p.m. ET on Twitch. Here’s how you can watch it.
How to watch Western Illinois’ Year 25 stream
What we’re watching: Western Illinois Year 25 regular season stream. We’ll watch one regular season game, recruit for two scholarships, and sim to the NCAA tournament.
How to watch: My Twitch channel
Date: Sunday, Oct. 18
Tip-off time: 8:30 p.m. ET
I hope to see you there. Go ‘Necks.