The start of Western Illinois’ NCAA tournament run in Year 23, continued

IMG 5136.0 - The start of Western Illinois’ NCAA tournament run in Year 23, continued

Western Illinois tries to go on a Cinderella run in Year 23 of our College Hoops 2K8 sim dynasty.

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 first round of the 2030 NCAA tournament. But first, here’s a recap of everything that happened this season.

  • Last season ended in a heartbreaker for Western Illinois: we lost in the national championship game in the final seconds, and then saw our three best juniors leave early for the NBA draft. We would begin the new season with only one returning starter.
  • We struggled in the non-conference schedule, losing seven games before entering Summit League play. We again swept the conference and won the conference tournament, earning a No. 13 seed to the big dance.
  • We recruited for four scholarships and are poised to land two recruits on the first day of the early signing period.

Read: Western Illinois, Year 23, 2029-2030


Here’s a look at our roster heading into the NCAA tournament:

IMG 5136 - The start of Western Illinois’ NCAA tournament run in Year 23, continued

Obviously, this hasn’t been our strongest year. The No. 13 seed next to our name is tied for the lowest seed we’ve ever gotten to the NCAA tournament — with the other instance happening way back in Year 3. I just don’t think there was anything we could do about it after we lost point guard Jamie Burke, shooting guard Mathew Alloway, and center Kevin Brazzle all early to the NBA draft as juniors, as well as graduating senior Wilbur Ager at small forward.

Despite our shaky non-conference performance, you have to credit our guys for still getting into the tournament. I think this team can be dangerous despite the tough draw. Junior center Artie Snipes — another projected top pick in the NBA draft — is a 7’1, 308-pound big man who has been a force down all season. LF Neal, our lone senior, is capable of standout two-way efforts as a bouncy 6’10 power forward. Jitim Dupree, our junior small forward, is a 6’10 wing who needs to get hot from deep. We also have Koko Reeves, the 6-foot-nothing junior point guard who has the highest three-point rating on the team (87) and just put up really impressive offensive numbers in the regular season.

This team might not be great, but I want to believe they are capable. Unfortunately, we got a tough first round draw against No. 4 seed USC. You can check out the Trojans’ roster here. This is how the two teams matchup:

IMG 5035 - The start of Western Illinois’ NCAA tournament run in Year 23, continued

Both teams enter as a 98 overall. I’m expecting a nail-biter all the way.

If we can survive vs. the Trojans, I’m feeling much better about our second round matchup against the winner of No. 5 seed Pepperdine vs. No. 12 seed Texas Tech. While both appear to be formidable, neither are powerhouses. A Sweet 16 run during a supposed rebuilding year would be extremely satisfying. We just really, really want to avoid going one-and-done this year.

We streamed this game on Twitch on Sunday night. As always, I’m not controlling Western Illinois; we’re watching a simulated game between the computer. The game should start when you push play, but otherwise go to the 14-minute mark. Let’s go!

***

***

***

***

***

***

IMG 5132 - The start of Western Illinois’ NCAA tournament run in Year 23, continued

Win, 86-73! WE’RE NOT GOING HOME YET.

Wow, what a win, This one really felt like it was going to come down to the wire for the most of the night. I started to get optimistic when Dupree beat the halftime buzzer with deeeep three from well beyond NBA range. That gave us a great boost going into the break:

We started to pull away early in the second half, as our SECOND HALF TEAM is wont to do. Power forward L.F. Neal, our only returning starter, played what felt like the best game of his career. Neal was scoring on a variety of post-ups and putbacks, and absolutely dominating the glass on both ends. Seriously, 21 points and 18 rebounds in a game where we’re a big underdog feels like one of the better first round performances in program history. That’s what we need out of our lone senior.

Koko Reeves was also excellent, finishing with 19 points, seven assists, and most importantly only two turnovers. There was legitimate concern Koko would struggle as a Stream Team player because of his lack of size at 6-foot, but I think he just quieted the doubters. He took care of the ball where so many other WIU point guards over the years have had turnover issues, and he also gave us a necessary scoring punch. Great performance from him.

I thought our bench was to be an asset heading into this tournament, but look at that box score: our reserves combined for just six points. It was the starters that carried us the whole way. Inspiring. Let’s keep it rolling.

Next up we have No. 5 seed Pepperdine, who defeated Texas Tech in the first round.

No. 13 seed Western Illinois vs. No. 5 Pepperdine, second round, 2030 NCAA tournament

We’ve played Pepperdine several times in the tournament through the years. We beat them on the way to our first ever national championship in Year 8, and also knocked them off two other times in the dance since. Can we push our tournament record to 4-0 against them? It won’t be easy this year.

Pepperdine is coming off a 22-point blowout victory over a tough Texas Tech team. They also have a legitimate big man this year in UCLA transfer Joe Ross Wilder. He’s the highest rated player on the team and one of the better centers we’ve ever faced. As is always the case, Pepperdine also has a bunch of guards who can hit shots and be pesky defensively.

