The start of Western Illinois’ NCAA tournament run in Year 25, continued

IMG 5272.0 - The start of Western Illinois’ NCAA tournament run in Year 25, continued

A new group of players once considered the greatest recruiting class in school history tries to lead Western Illinois on a Final Four run in our College Hoops 2K8 sim.

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 opening round 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 recruited for two scholarships, and landed three-star small forward Warren Schultz during the early signing period .

Read: Western Illinois, Year 25, 2031-2032


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

IMG 5272 - The start of Western Illinois’ NCAA tournament run in Year 25, continued

Two facts about this year’s roster:

  • The four redshirt juniors in the starting lineup were once considered the No. 5 recruiting class in the country, which is the best in program history.
  • It features the two best recruits in program history in current RS sophomore shooting guard Albert Jagla (No. 17 overall) and RS junior power forward J.J. Bracy (No. 24 overall). Add in true sophomore center Cecil Sinville (No. 27) and we have three of the four best recruits in program history on this team. Miss you, Billy Assel.

Back when Dick Copeland, Bracy, Skip Clemmons, and Alexis Willingham were redshirt freshmen, they played a pivotal role off the bench for our national championship team in Year 23. The foursome aren’t exactly fresh faces, but doing it as the leaders of a team is a completely different challenge.

Our non-conference performance was pretty mediocre. We even lost our one annual stream game to Tennessee. Now we have what feels like a super difficult draw in the bracket in front of us. Our Leathernecks are a No. 12 seed with a tough opening round matchup against No. 5 seed Seton Hall. If we win, we likely have No. 4 seed Wisconsin in the round of 32. No. 1 seed Stanford could be waiting if we make the Sweet 16.

Seton Hall enters the game as a 97 overall — two points lower than us. While we have more top-end talent with five players rated in the 90s, Seton Hall has significantly more depth. The Pirates have just one player rated in the 90s, but they have nine players rated in the 80s. Check out Seton Hall’s full roster here. This is how the two teams stack up:

hall - The start of Western Illinois’ NCAA tournament run in Year 25, continued

There’s an added pressure on this year’s group of juniors because they know it’s the only season they will all start together. Our center Dick Copeland is a projected top pick in the draft, and will almost certainly be leaving school when our tournament run is over.

Copeland is in a fascinating position: he’s our best player by overall rating and our best player ever by potential (A rating), but he’s also struggled in streamed games because he’s only 6’8. That’s why we’re making a dramatic lineup change as we enter the tournament: 7-foot sophomore center Cecil Sinville is moving into the starting lineup at center, Copeland is sliding down to power forward, and Bracy is going to be our super sub off the bench.

We streamed this game on Twitch on Thursday night. As always, I’m not controlling Western Illinois. My bud ZW Martin helped provide commentary, which you can only hear on the game highlights. We’re watching a simulated game.

Let’s go!

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IMG 5404 - The start of Western Illinois’ NCAA tournament run in Year 25, continued

Win, 119-91. We looked amazing. This is the type of performance I envisioned from this team when I brought them together.

Have a game, Albert Jagla. The redshirt sophomore shooting guard went off for 40 points on 15-of-17 shooting (!) including 7-of-9 from three-point range. My dude was straight buckets all night. That’s one of the very best performances in program history, especially when you factor in the ridiculous efficiency. I think he would have had a shot at ‘Silky’ Wilky Henry’s school record of 46 points in a tournament game, but we pulled him out with the rest of the starters with seven minutes remaining.

The shot-making from Jagla was just incredible:

Everyone else was great, too. Obviously, it isn’t easy to score 119 points against a very good team in a tournament game — I can only remember us topping that total once or twice throughout this sim. I thought the entire starting lineup played well, plus we got a breakout performance from redshirt freshman wing Nic Cummings off the bench. Cummings had a modest year by the numbers and didn’t do anything in our regular season stream game, but the 6’7 small forward improved a team-high five points on his overall rating (up to a 83) during the season. He got hot against Seton Hall, knocking down all three three-pointers he attempted. I hope that’s a sign of things to come.

I also thought our decision to start Sinville at center paid off big-time. Sinville is four inches taller than Copeland (7-foot vs. 6’8), he’s more athletic, and he apparently has more shooting range. After he ripped a three-pointer from behind the NBA line, he looked at the camera and gave us a Jordan shrug.

That was a really fun start to our tournament run — and gives me some confidence that maybe this team does have what it takes to run through the bracket. Our opponent in the second round will be No. 4 seed Wisconsin, who took care of business against Niagara.

No. 12 seed Western Illinois vs. No. 4 seed Wisconsin, round of 32, 2032 NCAA tournament

Wisconsin is actually rated three points worse than Seton Hall, entering the game as a 94 overall. The Badgers’ still appear to have a very capable roster, though. Their three highest-rated players are senior point guards. Yes, I’m fully aware that small ball attacks have given us trouble in the past.

