Western Illinois’ NCAA tournament run in Year 26, continued

IMG 5595.0 - Western Illinois’ NCAA tournament run in Year 26, continued

The Leathernecks enter the 2033 NCAA tournament looking to become back-to-back national champs for the first time in 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.

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:

  • Coming off our fifth national title in program history, the Leathernecks set out to try to become back-to-back champs for the first time ever. We enter the new year ranked No. 16 in the preseason polls and rated as a 99 overall.
  • We had a strong non-conference season, losing only two games and earning a signature victory over No. 1 BYU. After going undefeated in Summit League play and winning the conference tournament, we were named a No. 4 seed in the NCAA tournament.
  • We recruited for four scholarships and still haven’t landed anyone.

Read: Western Illinois, Year 26, 2032-2033


Here’s a look at our roster entering the 2033 NCAA tournament:

IMG 5595 - Western Illinois’ NCAA tournament run in Year 26, continued

The mission for this season has been clear from the start: win back-to-back national championships for the first time in program history. We’ll have to buck our dubious history as defending champions to get it done. In the previous four times we’ve entered the NCAA tournament looking to defend our national championship, we haven’t made it further than the round of 32.

This team absolutely has the talent to repeat. We only lost one player from last year, starting big man Dick Copeland, who left after his redshirt junior year as a projected top pick in the NBA draft. Everyone else is back with another year of experience under their belt. There’s a strong case to be made that this is our best team yet since I took over as head coach at Western Illinois ahead of the 2007-2008 season.

All five of our starters are projected first round NBA draft picks. True junior 7-foot center Cecil Sinville and 6’4 redshirt junior shooting guard Albert Jagla are each projected as top picks. They are joined by a trio of standout redshirt seniors who played a vital role off the bench in our Year 23 national championship team, and then helped power another national title winer last year. Those players: 6’5 point guard Alexis Willingham, 6’9, 260-pound wing Skip Clemmons, and 6’8 do-it-all forward J.J. Bracy. I also reintroduced the starters in the regular season post if you’re new here.

How good is this group? On our subreddit, reader Kyle made the case that all five starters are top five players at their position in Leathernecks history. Bracy’s game is so multi-faceted at power forward that he often draws comparisons to Draymond Green and had reader 808s and Milkshakes writing a case for why we should play him at point guard.

Western Illinois enters the 2033 NCAA tournament rated as a 100 overall in every category but head coach. Our opponent is Stanford, the rare power-five squad to sneak into the dance as a No. 13 seed. Here’s how the two teams matchup:

IMG 5519 - Western Illinois’ NCAA tournament run in Year 26, continued

This really feels like the last dance for this particular core knowing that we’re going to lose all five starters to graduation/the league when this run is over. We have some nice talent on the bench in the form of wing duo Nic Cummings and Neil Modrovich, but it’s possible this is our last title shot for a long time. We want to go back-to-back with perhaps our greatest core ever. We need to go back-to-back while they’re still here. But first, we must beat Stanford.

We streamed this game on Twitch on Sunday night. As always, I’m not controlling Western Illinois; we’re watching a simulated game. Let’s go!

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IMG 5596 - Western Illinois’ NCAA tournament run in Year 26, continued

Win, 125-74! That was one of the most dominant offensive performances I’ve ever seen from our ‘Necks.

This game was actually close for the opening minutes. We were tied at 20-20 midway through the first half before we went on a run to break the game open. Despite struggling to shoot from three in the first half (3-of-12 as a team), we found an offensive rhythm by working the ball inside. Cecil Sinville was an absolute monster, finishing with all 19 of his points in the first half. The only reason he didn’t score after halftime is because we pulled our starters two minutes into the second half when the game had already turned into a blowout.

We kept hunting for the mismatch to get Sinville the ball in position to score, and he delivered time and time again:

Bracy was also excellent, finishing with 14 points, eight rebounds, and three stocks in 21 minutes. The bench took over from there. We had a 23-point lead when the starters were pulled. All we did was win by 51. It shows just how deep this team is, and perhaps how I’m underrating our future even after we lose all five starters following this tournament run.

Every member of the bench scored in double-figures, led by true sophomore shooting guard Neil Modrovich’s 17 points. This was also our first extended look at our two redshirt freshmen in the front court, 7’3 center Daron Coulter, and center-turned-power forward C.J. Cesar. I thought each provided a nice presence in the paint and on the glass on both ends of the floor. When the game was over, we had eight different players score in double-figures, and also scored 125 points as a team without anyone even scoring 20. This was truly egalitarian basketball, which is always the vision for the ‘Necks.

