Western Illinois, Year 23, 2029-2030

IMG 5009.0 - Western Illinois, Year 23, 2029-2030

The Leathernecks ended last season with a heartbreaking loss in the national championship game.

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 start Year 23, here’s a recap of everything that happened last season.

  • Coming off a disappointing loss in the round of 32 to No. 1 seed Xavier last season, the Leathernecks enter the new year ranked No. 19 in the preseason polls. We went 6-5 in the non-conference schedule before sweeping the Summit League and winning the conference tournament once again. We earned a No. 11 seed to the NCAA tournament, entering at 27-5 overall.
  • We beat No. 6 seed UConn, 103-89, in round one. We defeated No. 3 seed Maryland, 95-91, in the round of 32. In the Sweet 16, we beat No. 7 seed Richmond, 136-71, for our biggest NCAA tournament blowout ever. Then we defeated No. 8 seed Tennessee, 100-92, in the Elite Eight to reach the Final Four. Read a full recap of our road to the Final Four here.
  • We beat No. 1 seed George Washington in the Final Four, 106-80. In the national championship game, we lost a heartbreaker to No. 1 seed Kansas, 88-85. Read the full Final Four + offseason recap here.
  • We lost three players early to the NBA draft: juniors Mathew Alloway, Jamie Burke, and Kevin Brazzle
  • We recruited for one scholarship, and landed five-star shooting guard Albert Jagla. As the No. 17 overall recruit, Jagla becomes our highest-rated signing ever.

Here’s a look at our roster heading into Year 23:

IMG 5009 - Western Illinois, Year 23, 2029-2030

We were so, so, so close to our fourth ever national championship last season. The pain of our loss to Kansas was made even worse when our three best juniors all decided to turn pro early. Add in the departure of graduating senior Wilbur Ager, and this feels like a rebuilding year. For more on the pain of last season’s national championship loss and the uncertainty going into this year, check out this piece by our beat writer Matthew Morrow.

This is still a good roster despite all the talent we lost from last season. Let’s run through the starters real quick:

  • PG Koko Reeves, redshirt junior, 87 overall: Reeves enters the starting lineup for the first time as a junior. He’s our smallest player at 6-foot, 190 pounds, but he’s our best shooter (87 rating), best passer (86 rating), and fastest dude (97 speed rating). He can be a weapon if he get him enough volume from three despite his physical limitations. I’m hoping he has a quick trigger from deep in the tournament games. Former No, 52 overall recruit.
  • SG Edwin Wolfe, redshirt junior, 82 overall: The former five-star JUCO recruit has been thrust into the starting lineup earlier than expected. We haven’t had a starter with this low of an overall rating in a long while. While Wolfe’s skill set feels pretty average across the board, he does have one unique strength to his game: a team-high 92 rating in steals. Let’s hope the Wolfe Man can create some chaos on defense and provide us with many opportunities for AWOOOO howls during the Twitch streams.
  • SF Jitim Dupree, redshirt junior, 90 overall: Dupree feels like the most interesting guy on the roster this year. The 6’10 wing has become a solid three-point shooter (77 rating), and has a 98 rating in ‘shooting range’. He’s great defensive rebounder, and has impressive quickness and vertical leaping. We need him to become our go-to option on the perimeter. Former No. 91 overall recruit and projected first round draft pick.
  • PF LF Neal, redshirt senior, 94 overall: The rest of his recruiting class has turned pro, so Neal is now our only senior. A super skinny 6’10, 207-pound power forward, Neal has the best offensive awareness and vertical jumping rating on the team. Elite rebounder on both ends of the floor and super fast. Not much of a three-point shooter. Former No. 137 overall recruit and projected lottery pick.
  • C Artie Snipes, redshirt junior, 92 overall: The massive 7’1, 308 pound center enters the starting lineup in place of Kevin Brazzle and is already projected as a top pick in the NBA draft. Snipes is surprisingly shaky as a shot block (78 rating), but he has the best defensive awareness on the team, a 93 rating in low post defense, and is also our strongest player. Also has a 96 rating in interior scoring. Formerly ranked as the No. 10 center in his recruiting class.

We have four redshirt freshmen coming off the bench this year. Power forward J.J. Bracy is our sixth man and starts his career as an 85 overall. Bracy has grown an inch over the offseason but is still undersized at 6’7, however he has the highest block rating (92) on the team. He is our first ever All-American recruit and was the highest rated recruit in program history until Jagla broke that mark one year later. Reader Ryan made this hype video for him:

On the bench with Bracy is 6’8 center Dick Copeland, the former No. 2 center recruit who has the highest potential rating (A) in program history. 6’4 point guard Alexis Willingham and 6’7, 240-pound shooting guard Skip Clemmons round out the rotation.

