The Leathernecks hang a banner for national title No. 4 and try to go back-to-back for the first time ever.
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 24, here’s a recap of everything that happened last season.
- Year 22 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 Year 23 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 beat No. 4 seed USC, 83-76, in the first round of the NCAA tournament. We defeated No. 5 seed Pepperdine, 90-86, in the round of 32. In the Sweet 16, we knocked off No. 8 seed Ole Miss, 106-85. In the Elite Eight, we shocked No. 2 seed UConn, 91-82, to punch our ticket the Final Four. Read the full recap of our road to the Final Four here.
- We beat No. 11 seed UNLV, 91-90, in the Final Four on a last second putback by LF Neal. We then defeated No. 1 seed George Washington, 104-88, in the championship game to win our fourth ever national title. Read the full Final Four recap here.
- We signed three recruits after the season: four-star center Cecil Sinville, four-star point guard Goran Kent, and three-star small forward Nic Cummings.
For the fourth time since Coach Rick arrived in Macomb, the Western Illinois Leathernecks are national champions. Hang the banner!
I’m still shocked by this title run. As a No. 13 seed, we’re now the lowest-seeded team to ever win a national championship. To do it after losing three great players early to the NBA makes it even more remarkable. We weren’t even good in the non-conference slate! None it mattered once the calendar flipped to March, when we found the gear we’d been searching for all season.
Celebrate this “One Shining Moment” with us:
Onward to Year 24. Let’s defend this ship.
Here’s a look at our roster heading into Year 24.
Let’s begin the new season by stating a simple fact: we’ve never won back-to-back national championships. In fact, the previous three times we’ve defended a title, we haven’t even made it past the round of 32. I believe this team is again good enough to win it all, but it’s going to be tough considering what we lost. Artie Snipes, our 7’1 junior center, bounced early to the NBA. We also lost power forward LF Neal to graduation after he cemented himself as one of the great glue guys in program history.
Fortunately, we’re still returning three starters, including the Most Outstanding Player from last year’s tournament. Let’s meet the starters:
- PG Koko Reeves, redshirt senior, 91 overall: Koko silenced any doubters coming into the season by developing into a rock solid lead guard for a national title team. Reeves was productive throughout the regular season (13.2 points per game) and thrived on the biggest stages, most notably with 13 points and 12 assists in the national title game. At 6-foot, Reeves is the smallest player we’ve ever had, but he’s also our best three-pointer with an 89 rating from deep. He could be in for a big year. Former No. 52 overall recruit.
- SG Edwin Wolfe, redshirt senior, 88 overall: The Wolfe Man began last season as our lowest-rated starter in, like, decades. He ended it as a Final Four hero and national champion. Wolfe hit his first seven three-pointers against UNLV in the national semifinal, and played excellent defense all year. The 6’2 guard has the highest steals rating (95) in program history. While a bit undersized, he gives us a solid three-and-D option on the wing. Former five-star JUCO recruit.
- SF Jitim Dupree, redshirt senior, 93 overall: The 6’10, 242 pound wing officially became one of the all-time great Leathernecks with an inspired run through the NCAA tournament last year. Dupree dropped 30 or more points three different times, including 34 points on GW in the national title to win tournament MOP. A disruptive defender because of his length, Dupree is also a reliable outside shooter who can finish inside. He’s the second tallest player on the roster this season and might even log some small-ball five minutes for us in the tournament. Former No. 91 overall recruit and projected lottery pick.
- PF J.J. Bracy, redshirt sophomore, 88 overall: Bracy was our highest-rated recruit ever when he gave us his commitment as the No. 24 overall player in his class. He just had one problem: at 6’6, he was significantly undersized for a power forward. We hoped Bracy would grow at least two inches in school, and that’s exactly what happened. Now 6’8, Bracy enters the starting lineup as a sophomore with a fascinating skill set. He’s the highest-rated shot blocker on the team (94 rating) and an excellent rebounder on defense. On offense, he’s a pass-first forward who also has shooting range. Watch the Bracy recruiting hype video by reader Ryan if you want to see how we scouted him. I’m super excited to see what he can do.