The win sets up a second round matchup with No. 5 seed Georgetown.

No. 4 Western Illinois vs. No. 5 Georgetown, round of 32, 2033 NCAA tournament

Georgetown enters the second round as knocking off Ivy champion Dartmouth in round one. The Hoyas are rated as a 96 overall, which is three points higher than Stanford.

Not going to lie, I’m a little worried about this game. Georgetown has some good looking bigs who might be able to bother Sinville a little bit, and they have a superstar senior shooting guard. More than anything, I’m worried because we always lose in this round during our repeat bids. Just getting to the Sweet 16 for the first time as defending champions would be such a relief.

We looked amazing in round one against Stanford; I’m just hoping we can keep up that level of play. We watched the simulated game against Georgetown on Twitch on Sunday night. Let’s go!

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IMG 5597 - Western Illinois’ NCAA tournament run in Year 26, continued

Win, 95-75! WE’RE GOING TO THE SWEET 16.

Credit Georgetown for hanging tight with us throughout the first half. This was a much more competitive game than our tournament opener, but eventually our distinct talent advantage led us to a pretty easy win.

We could use this space to talk about the all-around brilliance of Alexis Willingham, who finished with 19 points and 11 assists and was the best player on the floor all game long. We could talk about Sinville, who scored 19 points for the second game in a row and made it look effortless. We could talk about Modrovich stepping up off the bench with a couple big threes to finish with 12 points, or we could talk how the rest of the team picked up Albert Jagla as he again struggled to get going offensively.

Instead, I just want to talk about dunks. We seemingly went like 3-4 seasons in a row without seeing a Leathernecks player dunk the ball in a stream game, but we had two sick dunks in this one.

First, here’s a nasty alley-oop slam by Nic Cummings in the first half.

Fun fact: Cummings has what I believe is the highest dunk rating in program history at 95 overall. We finally got to see what that looked like during a game.

And after we had pretty much wrapped up the win, J.J. Bracy decided to one-up Cummings with a ridiculous alley-oop slam of his own late in the second left. I have never seen anything like this during my time at Western Illinois:

The skyward point! The skyward point after the dunk really got me.

Western Illinois is running into the Sweet 16 with the dream of back-to-back national championships still alive. Our win over Georgetown sets up a Sweet 16 matchup with No. 1 seed Florida State.

No. 4 Western Illinois vs. No. 1 Florida State, Sweet 16, 2033 NCAA tournament

The Seminoles are legit: they enter at 25-6 on the season, they’re rated as a 98 overall, and they were No. 1 in the country in the RPI.

Florida State has three players rated in the 90s, and they’re deep at every position. The matchups just keep getting a little tougher after every win so far on this tournament run, and this will be our biggest test yet.

We really need to get Jagla going. You might remember he averaged more than 24 points per game on our run to the national title last year. He’s averaging only six points per game through our first two wins this year. I don’t think we can keep winning without him as a major part of our offense. I’m also interested in how our team defense will survive against a really good FSU squad.

We streamed this game on Twitch on Sunday night. A trip to the Elite Eight is on the line. Let’s gooooooo.

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IMG 5598 - Western Illinois’ NCAA tournament run in Year 26, continued

Win 116-95. We’re one win away from the Final Four!

Oh my, Skip Clemmons. We had lacked a signature individual performance throughout this tournament run so far, but Clemmons just delivered it. He scored 25 of his 30 points in the first half, and finished 9-of-14 shooting from the floor and 5-of-10 shooting from three-point range. I had a good feeling about his performance from the very start of the game: he scored our first eight points, including a three-pointer immediately off the opening tip:

I think we truly forget just how huge Skip is. This man is 6’9, 260 pounds as a natural shooting guard. He weighs one (1) pound less than our center Sinville, who is the heaviest guy on the team. We moved Clemmons to the three when we landed Jagla in the next recruiting class, but it’s wild to see someone with this combination of size and ball skills.

Clemmons has struggled a bit when we put him at the four, but there’s no denying how beneficial his strength is against smaller wings. This looked like a ‘96 MJ move:

Skip was so locked in throughout the first half that I honestly thought he was going to score 50. Instead, it was his backup at small forward who did some serious damage out of halftime.

Nic Cummings is a redshirt sophomore wing out of San Jose. He’s developed nicely over the years and is now our sixth man rated as an 89 overall. Cummings is going to be the future of this team, but because our starting lineup is both so talented and so experienced, we haven’t needed him too much yet. Against Florida State, he finally showed what he can do.