Recruiting

We also have four scholarships to recruit for this season. Of course we’d love to add an All-American for the third straight year, but it doesn’t seem like there are many realistic options. With a class this important, I’m instead going to look for good values based on ABL stats and scouting. I’ve identified four players I want to offer:

  • SG Akini Wyatt, ranked No. 135 overall and No. 30 at his position.
  • SF Stewart Bellairs, ranked No. 42 overall and No. 9 at his position.
  • PF Armando Frey, No. 57 overall, No. 8 at his position.
  • C Alex Hatten, No. 148 overall and the No. 10 center.

Wyatt led the ABL in scoring at 18.9 points per game, and showed good passing (5.8 assists per game) and shooting ability (37.5 percent from deep). He also has great size at 6’6, 200 pounds. We think he looks like a sleeper who should be better than his recruiting ranking would indicate. Same goes for Hatten, who scored better than any other center prospect despite being ranked No. 10 at the position. Frey is a local out of Springfield, IL, and Bellairs looks like a monster on defense who can shoot a little bit, too.

With four scholarships to fill and both members of our starting front court likely gone for next year, this is a huge, huge recruiting class. We’re probably going to have to play some of these guys as true freshmen, which we haven’t done since the very start of this dynasty.

We also have a player to create for the winner of our last bracket contest, reader James. James sent me this:

If possible, I would like Luke Gloeckner Jr, please. I have never played College Hoops 2k8, but the kind of player I like is a high confidence, low consistency Small Forward / Shooting Guard standing 6’6” and 200lbs – I’m basically thinking J.R. Smith, but with a bit more hustle

For the uninformed, Luke is a regular Twitch commenter during our live streams and started a spin-off series with Akron in NCAA Football 14 that was inspired by our project. Luke Jr. is now created. Once again, we don’t go after any of the created recruits in this series to maintain the integrity of the game.

Now it’s time to start the season. We begin the year unranked in the polls and rated as a 96 overall.

First game: @ No. 4 Georgia Tech

What, you thought we’d start with an easy game? The Yellow Jackets have been a perennial contender throughout this simulation, and currently have the best player in America in senior shooting guard Carson Dancy. Dancy, a former No. 1 overall recruit, enters rated as a 96 overall. This will be a test right out of the gates.

IMG 5020 - Western Illinois, Year 23, 2029-2030

Loss, 90-73. Dancy hung 21 points on us in the win for GT. What stands out about this one: we had 19 combined blocks + steals (good!), but couldn’t turn that into easy offense going the other way (bad!). Look at my starting front court ball out with 48 of 73 points on the night. We can build off that, I hope.

Next up: a more winnable game against Northwestern. The Wildcats haven’t been in the tournament all that much during this simulation, but historically they’ve given us trouble in head-to-head matchups. Can we get a win on the board?

IMG 5021 - Western Illinois, Year 23, 2029-2030

Loss, 67-65. Ugh, that is a bummer. No points for Wolfe in 28 minutes? Dupree and Neal only combine for 10 points? That isn’t going to cut it. While there were some encouraging signs in this game — an efficient 20 points for Koko Reeves, six stocks and nine rebounds for the freshman Bracy — ultimately this is an inexcusable loss. We’re already 0-2 one week into the season.

Next up we have Nebraska. Can’t say I’ve thought about the Cornhuskers even one time during this simulation. Where’s Fred Hoiberg when you need him?

IMG 5022 - Western Illinois, Year 23, 2029-2030

Win, 92-50. Needed that dub. Look at Snipes absolutely dominate with 36 points on 12-of-17 shooting. He even hit two threes! Not bad for 308 pounds of center. Another nice game for Koko Reeves as well, going 5-for-5 from deep to finish with 18 points. Alexis Willingham — a freshman backup point guard — had his first quality game, too, finishing with 11 points in 17 minutes. I’m excited about his future.

We face SMU the very next day. The Mustangs look like they’re going to be a tournament team this year, so it’s another good test.

IMG 5023 - Western Illinois, Year 23, 2029-2030

Loss, 71-64. What a bummer. We need way, way more out of Dupree, who I was hoping could be the star this year. Snipes is producing but the rest of the offense feels lifeless. I knew this could be a tough year after losing our three best players to the NBA draft, but still 1-3 is not what we wanted.