Here’s a look at the Wisconsin roster:

IMG 5343 - The start of Western Illinois’ NCAA tournament run in Year 25, continued

The Badgers don’t have much size inside, so hopefully this will be a game where our front court can dominate without feeling undersized.

We streamed this game on Thursday night on Twitch. A Sweet 16 berth is on the line. Let’s go!

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IMG 5403 2 - The start of Western Illinois’ NCAA tournament run in Year 25, continued

Win, 86-72. We’re moving on to the Sweet 16!

That was a rock fight. While I find it hilarious that 2032 simulated Wisconsin plays exactly like actual Wisconsin, it sure is annoying to go against. Neither team could get anything going in the first half. After dropping a 40-burger in the previous game, Jagla only had six points at halftime. We needed to get him going to open the second half, and that’s exactly what happened. First, Jagla dropped this beautiful dime to Alexis Willingham on a back door cut:

And then he started to get his scoring going. Jagla finished with team-high 21 points on 7-of-10 shooting in another remarkably efficient performance.

The rest of the starting unit also looked damn good. I thought Dick Copeland had a great game to finish with 16 points and 15 rebounds. Maybe sliding down to power forward is exactly what he needed. He was finishing strong inside, knocking down his free throws, and even played a key role in our press. I’ve been worried that Copeland might not live up to his potential during stream games, but he really proved himself in this one.

Skip Clemmons also had a solid game to finish with 18 points. I really thought Clemmons was going to be our best player heading into this tournament run, but so far it’s been Jagla. I think we’re going to need to get Clemmons going against tougher competition the rest of the way, and this game was a good showcase of his abilities. Skip the Rip!

We won a shootout in round one against Seton Hall. We won an ugly game against Wisconsin in the round of 32. I love that this team can win in multiple ways, and I think we have several different players who could theoretically carry us on any given night.

We get some good news as we sim to the next week: No. 9 seed Tennessee upset No. 1 seed Stanford in the second round. The Vols will be our opponent in the Sweet 16.

No. 12 seed Western Illinois vs. No. 9 seed Tennessee, Sweet 16, 2032 NCAA tournament

You may remember that we played Tennessee in a regular season that we streamed on Twitch earlier this season. They pretty much out-played across the board and won the game by double-digits. That loss is fresh in my head as we enter the Sweet 16 matchup.

The Vols are led by Luke Gloeckner Jr., who entered our simulation as a created player from a former winner of the bracket contest. For the uninformed, Luke is a long-time Twitch commenter who was inspired by our series to start his own project playing NCAA Football ‘14 with Akron. Sign up for his newsletter here. Here’s a full look at Tennessee’s roster:

IMG 5341 - The start of Western Illinois’ NCAA tournament run in Year 25, continued

You have to be impressed by the Vol’s path to get here. They beat Kansas — always a powerhouse in this simulation — in the first round, and then upset top-seeded Stanford. This team showed us exactly how good they are when they whooped us during the regular season. We’re going to need to be at our best to win this game.

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

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IMG 5401 - The start of Western Illinois’ NCAA tournament run in Year 25, continued

Win, 104-84. We are now only one win away from a Final Four appearance.

First off, Luke Jr. was phenomenal, finishing with 28 points on 11-of-20 shooting. He was every bit as good as his matchup at small forward in Skip Clemmons, but this Leathernecks team is proving to have so many different ways to win. I thought the game turned on our last possession of the first half. We drained the shot clock, gave the ball to Copeland, and let him find Jagla for a three-pointer just before the halftime buzzer.

If you don’t know now you do!

Jagla (13 points) had his first modest performance of the tournament, but everyone else picked him up. Every starter finished in double-figures, as did our true freshman shooting guard on the bench, Neil Modrovich. It was an impressive team performance all around, as we finished 10-of-15 from three-point range and finished with 18 combined stocks (steals+blocks). Clemmons was unquestionably the biggest star of the night, though.

Skip finished with 26 points on 8-of-12 shooting from the floor and 4-of-5 shooting from three. He also had four steals and a block. Clemmons is just so big at 6’9, 252 pounds. Watch him miss the layup, but then finish a put-back for an and-one.

If we get Jagla and Clemmons both playing their best game, sheesh, we are going to be really hard to beat.

The win over Tennessee sets up a matchup with No. 3 seed Alabama in the Elite Eight. I can’t believe we’re knocking on the doorstep of a Final Four once again.

No. 12 seed Alabama vs. No. 3 seed Alabama, Elite Eight, 2032 NCAA tournament

The Tide won a close game against an absolutely loaded No. 2 seed Georgia Tech team to reach the Elite Eight. That alone should tell you that they’re legit.