- C Dick Copeland, redshirt sophomore, 87 overall: Copeland is distinct in Leathernecks lore for three different reasons: 1) As the former No. 2 overall center prospect, he was the highest-rated big man we had ever recruited when he committed. 2) He has an A rating in potential, which is the highest in program history. 3) He hasn’t grown since he entered the program, which means he’s the shortest center in school history at 6’8. Copeland is obviously super talented going by his potential rating, but the last few seasons we’ve had 7’2 Kevin Brazzle and 7’1 Artie Snipes in the middle for us. It’s going to be really interesting to see what we do with such an undersized front court.
We also have some serious talent on the bench, though we’re not very deep. You might remember Alexis Willingham from dropping 15 points in the national title game. Now a redshirt sophomore, Willingham has grown an inch to 6’5 and gives us a big guard with shooting ability on the second unit. He’s joined by fellow sophomore Skip Clemmons, a natural shooting guard who moves the wing after growing to 6’8, 247 pounds. He’s almost bigger than our starting center! There’s also the debut of 6’3 redshirt freshman shooting guard Albert Jagla, who is the highest recruit in program history as the former No. 17 overall prospect in his class. Rounding out the rotation is 6’11 center Cecil Sinville, who will be our first true freshman in the rotation since … Ira Wells in the very early days of my tenure. Hey, we need at least one big off the bench. Sinville also has A- potential and was the No. 1 center in his recruiting class, so it’s probably unlikely he was staying in school for five years anyway.
We’ve also decided to keep walk-on Ian Hoyer, a 6’8 power forward rated as a 54 overall, to provide some additional depth. I’ll tell you now I immediately regretted this decision because of how often the computer decided to play him in games despite the fact that I had him set at zero minutes in the rotation.
We’re redshirting our two other freshmen: small forward Nic Cummings (74 overall, B- potential) and 6’5 point guard Goran Kent (72 overall, C potential). Cummings already has a 92 dunking rating! Next Tom Chambers? Kent looks pretty mid to be honest but at least he has great size.
The real intrigue of this regular season is going to come in recruiting. Because we only filled three of our four available scholarships last season, we have five scholarships to play with this year. We’re prioritizing getting a high-level shooting guard and two big men. Here are the five players we offered on the first week:
- 6’4 SG Neil Modrovich out of Cleveland, No. 62 overall and No. 17 at his position
- 6’10 PF Michael Pratt out of Kenosha, WI, No. 120 overall and No. 10 at his position
- 7’2 C Daron Coulter out of Charlotte, No. 196 overall and No. 7 at his position
- 6’5 SG Terry Bills out of Chicago, No. 31 overall and No. 7 at his position
- 6’2 PG Jessie Waller out of Fort Lauderdale, No. 50 overall and No. 22 at his position
The challenge of this dynasty has always been recruiting top players to such a small school. Our total number is recruiting points is so much lower than power-five programs, so we have to be smart about how we allocate them. I decide to use my flights on Modrovich and Pratt. We badly want to land at least one of them at the early signing deadline.
We also need to add in our created players for the winner of last year’s bracket contest. Reader Abby won as the only person (I think) to pick our Leathernecks to win it all. Thank you for your belief. Here’s the description she sent in:
Weight: 160 lbs
Aesthetics: As femme as you can get, lmao: Long hair, no facial hair, give her some diamond stud earrings and a small gold necklace.
Stats/play style: Tenacious defense. Surprisingly high vert. All passing on offense with solid drive and cutting skills. Reliable from the line, likes to make contact. Quick feet, not great stamina, is that her 5th board?, and you know I’m clutch.
Done and done. I’m also recreating reader Justin, who won the bracket contest two seasons ago, because I made his character too old and bad last time.
We begin the year rated as a 97 overall. Somehow, we aren’t ranked in the preseason polls? Give the champs some respect! I guess we’ll just have to prove everyone wrong again.
First game: @ No. 9 Indiana
We’re starting the year off with a true road game against a national championship contender. Indiana has a loaded roster and looks like they will be among the top seeds in the NCAA tournament. Last season, we were much better as a stream team than a sim team. This will be a legitimate test to see if we can beat elite teams during sim games now that we’re equipped with *championship experience.*
Loss, 79-57. Woof. That’s about the worst we’ve played offensively. Not much to take away from a game were we shoot 32.7 percent from the field and turn it over 13 times.
Next up is South Florida, led by junior power forward Rudolpho Butt Jr., the created player made by former bracket contest winner reader Gavin. RBJ is a rated as a 91 overall and gives USF a dynamic 7-foot big man with versatility on both ends. The rest of this Bulls team looks legit, too. We streamed this game on Twitch.
