Western Illinois’ Final Four run in Year 25, 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.

We pick up with the Leathernecks in the Final Four of the 2032 NCAA tournament, but first here’s a recap of everything that happened this year:

  • Western Illinois entered the new season looking to rebound from a disappointing round of 32 exit at the hands of South Florida the previous year. We had to replace three starters on the perimeter, but were now fully turning over the program to four redshirt juniors who were once the highest-rated recruiting class in program history.
  • We went 5-5 in the non-conference schedule, then swept through the the Summit League and conference tournament once again. We were given a No. 12 seed in the NCAA tournament.
  • We beat No. 5 seed Seton Hall in the first round. We knocked off No. 4 seed Wisconsin in the round of 32. We beat No. 9 seed Tennessee in the Sweet 16. We defeated No. 3 seed Alabama in the Elite Eight to advanced to the Final Four for the seventh time in program history.
  • We recruited for two scholarships, and landed three-star small forward Warren Schultz during the early signing period.

Read: Western Illinois, Year 25, 2031-2032

Read: Western Illinois’ NCAA tournament run in Year 25, continued


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

An inspired four-game run through our regional has put us back in the Final Four for the fourth time in the last six seasons, and the seventh time overall. Despite our recent success, it was hardly preordained that we’d be able to reach college basketball’s biggest stage as a No. 12 seed. A team that had a lot of questions coming into this tournament found so many answers through the inspired play of our starting line.

Here are three things we learned during our tournament run that got us to the Final Four:

  • Albert Jagla is turning into a superstar: The redshirt sophomore shooting guard entered the program as the highest-rated recruit in school history as the former No. 17 overall player in his class. Jagla became a first-time starter this year and put together solid season microwave scorer, but he’s stepped up his game to a whole new level during this tournament run. Through four games, Jagla is averaging 25.5 points per game on ridiculous efficiency. He’s 23-for-23 from two-point range, and 14-21 (67 percent) from behind the arc. Jagla dropped 40 points against Seton Hall in our opening round game, and he’s continued to be a flat-out star the rest of the way.
  • Cecil Sinville has been an ideal solution at center: This year’s team had one big problem: we were undersized in the front court, with J.J. Bracy and Dick Copeland both standing 6’8. As we entered the tournament, we decided to insert our sixth man — true sophomore 7-footer Cevil Sinville — into the starting lineup at center, slide Copeland to power forward, and move Bracy to the bench. The decision has worked out wonderfully so far. Sinville was awesome in our Elite Eight win over Alabama, finishing with 17 points and 11 rebounds in the win. His size and athleticism has been a key for us on both ends during this run.
  • The ‘Necks have so many ways to beat you: Junior small forward Skip Clemmons has been overshadowed a bit by Jagla, but he’s been excellent himself. Clemmons dropped 26 points in our Sweet 16 win over Tennessee, and has given us a massive wing (6’9, 252 lbs) who can hit outside shots, bully smaller defenders at the rim, and impact the game defensively. 6’5 point guard Alexis Willingham hit a clutch pull-up three to key our Elite Eight win over the Tide. Bracy has looked more comfortable as a Swiss army knife off the bench, and Copeland feels better suited at power forward than center. We also saw some impressive shot-making performances off the bench from true freshman shooting guard Neil Modrovich and redshirt freshman small forward Nic Cummings.

Our opponent in the Final Four will be No. 3 seed Florida. They should be our toughest matchup yet. Check the Gators’ roster here. Florida enters the game as a 99 overall. This is how the two teams matchup:

The winner will face the winner of Xavier vs. BYU in the other national semifinal matchup.

We’re looking for our fifth national championship in program history as we enter the Final Four. We won in Year 8, Year 13, Year 20, and Year 23. Another title this year would tie coach Ricky Charisma with Coach K for the second all-time behind John Wooden’s 10 rings.

We streamed this game on Twitch on Sunday night. Let’s go!

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Win, 104-78! We’re going to the national championship game!

Florida was actually up by nine points with eight minutes left in the first half — from then on, it was a beatdown in our favor. Redshirt junior wing Skip Clemmons kept us in the game early, scoring 14 of his 19 points on the night in the opening frame. Clemmons’ size, shooting, and nose for the ball defensively really can’t be beat. It feels like he’d be a star in any era of Leathernecks basketball, but on a team this talented he’s simply part of an ensemble. Clemmons has been overshadowed a bit by Albert Jagla’s scoring outbursts during this run, and again it was the 6’4 sophomore shooting guard who carried us home.