You can check out Pepperdine’s roster here. The Wave enter as a 96 overall.

We also streamed this game on Twitch. Reminder: we’re watching a computer simulation; I’m not controlling Western Illinois. The should should start when you press play, but if not go to the 1:11:00 mark. Sweet 16 on the line. LET’S GO!

***

***

***

***

***

***

IMG 5133 - The start of Western Illinois’ NCAA tournament run in Year 23, continued

Win, 90-86! AHHH, THAT WAS SO CLOSE. We’re onto the Sweet 16!

Jitim Dupree just played one of the best games in program history. The 6’10 junior wing finished with 35 points on 5-of-10 shooting from three-point range, and he could have had a couple more triples if his foot wasn’t on the line. The story of this game was Pepperdine’s resilience in getting bucket after bucket to keep this game ultra close, and Dupree always having an answer. Tie game with 1:30 left, Dupree hits a long two. Score tied at 86 with under a minute left, it’s Dupree who drove to the basket in transition, drew a foul, and knocked down the go-ahead free throws.

It as a lights out performance, the type of game that makes a player a Leathernecks legend. Dupree could be on his way.

We also benefitted from Edwin Wolfe ratting in this three late in the game. Even Kawhi thinks this is a friendly bounce:

Wolfe probably played the best game of his career, too, finishing with 17 points and giving us plenty of opportunities for AWOOOO calls on the stream. The former five-star JUCO recruit was thrust into the starting lineup when Alloway and Burke turned pro, and was our worst starter by overall rating since the early days of this dynasty. He’s turned into a perfectly nice stream player, though, scoring in transition, giving us some solid defense (he has the highest steals rating on the team), and knocking down threes at a decent clip. He’s gaining my trust and turning into a legitimate asset for this team.

It’s wild that we won a game where we only had five combined steals and blocks. Usually we need our defense to fuel our offense. This time, Dupree was so brilliant in the halfcourt that it didn’t matter. We are officially on a Cinderella run, my friends. I cannot this team is in the Sweet 16 after losing its four best players from last season. We can now say officially: this program doesn’t rebuild, it reloads. I felt like John Calipari just typing that.

That sets up a game with … No. 8 seed Ole Miss! The Rebels shocked No. 1 seed Gonzaga, 85-74, in the round of 32. It feels so good to be back in the second weekend of the tournament.

No. 13 seed Western Illinois vs. No. 8 seed Ole Miss, Sweet 16, 2030 NCAA tournament

The Rebels might be an No. 8 seed, but they’ve been one of the more consistent programs in the country during this sim. While Ole Miss has never won a national title, they’re a familiar foe deep in the tournament. So far we’ve had nothing but success against them, entering this matchup at 3-0 in tournament games since I took over as head coach.

Ole Miss has a loaded roster that is in no way fitting of an eight-seed. There is size on the perimeter, and a created player at point guard in former bracket contest winner Sean Garland. Garland is only 5’5, and has been a victim of the talent level at Ole Miss since he arrived. He didn’t even get onto the court until his junior year, and still doesn’t start as a senior despite being a 92 overall and a projected first round pick.

Ole Miss enters at 99 overall, one point better than us. You can see their roster here.

We streamed this game on Twitch. Go to 2:10:00 if the game doesn’t start when you push play. Let’s go!

***

***

***

***

***

***

IMG 5134 - The start of Western Illinois’ NCAA tournament run in Year 23, continued

Win, 106-85. Wow, a beat down. This team is really going to the Elite Eight.

We had our starters pulled with a 25-point lead with 15 minutes left. I never thought that would happen. Our guys were just locked in from the opening tip, consistently getting into the passing lanes for steals on defense, and then ripping threes on offense. Our starting front court of Dupree, Neal, and Snipes all finished with multiple steals, while our starting backcourt of Reeves and Wolfe combined to hit six threes. It was the type of dominant two-way performance that has me wondering if this team really might be sick as a Stream Team.

What’s wild is Dupree shot 1-for-11 from three, and he still had a pretty good game with 22 points. He has such a diverse scoring package and is so good defensively that we can survive and even thrive when he has an off night. The real stars of this game were our biggest player and our smallest, Snipes and Reeves.

Snipes is the beefiest center we’ve ever had at 7’1, 308 pounds. He was turning Ole Miss into BBQ chicken all night with 26 points on 9-of-13 shooting. He probably isn’t as good as Kevin Brazzle was last year in the middle for us, but he’s damn close. Snipes is turning into a really active offensive big man who gives us a notable size advantage in the middle typically regardless of the opponent. I’m also continuously impressed by Reeves, who popped off for 18 points, seven assists, and zero turnovers on 4-of-6 shooting from three. He’s giving us the combination of outside shooting and ball control we covet out of a point guard. He honestly might be starting to move up the all-time position rankings.