Win, 99-77. The stream team is back in the building. We looked great, with the old stars leading us once again. Jitim Dupree (23 points) is unguardable, Wolfe continues to bring two-way impact (15 points, four steals), and our young bench is ridiculously talented. I’m particularly excited about Jagla dropping 15 points in his debut.
That game is why I’m optimistic about this team entering the tournament regardless of how we do during this regular season. It sure would be nice to get a high seed, though.
We face Miami (OH) next as requested by reader Z.W. Should be an easy dub.
Win, 79-73. OK, that was a little closer than anticipated. Look at Koko Reeves go off: 31 points on 9-of-15 shooting. Beautiful. We love to see a short king shine. I’m also enjoying the boost off the bench from Skip Clemmons, who added 15 points on 3-of-4 shooting from deep. I really think Clemmons is going to be a monster for this program at his peak.
We get some bad news on the recruiting front: Waller gets an offer from South Florida he likes better than ours, so we drop him. We instead decide to extend a scholarship offer to 6’1 point guard Shamell Schneider out of St. Paul, MN, the No. 53 overall prospect in the class and No. 25 point guard.
Michigan is the next team on our schedule.
Win, 63-46. We put up a great defensive performance while only finishing with six stocks. Maybe Michigan just couldn’t hit anything? Sophomore power forward J.J. Bracy was excellent, finishing with 18 points and six rebounds on 6-of-8 shooting.
Signing week is here we are at 100 percent interest for both Neil Modrovich and Michael Pratt.. DePaul is also at 100 percent interest for Pratt, but they haven’t offered yet. We have no competition for Modrovich, so hopefully he’s ready to commit.
But first, we face DePaul. The Blue Demons haven’t had much success in this sim playing in the old and absolutely loaded Big East, but they’ve got the best of us several times in head-to-head matchups.
Loss, 85-75. Rough. Koko went loco again, getting hot from deep to finish with 27 points, but it wasn’t enough. At least we finally got a good game from our center Dick Copeland, who finished with 17 points despite only making 7-of-12 shots from the foul line. We also have our two early conference games this week, and we blow out Oakland and beat IUPUI by 11. That makes us 5-2 on the year.
Wow, we go 1-for-2 in recruiting. Pratt gets a DePaul offer and signs with the Blue Demons. Just heartbreaking. Did he base his decision on the game we just played?? Man. In better news, we did land Modrovich:
Modrovich is a really nice get as the No. 62 overall player in the class, and the No. 17 player at his position. We’re hoping he can grow an inch or two in school, and prove he’s a better shooter than his numbers indicate. That is a nice start to our biggest recruiting class yet, but sheesh I wish we could have landed Pratt, too.
Schneider also commits to Minnesota. Now armed with two available scholarships, we decide to offer three-star center C.J. Cesar out of Cincinnati, the No. 9 overall big man in the class, and four-star point guard Drake Amous out of Modesto, CA, the No. 95 overall player and No. 40 overall point guard in the class.
Next up is Illinois. The Illini are our long-time rival who are a tough test every time. We need to show we still run this state after the loss to DePaul.
Win, 90-73. Huge. Koko continues his killer season with 24 points on 5-of-9 shooting from three-point range. Our young, undersized front court of Copeland and Bracy played well, too, combining for 36 points.
We get more bad news on the recruiting front: Terry Bills gets an offer from Michigan State he appears ready to accept. We withdraw our offer and redirect it to 6’5 shooting guard Theo Cowans, a four-star recruit out of Brookings, South Dakota ranked No. 85 overall and No. 30 at his position.
Dayton is up next. The Flyers have been awesome in this simulation, and they are awesome again. We could see this team deep in the NCAA tournament. This will be a test.
Loss. 87-72. Ugh. Bracy played well, but we just couldn’t match the talent on the Flyers. We want a rematch in a stream game. Also, why is the walk-on Hoyer playing 17 minutes???
Now we have Iowa. The Hawkeyes really haven’t been a factor in this sim at all. We need a win here.
Win, 73-43. We had big Copeland energy in this one, as the sophomore center finished with 21 points and six boards. Nice to see Willingham get hot (12 points) off the bench, too.