Jagla scored 13 of his 22 points in the second half to help extinguish any hope Florida had. He didn’t quite put up the same historic scoring efficiency as he did on the road to the Final Four, but he still finished 9-of-17 from the field and 3-of-5 from deep.

The other big-time performance in this game came from Cecil Sinville. The true sophomore 7-footer couldn’t hit a shot in the early going, but once he got hot, the rest of the team did, too.

Sinville started 0-for-3, all missed bunnies inside, so he altered his game plan and started attacking from the perimeter. He canned multiple long twos and even hit a three, which unlocked the rest of his game the entire way. We’ve had some great stretch bigs at this program — Allan Cunningham, most notably — but I never really considered Sinville part of that group until now. The dude has some legit range on his jumper in addition to being long, bouncy, and blessed with great hands. Sinville finished with 21 points and nine rebounds on 10-of-13 shooting in the win. Total monster.

Bonus shout-outs for Modrovich (two threes!), Copeland (another double-double), and Bracy (who put up a vintage Bracy stat line of nine points, eight rebounds, and three assists).

Xavier whooped BYU on the other side of the bracket. That means the Musketeers are our opponent in the national championship game.

No. 12 seed Western Illinois vs. No. 2 seed Xavier, national championship game, 2032 NCAA tournament

Xavier rolls into the national title game after laying the smackdown on BYU, 88-54, in the other Final Four game.

Xavier enters championship Monday as a 100 overall, with perfect ratings in offense and shooting. You can check out the Musketeer’s roster here. This is how the two teams matchup:

This is a stacked roster: every player in the starting lineup is rated in the 90s, led by projected top draft pick Chuck Andrews. Andrews is 6’6, 245-pound shooting guard rated as a 96 overall. His matchup with Jagla could determine the game. I also want to give a shout-out to former Leatherneck target Uche Lett, a 7’1 center, who is Xavier’s first big man off the bench. Xavier starts a small ball lineup, but Lett gives them a totally different dimension when he enters the game. Not many players have a size advantage on Sinville, but Lett is one of them.

We’re going for national championship No. 5. We’re going for our third title in the last six years. I’m trying to tie Coach K with five titles and force our way into an argument as the greatest college basketball program of the modern era. Legacies are on the line.

We streamed this game on Twitch on Sunday night. Click through on the video to watch with the scrolling comments from the Leatherneck Nation. Let’s go!

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Win, 100-76! WESTERN ILLINOIS HAS NATIONAL CHAMPIONSHIP NO. 5!

In fitting fashion, this was truly a team effort. We came out on fire shooting the ball, hitting 71 percent of our shots from the field in the first half. Xavier was matching us bucket-for-bucket for a while. Andrews lived up to the hype as a projected top pick, and they had a quality supporting cast of oversized shot-makers. There was only one problem for Xavier: we simply couldn’t miss.

Our Leathernecks have come to expect superstar performances from Albert Jagla during this tournament, and he delivered again, scoring 16 of his 21 points in the first half. Jagla ended the night 9-of-14 from the field and 3-of-6 from deep, which somehow counts as a modest game for him. It sure felt like Jagla should have won MOP for his contributions throughout this tournament run, but shockingly the award went to his partner in the backcourt, Alexis Willingham.

It was apparent from early in the night that both players were locked in.

Willingham has been relatively quiet during our tournament run, but he’s been a postseason hero for us in the past. Back when we claimed our fourth national championship in Year 23, Will.I.Ham came off the bench to score 15 points in the title game. He rose to the occasion once again in the biggest game of the season, ending the night with 21 points and eight assists.

We went with a tight seven-man rotation in this game, and it felt like everyone who stepped onto the floor had a moment. Skip Clemmons was invisible in the first half, but then caught fire late in the second to thwart any Xavier comeback attempt as they hung around down 10. This was a huge transition three that broke open the game.

Dick Copeland was also excellent in what’s likely to be his final college game as a projected top pick. The 6’8, 260+ lb. used his newfound size advantage at the four to punish smaller defenders with post moves that would make Karl Malone Al Jefferson proud. He also had this gnarly finish off a feed from Willingham:

I can’t believe we’ve gone this long without talking about Sinville, who was comically dominant. Sinville finished with 14 points, 10 rebounds, four assists, four steals, and five blocks. He was getting Tim Duncan comparisons in the Twitch chat at one point. He also finished my favorite play of the game, when we went from inbounding the ball to dunking it in three passes without the rock ever hitting the floor.