The next team on the schedule is Michigan. The Wolverines won a national title a few years back, but have been in rebuilding mode ever since. Need a dub here.

IMG 5024 - Western Illinois, Year 23, 2029-2030

Win, 59-54. YUGE, as dads in the Midwest like to say. Our lone senior LF Neal (15 points, 12 rebounds) carried us, also another nice two-way game from Bracy on the bench. Bracy sure looks like a legit rim protector at 6’7.

Missouri is our next opponent.

IMG 5025 - Western Illinois, Year 23, 2029-2030

Loss, 84-76. GREAT game for Koko Reeves and nice work from Neal and Snipes, but we lose again to fall to 2-4 on the year. Maybe Dupree is just saving himself for the tournament?

Some bad news on the recruiting front: Alex Hatten gets an offer from JMU (?) that he likes more than ours as signing week begins. We drop him and take a swing on the No. 1 center in the class — Cecil Sinville, a 6’10 big man out of Chicago, who is rated as the No. 27 overall player in America. That’s much, much higher than the top-ranked center usually places in the top-100. DePaul leads for Sinville, but they haven’t offered him yet. This is the type of big-time move we need in this recruiting class.

IMG 5037 - Western Illinois, Year 23, 2029-2030

Next up we have No. 22 San Jose State. I … did not expected San Jose State to be ranked when we scheduled this game. This would suddenly be a nice win if we can get it.

IMG 5026 - Western Illinois, Year 23, 2029-2030

Win, 82-63. Needed that. Snipes, Neal, and Reeves were all great, as usual. Wolfe and Dupree struggled. We’ll take that win and try to build from there.

As signing week starts, we’re really not in position to land anyone even though none of our current offers have been offered by another school. I wouldn’t say I’m optimistic given how this recruiting cycle has gone so far. We start the week with a game against West Virginia, who are 5-2 on the year.

IMG 5027 - Western Illinois, Year 23, 2029-2030

Win, 66-57! That’s a big one, and it gets us back to .500 on the season. Koko Reeves is really having a nice year scoring the ball and we badly need him to stay hot as a shooter. Solid double-double for Neal, too. We also have our two early conference games this week, and win both handily. That puts us at 6-4 overall.

Things are going less well on the recruiting front: Wyatt commits to Houston, and Bellairs commits to Iowa State. Also: Luke Jr. commits to Tennessee!

We decide to offer 6’3 point guard Lonnie Holmes out of Mission Viejo, CA, ranked No. 66 overall, and 6’7 small forward Nic Cummings, rated No. 110 overall his class.

IMG 5038 - Western Illinois, Year 23, 2029-2030

Cummings has good size and a solid shooting stroke. He was someone I identified as a backup option at the start of the season, so this would be a good get if we can land him.

Next up we have No. 8 Vanderbilt. Vandy has been awesome throughout this dynasty. Here’s hoping Jerry Stackhouse and Scotty Pippen Jr. can pull off a similar turnaround in real life.

IMG 5028 - Western Illinois, Year 23, 2029-2030

Loss, 96-87. We had lots of good individual performance, but going 2-for-19 from three-point range killed us. I do like Neal and Snipes each scoring 19 points. It was nice to see Dupree and Wolfe get going a little bit, too.

Next we played South Florida, led by created player Rudolpho Butt Jr., the son of the one-time Leathernecks assistant coaching target. Thank you to reader Gavin for the thoughtful character after winning the bracket contest a couple seasons back. We streamed this game on Twitch.

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IMG 5029 - Western Illinois, Year 23, 2029-2030

Loss, 92-72. It didn’t really feel that close. We need our starting bigs to dominate inside and neither of them did in this one. I’m unsure of how good Reeves and Wolfe are going to be during stream games. We really need Dupree to bail us out, but he went 0-for-7 from three in this one. Hopefully we just got his worst performance ever out of the way in the regular season. Butt Jr. had 13 and 10 in the win for USF.

Next game is against American:

IMG 5030 - Western Illinois, Year 23, 2029-2030

Win, 99-56. Look at Koko Reeves: 16 points and 11 assists. Oh, and it was an Artie party: Snipes had 34 points and 11 rebounds in the win. We face UCLA the next day;

IMG 5031 - Western Illinois, Year 23, 2029-2030

Loss, 75-74. Wow, that would have been a huge win. So close. UCLA has been excellent during this simulation, and we took them to the brink during a down year. Nice performances from Koko, Neal, and Snipes in this one. Maybe we’re peaking at the right time?