Next up is Seton Hall. This would be a nice win if we can get it.
Loss, 89-84. A bunch of solid offensive performances for our guys, but we couldn’t get enough stops defensively to win. It’s tough to beat a good team when your starting point guard and center have rough nights like Reeves and Copeland did here. I do like what Dupree did (17 points, seven rebounds) — he’s always been a better stream team performer than sim player, but we can use more efforts like this to help us get a decent seed.
We close out the regular season with Kentucky. The Wildcats actually haven’t been a top-tier program during this sim — they have zero national titles — but they are still always competitive. Let’s see if we can get a dub here.
Loss, 67-48. Well, damn. That was an atrocious Edwin Wolfe game (0-of-7 shooting), but we can’t only blame him. As a team, we shot 25.4 percent from the field. That’s not how we wanted to end non-conference play. We finish with a 5-5 non-con record. We’re going to need to win the Summit tournament once again to make the big dance.
We have like a five-year winning streak in Summit League play at this point. As we enter conference season, can we run the table once again?
Yes we can. Our Leathernecks again go 18-0 in the Summit League once again to end the season at 23-5. The recruiting period ends with a mixed bag: we’re in position to land 6’9 center C.J. Cesar on the first day of the spring signing period, but Coulter, Amous, and Cowans all remain far way from making a decision. It’s going to be a big offseason to shape the future of the program. For our created players, reader Abby appears set to sign with Villanova. Reader Justin signed with NC State already.
Before we get to the conference tournament, let’s check out the stats:
Long-time fans of the series will remember that our center or power forward leads us in scoring almost every year. I don’t think we’ve ever had a point guard put up numbers like Koko: 16.7 points per game on 41 percent shooting from three. I thought everyone else was decent but not amazing. Hopefully we can find a higher level again in stream games.
We need to win the conference tournament first, though. Let’s do it.
Summit League tournament
Our first game in the conference tournament is against Oakland.
Win, 109-57. Koko, Copeland, and Dupree all scoring more than 20 points! We now face IUPUI in the semifinals:
Win, 84-50. Excellent balance throughout the rotation. Now we’re in the Summit League championship game against UL-Calcutta.
Win, 67-62! We’re back in the NCAA tournament to defend our title. We actually watched the first half of this one on Twitch, then ‘simmed to end’ with a big lead. And we nearly blew it! That would have haunted me if we didn’t pull it out.
I have no idea what seed this team will get at 26-5 on the year.
2031 NCAA tournament
Western Illinois is a No. 10 seed with a first round matchup against No. 7 seed Cal. The winner is likely to face No. 2 seed South Florida in the round of 32. Yes, the same USF team we whooped in a stream game earlier this year.
Here’s a look at our roster going into the tournament:
All five of our starters are rated in the 90s as we enter the tournament. This will be one last ride through March with Jitim Dupree, Koko Reeves, and the Wolfe Man. Can’t wait to see what Bracy and Copeland can do as first-time starters in the tournament. I’m also really excited about our perimeter threats on the bench with Willingham, Clemmons, and Jagla.
This team has lots of shooting, with five players rated 80 or better in three-point shooting, and another (Clemmons) who’s rated as a 79 in the category. We have lots of March Madness experience. Our only real flaw is our lack of size in the middle.
Here’s how we matchup with Pitt in the first round:
We want to be back-to-back champs. After messing around with ‘coach mode’ during the regular season, I’ve decided against doing it in the tournament after this post by reader Dave on our Reddit fan page.
We’re going to be streaming the NCAA tournament on Monday, Oct. 12 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 Monday, Oct. 12 at 8:30 p.m. on Twitch.
Here’s a look at the full 2031 NCAA tournament bracket:
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?
No. We’re going no rosters this year. It’s a free for all!
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 firstname.lastname@example.org or “Email as attachment” and email as an Excel file (not PDF please!) to email@example.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 Monday, Oct. 12 at 8:30 p.m. on Twitch.
No. 10 seed Western Illinois vs. No. 7 seed Pitt, first round, 2031 NCAA tournament
Game: No. 10 seed Western Illinois vs. No. 7 seed Pitt, first round, 2031 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: Monday, Oct. 12 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. 2 seed South Florida vs. No. 15 seed CS Fullerton in the round of 32 immediately following the first round game.
For email alerts on this series, sign up here.