Cummings had a big dunk. Draymond Bracy had an extremely Bracy line of six points, seven rebounds, and six assists. The tight rotation didn’t allow any opportunities for Xavier to stake a real comeback.

Title No. 5! That’s three chips in the last six years. This program is leaving no doubt it’s not just the best in the country — it’s one of the best ever.

Our videographer, reader Abby, made us a “One Shining Moment” video. Enjoy:

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What does this fifth championship mean? I’ll let the numbers speak for themselves.

Screen shots from reader Josh, who also added some context to the numbers on Reddit:

The best part of this title run? Barring a surprise NBA draft declaration, we’re expected to bring everyone back next season with the exception of Copeland. For all of our recent success, we still haven’t won back-to-back national titles. Heck, we haven’t even made it past the second year ever when we were defending a championship.

The stakes for next year are going to be so high with what might be our best team ever. I want to be preseason No. 1. I want to be a top-seed in the NCAA tournament. And I want championship No. 6.

Let’s go the offseason.

Offseason

  • The winner of the bracket contest is reader John, who put up the highest score in contest history to claim first place. John nailed three Final Four teams with the correct national title game matchup and winner. Awesome. We’ll great a five-star recruit for John during the next stream.
  • Dick Copeland turns pro, and everyone else is coming back. WE’RE RUNNING IT BACK. BACK-TO-BACK TITLES OR BUST.
  • I get job offers from Miami, Alabama, Dayton, Louisville, and Arizona, but no thank you. I’m a Leatherneck for life.
  • We lose an assistant coach, and replace him with coach McCully, who has an A+ rating in coaching, a B+ rating in offense, and a B rating in scouting. He also has an A- rating in ambition, so it’s likely we lose him one day soon, but that A+ teaching rating should really help our young players improve while he’s with us. Excited to see how Kent, Cummings, Coulter, and Cesar develop under him.
  • Coach Rick’s overall record now stands at 681-156 at age 50. It wasn’t long ago that we went six straight years without making the Final Four from Year 14 to Year 19. To win three titles and go to four Final Fours since is just remarkable.

We have 15 years in this dynasty left before mandatory retirement at age 65. John Wooden has five more championships than we do. Let’s get there.

Recruiting

We had two scholarships to recruit for this season. We filled the first one when we landed three-star small forward Warren Schultz in the early signing period. Our other scholarship offer has been out to four-star point guard Duncan Martinez, and on the first day of the spring signing period, he accepts it.

The 6’2 point guard out of Chicago is ranked No. 69 overall and No. 28 at his position. He looks like a very good outside shooter, and so does Schultz. Reminder that Willingham also entered our program at 6’2 and grew to be 6’5, so I’m hoping that D-Mart will have the same luck.

That does it for recruiting. We’re going to have four scholarships to recruit for next year as we try to replace the greatest recruiting class in Leathernecks history. It’s going to be fun.

Now we have to make our schedule. This is what we go with:

We open up with a tournament called the Cyclone Challenge, then vs. Purdue, vs. Minnesota, @ Villanova, vs. Michigan, @ Northwestern, @ BYU, @ Iowa, vs. Indiana, @ Illinois.

Year 26

Here’s a first look at our roster for Year 26:

We are only ranked No. 16 in the preseason polls, which is some sort of sick joke. How is this team not No. 1 after bringing almost everyone back from last year’s title winner? This really might be our most talented roster ever. We enter the season as a 99 overall.

Both freshmen — Schultz and Martinez — come in at 74 overall with C potential and will redshirt. That is perfect for us because both should be five-year players. It’s also worth nothing that both of these guys are already elite shooters: with ratings in the low 80s in three-point shooting as true freshmen, they should be two of our best outside shooters ever by the time they’re seniors.

We have so much depth for next year, including 7’3 redshirt freshmen center Darren Coulter (not pictured on the roster) who is also a 78 overall. And that top-end talent? Sheesh. With Jagla, Clemmons, Willingham, and Bracy all back, this team is absolutely loaded.

You can watch us play through the regular season and recruit for four scholarships on Monday, November 2 at 8:30 p.m. ET on Twitch. It might be a little later than that depending on my personal schedule, but yeah, we’ll go live around that time. Here’s how you can watch.

Watch Western Illinois Year 26 live stream

What we’re watching: Western Illinois Year 26 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: Monday, November 2

Tip-off time: 8:30 p.m. ET (or maybe a little later — follow my Twitch channel and you’ll get an email update when I go live)

We want back-to-back titles. Go ‘Necks.

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