They have it all: star-power at the top, size, and depth. Here’s a full look at Alabama’s roster:

IMG 5347 - The start of Western Illinois’ NCAA tournament run in Year 25, continued

Alabama is going to be a difficult opponent, no doubt. But at this point, I’m starting to feel like no one can stop us. If we win, it would be our fourth Final Four trip in the last six years, and our seventh Final Four appearance since I arrived at Western Illinois ahead of the 2007-2008 season. This might be Year 25, but I feel like we’re just starting to hit our peak.

We really need a win in this game before we can start thinking about legacies. I know the pain of losing in the Elite Eight all too well. At one point, we fell in this round three straight years. I don’t want it to happen again.

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

DDD

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IMG 5400 - The start of Western Illinois’ NCAA tournament run in Year 25, continued

Win, 92-83! We’re going to the Final Four for the seventh time in program history!

Wow, that was way closer than the final score might indicate. We were in serious danger of losing late in the second half, but our interior defense and shot-making just wouldn’t let it happen.

Let’s start off with Jagla, who is blossoming into a true superstar before our eyes. The highest rated recruit in Leathernecks history as the former No. 17 overall prospect in his class, Jagla put together another masterpiece in the Elite Eight. He finished the game with 28 points on 9-of-10 shooting from the field. When he hit this three-point dagger at the end of the first half, I thought we were going to run away with the game.

That didn’t happen. Alabama started to close the gap early in the second half, and they tied the score with seven minutes left. From then on, every possession was so tense.

I’d like to think the basis of this program has always been turning defense into offense. Up two late, Dick Copeland stole the game, pitched it ahead of Willingham, who threw a beautiful pass to Jagla for the layup.

Willingham has had a relatively modest tournament run so far in terms of scoring production, but I’ve thought always he’s the total package as a point guard. He came through with perhaps the biggest shot of the night.

Up four with just over a minute left, we drained the shot clock until the very end. Willingham launched a deep three off the dribble just before it expired, and canned it to seal the win.

Sinville deserves a major shout-out as well. We never make lineup adjustments once we head into the postseason, but I really felt like it was necessary to make Sinville a starter so we could have some more size and athleticism on the floor. This might have been his best game yet: 17 points and 11 rebounds on 8-of-12 shooting. He’s fully living up to his recruiting hype as the former No. 1 center prospect in the country.

I need to end with one more note on Jagla. There was a great post on our subreddit (subscribe!) detailing how he’s having the most efficient NCAA tournament run in history:

Watching the stream, I kept noticing how efficient Jagla was being, and looking back at the stats today confirms it: he’s on what is the single most efficient tourney run ever. Let’s take a look at the numbers:

102 total points 23-23 2pfg (that’s right, HE HAS NOT MISSED) 14-21 3pfg 16/17 ft

So we are looking at 25.5ppg on 100/67/94 shooting splits, for a true shooting percentage of 99.1%.

Unreal.

We are in the Final Four for the fourth time in the last seven seasons. We won our third national title in Year 20. We went back to the national championship game in Year 22, only to lose a close game to Kansas in the final minute. We rebounded with another national title, our fourth ever, in Year 23. Now we’re back on the sport’s biggest stage in Year 25. We want national championship No. 5.

Our opponent in the Final Four will be No. 4 seed Florida. UF knocked off No. 1 seed NC State in the Sweet 16, and then beat No. 6 seed Utah in the regional final. Here’s a look at the Gators’ roster.

IMG 5359 - The start of Western Illinois’ NCAA tournament run in Year 25, continued

Can we take a moment to appreciate how good of a name Kyree Janusauskas is? Thank you.

The winner of No. 2 seed Xavier vs. No. 4 seed BYU is sitting on the other side of the bracket. We’re going to be streaming Western Illinois vs. Florida on Sunday, Oct. 25 at 8:30 p.m. ET on Twitch. But first, here’s an update on the bracket contest standings:

IMG 5413 - The start of Western Illinois’ NCAA tournament run in Year 25, continued

Thank you to everyone who entered, and to Sean Vinsel from Hoops Insight to running the contest. Check out Sean’s new newsletter, Hoops Hindsight, looking back on some iconic college basketball teams from the recent past. He started with a series on 2014-15 Kentucky that you don’t want to miss.

Come hang out with us on Sunday night. Here’s how you can watch Western Illinois in the Final Four.

How to watch Western Illinois vs. Florida in the Final Four on Sunday

What we’re watching: No. 12 seed Western Illinois vs. No. 4 seed Florida in the Final Four.

How to watch: My Twitch channel

Date: Sunday, Oct. 25

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

If we win: We’ll face the winner of No. 2 seed Xavier vs. No. 4 seed BYU in the national title.

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