Cummings finished with 19 points on 7-of-10 shooting from the floor and 4-of-6 shooting from three to help key the win. He’s not a great shooter (77 rating from three-point range), but his size and athleticism are really a plus. His performance has me more excited for next year. We also needed it during a game when Sinville struggled (six points on 2-of-8 shooting) and our backup bigs didn’t give us anything either.

We’re on to the Elite Eight, where our opponent will be No. 6 seed Vanderbilt.

No. 4 Western Illinois vs. No. 6 Vanderbilt, Elite Eight, 2033 NCAA tournament

Vanderbilt’s run to this point is pretty incredible: they beat three really good teams in Wisconsin, Maryland, and Arizona to reach the Elite Eight.

While it seems like we caught a break here because Vandy is only a No. 6 seed, they enter with the same overall rating as top-seed Florida State: 98. This team has a superstar shooting guard and a really talented two-way center who looks like Cliff Robinson (RIP). I have a feeling this isn’t going to be an easy game.

Western Illinois has been the Final Four seven times in my first 25 years. We have five national titles, but we still haven’t gone back-to-back. We’re been working all year for this moment, and we think we have the team to get it done. We just know we can’t afford to have an off night on a stage this big.

We streamed this game on Twitch on Sunday night. Because of a technical error, the game is split up into two videos. Final Four on the line. Let’s go!

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IMG 5599 - Western Illinois’ NCAA tournament run in Year 26, continued

Win, 97-78! Western Illinois is back in the Final Four!

Oh my, Vandy gave us all we can handle. After a relatively stress-free road to get to this point, Vanderbilt had us sweating in the final five minutes. For the first time on this tournament run, I made manual subs. For the first time on this tournament run, I made an in-game coaching adjustment. I’m not sure if win this one without those moves.

Up four points with 3:52 left, I re-inserted the starting lineup back in the game after a brief rest to make sure they weren’t gassed in crunch time. We also went with a 1-2-1-1 full court press with the hope of stringing together a few stops to turn a close game into a blowout. That’s exactly what happened.

Skip Clemmons — who was incredible defensively all night, finishing with six steals — swiped this pass to kick-start the break for an impressive Albert Jagla layup. Then J.J. Bracy stole the inbounds pass and finished with the layup:

It was a wrap from there. We played far from a perfect game, but we did achieve a pretty much ideal balance throughout the starting lineup.

I thought Cecil Sinville was excellent again, finishing with 22 points and 12 rebounds on 8-of-12 shooting from the field. He’s moving up the list of all-time great centers in program history. Just the fact that a) he’s our only No. 1-rated center recruit in program history, b) he’s poised to leave as a top pick after only three years on campus, c) he helped win us one national title already, puts him in the running. But he’s also arguably been our best player on another potential title run. I can’t say for certain that we’ve had a better natural talent in the middle.

Clemmons is another all-timer, and he turned in another masterful performance on both ends. Jagla finally had his best offensive game, and Willingham was very good again, too. While Draymond Bracy did have a rough night, we’ll let him make it up to us in the Final Four.

Here’s a bonus Willingham three-pointer, just because I clipped it:

Western Illinois has won the national title in Year 8, Year 13, Year 20, Year 23, and Year 25. If we want title No. 6 in Year 26, we’re going to have to beat No. 1 seed BYU to get there.

No. 4 seed Western Illinois vs. No. 1 seed BYU, Final Four, 2033 NCAA tournament

Our opponent in the Final Four is BYU. Yes, you will remember we beat the Cougars in a true road game during this regular season when they were ranked No. 1 in the polls. That game was close throughout and I think this is going to be another battle.

BYU enters the game rated as a 100 overall. Here’s how the two teams matchup.

IMG 5600 - Western Illinois’ NCAA tournament run in Year 26, continued

On the other side of the bracket, No. 10 seed Georgia Tech defeated No. 9 seed UNC. The Yellow Jackets await the winner in the national title game.

We’re going to stream this game on Sunday, Nov. 15 at 8:30 p.m. ET on Twitch. We have a dedicated community that comes out to watch and comment on the games, and we’re always looking for new fans. Here’s how you can join us:

No. 4 seed Western Illinois vs. No. 1 seed BYU, Final Four, 2033 NCAA tournament

Game: No. 4 seed Western Illinois vs. No. 1 seed BYU, Final Four, 2033 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, Nov. 15 at 8:30 p.m. ET on Twitch

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

IF we win: We’ll play the national title game against .

Come hang on Sunday. Go ‘Necks!

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