The loss drops us to 7-7 on the season. We get more bad news in recruiting: Holmes gets a UCLA offer, and Frey gets a Clemson offer. Ugh. We drop both and extend new offers to four-star 6’3 point guard D.C. Collier out of Baltimore, and four-star, 7-foot center Uche Lett.

IMG 5039 - Western Illinois, Year 23, 2029-2030

We have had some terrific centers at Western Illinois, but we’ve never landed one who was a top-100 recruit. Now we have offers out to two of them. We continue to sit pretty with our other offers, the center Sinville and small forward Cummings.

Now it’s time for conference season. Can we sweep our way through the league once again?

Yes, we can. We end the season at 23-7 overall. We’re definitely going to need to win the Summit League tournament again to get in, because I don’t think we have any hope of an at-large bid this year. First, let’s look at the stats:

IMG 5041 - Western Illinois, Year 23, 2029-2030

Snipes had a great year, averaging 19.2 points per game. We’ve been lucky to have a string of massive and super talented big men at this program, and he fits right in. He’s a projected top pick in the NBA draft as a junior for a reason. It was nice to see Neal have big year scoring and rebounding the ball. I also can’t remember many point guards in program history who put scoring numbers like Koko this year. He was really good during sim games — hopefully that carries over to the streams.

In recruiting, we’ll start with the good news: we’re poised to land Sinville and Cummings on the first day of the spring signing period. I’m thinking Sinville will be in the rotation as a true freshman center, while Cummings projects as more of a five-year player at small forward for us. Unfortunately, we aren’t close to landing either Lett or Collier yet. Both are about at 50 percent interest despite us being the only offer for each player.

It’s Summit League tournament time. This isn’t the year for a letdown.

Summit League tournament

First game is against Oakland.

Win, 97-59. Next game is against UL-Calcutta.

Win, 88-52. Now we have South Dakota State in the championship game for the automatic bid to the NCAA tournament. Let’s go!

IMG 5032 - Western Illinois, Year 23, 2029-2030

Win, 91-54. No better way to go into the tournament than with six different players in double-figures.

We’re heading into March Madness once again. I …. truly have no idea what seed we’re going to get.

2030 NCAA tournament

Western Illinois is a No. 13 seed, facing No. 4 seed USC in the first round of the NCAA tournament. Wow. Winner gets the winner of No. 5 seed Pepperdine vs. No. 12 seed Texas Tech in the first round. If we can get past the first round, maybe we can go on a little run?

Both teams enter the game as a 98 overall. You can check out USC’s roster here. This is how the two teams matchup:

IMG 5035 - Western Illinois, Year 23, 2029-2030

We enter this game with three players rated in the 90s: senior power forward LF Neal (94 overall), junior center Artie Snipes (94), and junior wing Jitim Dupree (92 overall). I’m a bit bummed that Koko couldn’t crack the 90s club by tournament time, but maybe he’ll get there if we win two games this weekend.

Here’s a full look at our roster:

IMG 5036 - Western Illinois, Year 23, 2029-2030

We’re going to be streaming the NCAA tournament on Sunday, Sept. 27 at 8:30 p.m. on Twitch. But first, let’s get to the 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 27 at 8:30 p.m. on Twitch.

Here’s a look at the full 2030 NCAA tournament bracket:

bracket 2030 - Western Illinois, Year 23, 2029-2030

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 tournament team here.

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. USC in the NCAA tournament on Sunday, September 27 at 8:30 p.m. on Twitch.

No. 13 seed Western Illinois vs. No. 4 seed USC, first round, 2030 NCAA tournament

Game: No. 13 seed Western Illinois vs. No. 4 seed USC, 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, September 27 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. 5 seed Pepperdine vs. No. 12 seed Texas Tech in the round of 32 immediately following the first round game.

Leathernecks Hall of Fame voting

The Hall of Fame voting results are in. I had already selected former small forward Bert Draughan to be inducted. I let the fans determine the final two spots. Here are the results:

Screen Shot 2020 09 24 at 7.33.16 PM - Western Illinois, Year 23, 2029-2030

Allen Cunningham and Roberto Djordjevic are going into the Hall of Fame. Want to write a tribute for Ham, Draughan, or Jorts? Comment below.

I’ll see you Sunday, September 27 at 8:30 p.m. on Twitch.

Go ‘Necks.

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