This was also a nice chance to see the freshmen on the bench get big minutes. I thought wing Skip Clemmons (10 points) and power forward J.J. Bracy (seven points, seven rebounds) both looked dynamic.

Holy cow, Elite Eight. Our opponent is …. No. 2 seed UConn.

Damnit!

No. 13 seed Western Illinois vs. No. 2 seed UConn, Elite Eight, 2030 NCAA tournament

It had to be the Huskies, didn’t it?

UConn has been incredible throughout this sim, one of four teams with multiple national titles over the last 22 years of our dynasty. Of course, Western Illinois is the only program with three ships. The Huskies typically recruit better than any program in America, and that sure feels like it’s the case once again this season.

UConn enters as a 100 overall, two points better than us. You can check out their roster here. The Huskies have seven players rated in the 90s on the their roster (we have three), and they also have some serious size at every position. Their senior center Jackette is going to be a load for Snipes on the inside. We need everyone to bring their A game if we’re going to pull the upset and punch our ticket to the Final Four.

Sheesh, I cannot believe we’re playing for a Final Four berth. We’ve never reached that round in back-to-back years before. After last year’s loss in the title game to Kansas, I figured it would be a few years before we realistically had another shot at it. Now we’re only one win away.

We streamed this game on Twitch. Leathernecks Nation was equal parts nervous and fired up. Huge game, very little margin for error. Click through to watch the game with commentary from Leatherneck Nation. Let’s go!!!!

***

***

***

***

***

***

IMG 5135 - The start of Western Illinois’ NCAA tournament run in Year 23, continued

Win, 91-82! asdf;lkjasdf;lkjasdf;lkjasdf;lkasdf;lkjasdf;lk we’re going to the FINAL FOUR!

Woooo boy. UConn was excellent and you could see the NBA potential in pretty much every one of their players. I really can’t believe we clawed it out, but credit our guys for never losing faith. This Cinderella run to the Final Four with the lowest seed we’ve ever received in a supposed rebuilding year is actually happening.

Let’s state the obvious up front: Jimit Dupree is a flat-out star. He’s become a legend before our eyes during this tournament run, and his performance against UConn was arguably his best yet. Look at that line: 30 points, five rebounds, and six combined stocks on 11-of-17 shooting. He fueled our offense the entire night and refused to let us lose. It’s time we start talking about him as one of the best small forwards we’ve ever had. If this run keeps going, the praise is only going to get even more exaggerated.

Snipes was awesome again in the middle with 20 points. Jackette was giving him trouble in the early going, but ultimately it turned into an Artie Party and he proved who the best center on the court was. We need to credit L.F. Neal, too. Our senior power forward has had a rough go of it scoring the ball outside of the opening round, but he dominated the glass in this one to finish with 15 rebounds. He also had four steals.

I’ve never seen us execute our brand of defense so well before. While UConn was scoring consistently against in the halfcourt, we were able to get steals and that won us the game. I mean, 18 steals on the night! Just remarkable. I manually switched to multiple different press looks — going from a 1-2-2-1 to a classic trapping scheme in the second half — and that really seemed to give us a boost. We lose that game easily without the press. Saved us big time in this one.

I liked what I saw out of the bench, including a big shot by Clemmons late. This wasn’t the best Koko game with six turnovers, but man, we survived. I can’t be too critical about anything right now because I never, ever, ever expected this team to go to the Final Four.

Our opponent in the Final Four is No. 11 seed UNLV. This is really happening.

No. 13 seed Western Illinois vs. No. 11 seed UNLV, Final Four, 2030 NCAA tournament

Wow, the Runnin’ Rebels make the Final Four after upsetting No. 4 seed UNLV in the last round. On the other side of the bracket is No. 1 seed George Washington vs. No. 7 seed Dayton. The road to the championship is wiiiiide open.

Check out the Runnin’ Rebels’ roster here. Here’s how the two teams matchup.

IMG 5158 - The start of Western Illinois’ NCAA tournament run in Year 23, continued

As we sim to our game, we see that George Washington has defeated Dayton. We’ll face the Colonials for a national title on Thursday night if we can get past UNLV in the Final Four.

We’re going to stream the Final Four on Thursday, Oct. 1 at 8:30 p.m. ET on Twitch. Come hang out with us while we try to win a national championship. Here’s how you can watch. You can also check out Sean’s Blog Team app for full results of the bracket contest so far.

How to watch Western Illinois in the Final Four on Twitch

Game: No. 13 seed Western Illinois vs. No. 11 seed UNLV, first round, 2030 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.

Date: Sunday, Oct. 1 at 8:30 p.m. on Twitch

Tip-off time: 8:30 p.m. ET

If we win: We’ll face the winner of No. 1 seed George Washington

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *