Western Illinois, Year 22, 2028-2029

Screen Shot 2020 09 11 at 1.00.33 PM.0 - Western Illinois, Year 22, 2028-2029

The Leathernecks embark on Year 22 with three new starters.

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 get to Year 22, here’s a recap of everything that happened last season:

  • Coming off a historically dominant national championship run the previous season for our third title in program history, the Leathernecks entered the new year trying to go back-to-back for the first time. We returned four starters but lost standout wing Wilky Henry to the NBA. We begin the new season ranked No. 18 in the preseason polls.
  • We went 5-5 in the non-conference schedule before sweeping Summit League play once again. We then captured the Summit League tournament title to lock in our automatic bid to the NCAA tournament. We enter the NCAA tournament as a No. 9 seed at 26-5 on the year.
  • We beat No. 8 seed Michigan, 87-65, in the first round. Our season came to an end in the round of 32 against No. 1 seed Xavier, who beat us 90-60.
  • We recruited for four open scholarships. We landed our highest-rated recruit ever and first ever All-American with 6’6 power forward J.J. Bracy, who is ranked No. 24 overall and No. 2 at his position. We also got commitments from four-star point guard Alexis Willingham, No. 2 ranked center Dick Copeland, and four-star shooting guard Skip Clemmons. Our recruiting class ranked No. 5 in America, our best finish yet.

Here’s a look at our roster for Year 22:

IMG 4822 - Western Illinois, Year 22, 2028-2029

We start the year ranked No. 19 in the preseason polls. We’ve rarely been ranked preseason, so this is encouraging especially considering what we lost. Star power forward Allen Cunningham has graduated after one of the best careers in program history. Point guard Tron Whaley and center Pat Giddens have also moved on to the NBA.

This is going to feel like a completely new team even as we return two starters. Let’s meet the lineup. Click on the player’s name to reveal their full ratings.

  • PG Jamie Burke, redshirt junior, 89 overall: The 6’2 guard enters the starting lineup after backing up Tron the last two years. Burke is the team’s best passer with a 94 rating and has A grades in both speed and quickness. He’s subpar for a shooter (75 rating from behind the arc) but we’ve enjoyed his aggressive drives as a spark plug off the bench. Can he step up his game as he takes over as a starter? Former No. 71 overall recruit.
  • SG Mathew Alloway, redshirt junior, 91 overall: Alloway has been a starter since his freshman year. Now a junior, we’re depending on him to turn into a star. The 6’7 guard can do it all, blessed with the ideal shoot-dribble-pass skill set for the position while also being a very good defender. The only downside is that his release leads him to often turn three-point attempts into long twos. Alloway feels like our most versatile player. It’s possible we could move him to point guard if we get desperate in the NCAA tournament. Former Mr. Basketball out of Minnesota and No. 31 overall recruit. Projected first round draft pick.
  • SF Wilbur Ager, redshirt senior, 94 overall: Can Ager take the same senior year jump that Wilky Henry once used to become a Leathernecks legend? Our NCAA tournament hopes are counting on it. Ager is our lone senior after a dependable career on the wing the last few seasons. While not an elite three-point shooter (76 rating), his skill set is solid across the board. He’s also one of the smartest players on the team with A- grades in awareness on both ends of the floor. Former No. 110 overall recruit out of Chicago.
  • PF LF Neal, redshirt junior, 90 overall: Neal enters the starting up after backing up Allen Cunningham the last two years. The 6’10 big man is super skinny at 207 pounds, but he’s one of the best pure athletes we’ve had. Neal grades out as an A+ in vertical leaping and has A- grades in rebounding on both ends. Will he give us enough shooting at the four? Former No. 137 overall recruit.
  • C Kevin Brazzle, redshirt junior, 91 overall: The massive 7’2 center was projected as a first round draft pick after his sophomore year, but chose to come back for one more season. Now a projected top pick in the NBA draft, Brazzle enters the starting lineup for the first time hoping to etch his name into the long list of great centers at Western Illinois. Brazzle is fast (A grade in speed) for someone his size, and also has good awareness on both ends. A+ grade in defensive rebounding. Former No. 127 overall recruit.

We’ll have four players off the bench this year. Redshirt sophomore center Artie Snipes is the first 300-pounder in program history and will be our sixth man backing up both front court spots. 6’10 small forward Jitim Dupree, 6-foot sniper Koko Reeves, and 6’2 shooting guard Edwin Wolfe make up the rest of the rotation.

We also welcome four new incoming freshman to the program from last year’s recruiting class. This is our best recruiting haul ever, ranking No. 5 in America. All four players will redshirt.

  • PF J.J. Bracy, 81 overall with C potential. Former No. 24 overall recruit and No. 2 at his position. Bracy is both the highest rated recruit and highest rated freshman in program history, per reader Evan’s Leathernecks Recruiting Database. Only 6’6 but already has a B grade in three-point shooting.
  • C Dick Copeland, 75 overall with A potential. Former No. 114 overall recruit and No. 2 center. Highest potential rating in program history. Only 6’8. We’re hoping both of our front court guys will grow.
  • PG Alexis Willingham, 76 overall with C potential: Former No. 68 overall recruit has already grown an inch to 6’3. Projects as an excellent three-point shooter. Should be able to play either guard spot.
  • SG Skip Clemmons, 75 overall with C potential. Former No. 38 overall recruit can also swing to small forward without losing any points on his overall rating.

Recruiting

With only one senior, we have only one scholarship to recruit for this year. We need either another wing to eventually join the timeline of last year’s recruiting class. Because we only have one scholarship to recruit for, we can really swing for the fences. After surveying the class, I decide to use my visits on the following players:

  • SG Joseph O’Hara, No. 1 overall player
  • SF Lavell Radziejewski, No. 41 overall player, No. 7 at his position

Why not go hard after the No. 1 overall recruit? This is the year to do it. Radziejewski looks really good too as a 6’6 wing who hit 42 percent of his threes, so he’s a perfect backup plan. I also load up my target lists with other potential options if I miss on both.

We also have a recruit to create this year for the winner of last year’s bracket contest: reader Justin. I asked him describe the type of player he wanted and this is what he sent me:

I’d be a 6-7 shooting guard (if you can go taller at SG, I give you the power to do so) with deep range and slashing skills, with above average rebounding and probably subpar defense. A skewed version of Reggie Miller. We’re going with jersey number 10, curly short hair, mustache, left and right wristbands, and ankle socks. And if you can choose city, make it Chicago, Illinois.

Done and done. We’ll do another bracket contest for this season. Read to the end of this post for details.

We start the year as a 98 overall. Browsing the top-25 poll, I don’t see any team rated higher than us. We’re now in a position where it feels like we can compete for a title ever year, regardless of who graduates or leaves for the pros. Let’s go!

Regular season opener: @ Illinois

We open the new season with our rivals in Champaign once again. Illinois actually made the tournament last season and look even more formidable this year. We need to prove we still run this state.

IMG 4862 - Western Illinois, Year 22, 2028-2029

Win, 88-78! That’s how you start a season. I love what Alloway and Ager did on the wings, and look at Brazzle fulfilling his destiny as the next great Leathernecks center. Let’s keep the momentum going.

Next up we have No. 15 Florida. The Gators have been sick in this simulation, so I can only assume this will be tough as heck. Let’s go.

IMG 4863 - Western Illinois, Year 22, 2028-2029

Win, 93-88! Hell yeah. Ager was huge, finishing with 22 points on 7-of-10 shooting and consistently forcing his way to the free throw line. That’s exactly what we need out of him. Brazzle (26 points) was also tremendous again. This dude is aggressive offensively at 7’2. I don’t see how anyone is going to stop him given how few good centers there typically are around the country.

2-0! We’re up to No. 16 in the polls.

Now we have Charlotte, another consistently good program in this sim. I scheduled this game thinking we had a created player, Ben Remis, on this team, but he apparently turned pro early because he’s no longer on the roster. This will be another tough one regardless.

IMG 4864 - Western Illinois, Year 22, 2028-2029

Loss, 71-49. Woof. Offense just totally fell apart. A big goose egg for Ager. Brazzle and Snipes were good in the middle and pretty much everyone else had an off night. We drop out of the polls. Onward.

We have some bad news on the recruiting front: Radziejewski, who we eventually offered, is in position to commit to LSU. I offer O’Hara but we haven’t been able to make any progress with him yet. With the early signing period now beginning, I’ve started to scour what’s left for backup plans. It just doesn’t feel like landing O’Hara is realistic as the top overall recruit in the country.

Next up: No. 6 George Washington. GW is loaded this year, and starts former created player Steven Frye in the middle. No easy games on the schedule this year, apparently.

IMG 4865 - Western Illinois, Year 22, 2028-2029

Loss, 89-81. Nice effort but we fall short. I love what Dupree did off the bench with 18 points on 5-of-8 shooting. Another good game for Ager and another double-double for Brazzle. We need more out of our starting backcourt. Frye had 16 points for GW. Wouldn’t be surprised if they’re around deep in the NCAA tournament.

We face No. 7 North Carolina in Chapel Hill next. We streamed this game on Twitch. As a reminder, I’m not controlling Western Illinois, we’re just watching a simulated game.

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IMG 4866 - Western Illinois, Year 22, 2028-2029

Loss, 108-103. At least that was fun? The first half was neck-and-neck (no pun intended), but similarly to our NCAA tournament loss to Xavier last year, the Heels smacked us out of halftime. I switched to a full court press defense that got us back into the game, but we just couldn’t get enough stops to win. I’ve never seen a team shoot as well from three as North Carolina did in this one. Pretty encouraging loss, I think, given that a) UNC is one of the best teams in the country, b) we can’t reasonably expect our opponents to shoot that well against us again.

Next up: Clemson. The Tigers are great every year in this simulation, as well.

IMG 4867 - Western Illinois, Year 22, 2028-2029

Loss, 76-58. Just a terrible offensive game — we’re not going to beat anyone shooting 3-of-14 from deep. Brazzle is trucking but he needs more help. That 2-0 start seems so long ago. Fortunately, we have our two early conference games this week, and we win both easily.

Back on the recruiting front, we still have so much ground to make up on O’Hare, the No. 1 overall recruit in the country, despite being his only offer. It just feels like I’m drawing dead on this one. I decide to rescind the offer and instead extend a scholarship to another All-American shooting guard: 6’2 Albert Jagla of Plano, Texas. He’s rated as the No. 17 overall recruit in the country and would be our high-rated recruit yet if we can land him.

IMG 4875 - Western Illinois, Year 22, 2028-2029

Back on the court, we have a game against Syracuse. It’s been four straight non-con losses for us. Can we finally get a dub?

IMG 4868 - Western Illinois, Year 22, 2028-2029

Win, 72-57. Brazzle and Ager carried us again. I really like what Snipes has been giving us at backup center as well. We needed that one.

Now we have St. John’s. This is another winnable game that we have to have.

IMG 4869 - Western Illinois, Year 22, 2028-2029

Win, 81-66. Look at those four starters in double-figures. Nice to see Alloway get hot from behind the arc to finish with 16 points while also making an impact on defense with four stocks. Alloway bringing his A game feels absolutely necessary for our NCAA tournament chances. Good to see Neal have a nice outing at power forward as well, I feel like he’s been something of a forgotten man so far.

Next up is No. 6 USC. This is going to be a real test. I’m happy we had the opportunity to get our confidence up the last couple weeks, but this is what the opposition is going to look like in the tournament. Let’s get it.

IMG 4870 - Western Illinois, Year 22, 2028-2029

Win, 79-66. Alloway goes bonkers: 25 points on 5-of-7 shooting from three. Another double-double for Brazzle to go with six stocks. That is a feel good win, especially when Ager’s minutes were so limited because of foul trouble.

Back on the recruiting front: it’s going to be tight for Jagla. We’re at 100 percent interest with his top offer, but Missouri is closing fast, and Jagla appears to be waiting for an LSU offer that hasn’t come yet. I think we should be in position to land Jagla as long as the Tigers don’t offer.

Next we have South Florida. USF is a bubble team this year, but they have talent, most notably our created player from this past season: 7-foot freshman center Rudolpho Butt Jr. Can we make it four straight non-con wins in a row?

IMG 4872 - Western Illinois, Year 22, 2028-2029

Loss, 96-85. Might have been the best game of Brazzle’s career and we still take the L. Tough. We need more out of Ager, who played 37 minutes and finished with one (1) point. Not gonna cut it. I am glad to see Alloway is getting hot, at least. Butt finished with 15 points starting at center as a true freshman. I just know he’s going to be an all-timer.

Last non-conference opponent is Arkansas.

IMG 4873 - Western Illinois, Year 22, 2028-2029

Win, 74-63. Burke goes off for his best game of the season with 17 points and seven assists. Alloway and Brazzle continue to provide consistent offensive punch. I’ll also give a shoutout to the bench for all scoring at least five points in the victory.

We finish 6-5 in non-conference play this year, which is pretty good given the gauntlet we faced. I still think we’ll likely have to win the Summit League conference tournament to get into the big dance. We’ve gone undefeated in conference play the last four seasons, so let’s keep it rolling. Can we sweep the Summit again?

Yup. We go unbeaten against conference opponents yet again for a perfect 18-0 mark in the league. Let’s take a look at this year’s statistical leaders:

IMG 4874 - Western Illinois, Year 22, 2028-2029

Brazzle with a huge year: 22.3 points and 6.3 rebounds per game. He wasn’t super efficient as a scorer and doesn’t have three-point range, but I think having an aggressive 7’2 center should serve us well in tournament time. Alloway was above 40 percent from three-point range once again and I like the bench production out of Dupree and Snipes.

Let’s lock up the auto-bid in the Summit League tournament.

Summit League tournament

First up we have Oakland.

Win, 77-43. Brazzle pops off for 33 points on 11-of-18 shooting from the floor. Alloway adds 13 and Dupree adds 10. Next up is North Dakota State.

Win, 97-69. 27 for Brazzle, 13 for Ager, 12 for Alloway, and 14 for Snipes and 13 for Koko Reeves off the bench. Now we have Fort Wayne in the title game.

IMG 4861 - Western Illinois, Year 22, 2028-2029

Win, 98-49! That scoring distribution is exactly what we’re going to need in the dance. I’m happy to have the auto-bid, but still a bit concerned about how our non-con slate will affect our seeding.

Either way, happy to be in again. Let’s do this.

2028 NCAA tournament

Well, shit. The committee jobbed us again. We’re a No. 11 seed with a first round matchup against No. 6 UConn.

UConn has been consistently excellent throughout this sim, recruiting and developing as well as any program in the country. They’ve won national titles. They’ve knocked us out in the Elite Eight before in Year 18. It’s going to be a heavyweight matchup and I can’t believe we’re having it in the first round.

Here’s a look at UConn’s roster. Notice that their head coach is VCU’s coach from 2007 — that’s Anthony Grant. Here’s how the two teams matchup.

IMG 4859 - Western Illinois, Year 22, 2028-2029

Both teams rated as a 100 overall in a 6-11 matchup in the first round? Sheesh.

Make no mistake: we’re loaded this year. Honestly, this roster feels like it’s probably in the 90th percentile of the best rosters I’ve ever had at Western.

IMG 4858 - Western Illinois, Year 22, 2028-2029

Ager joins the hallowed 96 Club. Alloway as a 94 overall two guard with size and shooting ability is huge for us. Brazzle is 7’2 — have I mentioned that yet? Burke and Neal will need to prove themselves, but they have the talent to do it. I like what we have on the bench with a monster center (Snipes), a big wing who can kind of shoot (Dupree), and a pint-sized gunner who is our best three-point shooter (Reeves).

Our prize if we beat UConn? A likely date with No. 3 seed Maryland. Yes, Maryland also looks to have a stacked roster and they’ve also been very good throughout this sim.

We’re streaming Western Illinois vs. UConn on Sunday, September 13 at 8:30 p.m. on Twitch. But before that, we have to announce the annual bracket contest.

Join our bracket contest!

We’ve been running a bracket contest for the last few seasons, and it’s been a ton of fun. We’re opening it up to anyone who wants to enter as long as you turn in your bracket before we stream our first NCAA tournament game on Sunday, September 13 at 8:30 p.m. on Twitch.

bracket 2029 - Western Illinois, Year 22, 2028-2029

This is everything you need to know:

How does scoring work?

We use a standard scoring format. You get one point for correctly guessing the winner in a first round game, two points for correctly a winner in a round of 32 game, four points for correctly guessing a winner in a Sweet 16 game, eight points for correctly guessing a winner in an Elite Eight game, 16 points for correctly guessing a winner in the Final Four, and 32 points for correctly guessing the national champion.

Can I see the rosters for the other teams?

Yes. You can find the rosters for every team on the right side of the bracket in the East and West regionals here. You can find the rosters for every team on the left side of the bracket for the South and Midwest regionals here. Just arrow over to scroll through the rosters.

How do I enter?

1. Click this link to open the interactive bracket.

2. After opening, in the top left select File > Make a Copy

3. Make your picks

4. In the top left, select File and either “Share” and share with sean@hoopsinsight.com or “Email as attachment” and email as an Excel file (not PDF please!) to sean@hoopsinsight.com

Once your picks are entered, you can track scoring with Sean’s Blog Team app that works on desktop and mobile.

What does the winner get?

The winner gets to create themselves or a character as a five-star recruit ahead of next season. We won’t go after the created recruits at Western Illinois to preserve the integrity of the game, but we’ll follow the career of your character throughout our series.

Please enter the bracket contest and join us on Thursday, because it’s going to be really fun. Here’s how you can watch Western Illinois vs. Michigan in the NCAA tournament on Sunday, September 13 at 8:30 p.m. on Twitch.

No. 11 seed Western Illinois vs. No. 6 seed UConn, first round, 2029 NCAA tournament

Game: No. 11 seed Western Illinois vs. No. 6 seed UConn, first round, 2029 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, Sept. 13 at 8:30 p.m. ET on Twitch.

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

If we win: We’ll face the winner of No. 3 seed Maryland vs. No. 14 seed Samford in the round of 32 immediately following the first round game.

I’ll see you Sunday. Go ‘Necks.

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