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. Dynasty mode runs for 40 years.
Before we pick up with the Leathernecks at the start of Year 30, here’s a recap of everything that happened last season:
Western Illinois returned three starters from our national championship-winning team in Year 28. We began the new year ranked No. 10 in the preseason polls.
We crushed the non-conference season, went undefeated in Summit League play, and punched our ticket the big dance by winning the conference tournament once again. We entered March Madness at 27-3 overall and were given a No. 7 seed.
We beat Arizona State in the opening round, defeated BYU in the round of 32, took out Seton Hall in the Sweet 16, and beat Xavier in the Elite Eight. Then we lost one of the wildest Final Four games ever in overtime to West Virginia. Read the full recap here.
We recruited for three scholarships and landed three players: shooting guard Scott Doornekamp (No. 111 overall), point guard Randolph Pompey (No. 134 overall), and power forward Ernesto Mack (No. 108 overall).
Here’s a first look at our roster for Year 30:
We lost our top three big men from last season’s team: true junior Elvin King left to become an NBA lottery pick, while C.J. Cesar and Daron Coulter graduated. While we’ll be green up front, we do return all three starters from last year on the perimeter.
Let’s meet the lineup:
PG Sammy Yan, true senior, 90 overall: Yan entered the program as the highest-rated recruit we’ve ever had as the former No. 10 overall prospect in his class. It would be fair to say he’s been a disappointment so far. For his senior year, we have decided to move Yan from his natural shooting guard spot to point guard. It feels like a better fit for his skill set: he’s the best ball handler and passer on the team, and isn’t a very good three-point shooting. We’re hoping he can rewrite his legacy in his final year with the ‘Necks. Bay Area native with C potential.
SG Duncan Martinez, redshirt senior, 96 overall: D-Mart has been our starting point guard each of the last two years, but he’s always been more of a bucket getter than a natural facilitator. That’s why for his final year in school, we’re moving the 6’3 guard to the two. Martinez goes up two points on his overall rating with the switch, and will give a chance to tie or surpass Nic Cummings as the highest rated player in program history (97 overall). Martinez is an elite three-point shooter with a 95 rating. We need him to get hot and stay hot in March. Chicago native with C+ potential, projected lottery pick.
SF Warren Schultz, redshirt senior, 91 overall: Big 6’9, 240 pound small forward with elite three-point shooting and dunking ability. He’s always been a tantalizing talent, but we’ve never seen him fully takeover. This is his last chance. Jacksonville native with C potential.
PF Mitch Hunter, redshirt sophomore, 86 overall: Hunter is one of the lowest rated recruits we’ve ever taken at No. 201 overall, but we had a good feeling about his long-term potential. This year will put that to the test. Hunter is huge for a four (6’9, 265 pounds) with impressive inside scoring and rebounding ability. He isn’t a threat to shoot from the outside. Atlanta native with C+ potential.
C Thom Towe, redshirt sophomore, 86 overall: We’re excited for Towe to finally get a big role as a redshirt sophomore. While he isn’t the biggest center ever at 6’11, 228 pounds, he projects as a quality rebounder and shot blocker who also has the highest potential rating (B+) on the team. Former No. 5 center recruit out of Garden Grove, CA.
We’ll have four players off the bench. Redshirt sophomores Dave French (6’4 shooting guard from New Zealand) and Rashaun Diggs (5’10 point guard from Colorado Springs) will man the backcourt positions, while two redshirt freshmen Vinnie Harmon (7-foot center out of Cincinnati) and Spanky Fanning (6’5 small forward out of Davis, CA) will backup the front court spots.
We’re redshirting our three true freshmen. Those players are:
SG Scott Doornekamp (No. 111 overall): 77 overall with C+ potential
PG Randolph Pompey (No. 134 overall): 76 overall with D potential
PF Ernesto Mack (No. 108 overall): 76 overall with C potential
We also have four scholarships to recruit for this season. We want two wings and two bigs. After scanning the available options, we decide to offer the following players:
6’2 PG Vidal McCurry, No. 8 overall and No. 4 at his position, from Oak Park, IL
6’3 SG Ransom White, No. 17 overall and No. 5 at his position, from Indianapolis
6’10 C Kendric Morales, No. 127 overall and No. 11 at his position, from Lancaster, PA
6’5 SF D.J. Stapleton, No. 81 overall and No. 14 at his position, from Reno, NV
The created player for this year is 7’3 power forward Ralph Sampson, made by reader Sean as the winner of the last bracket contest. I’m going to make an educated guess that he’ll be incredible.
We begin the year ranked No. 15 in the preseason polls. Let’s go!
Do we want to start with the good news or the bad news?
Let’s get the bad news out of the way: We lost to Notre Dame, Baylor, Big Country Reeves Jr. and Washington State, Deke Van Jr. and South Florida, and Marquette.
We did get wins over Northwestern, DePaul, Butler, Eastern Washington, Valpo and UIC.
Needless to say, this wasn’t our best non-conference season, especially given the expectations as a preseason top-15 team.
Summit League play
Can we run the table and go 18-0 again in conference play?
Yes we can. That is nice to see after we uncharacteristically dropped a few conference games in recent years. Now we need to win the conference tournament to punch our ticket to the big dance. Will it happen?
Yes it will. We defeat Southern Utah in the title game to reach the NCAA tournament once again. Before we get to March Madness, let’s check out this season’s stats.
Sorry for the potato quality here, screenshot was taken from the stream. Martinez and Schultz ended up both having great senior years: rarely do we have two perimeter players each average better than 15 points per game, but that’s exactly what they did. Thom Towe also had a great sophomore year that will likely put him in position to jump to the NBA after his junior year. Elsewhere, I really like what Kiwi guard Dave French and backup center Vinnie Harmon were able to give us off the bench.
Tournament time, baby. I have zero clue what seed this team is going to get.
How did recruiting go?
We took two shots at five-star All-Americans and, no surprise, neither worked out. Maybe we’ll see Vidal McCurray and Ransom White in an NCAA tournament game somewhere else down the line.
We didn’t land anyone at the early signing deadline, but small forward D.J. Stapleton is ready to commit on the first day of the spring recruiting period. The three other spots remain open, but we’re making progress on Morales, who was also one of our early targets.
On the created player front, Ralph Sampson commits to Florida. I’m already worried about running into him in the tournament in the not too distant future.
2037 NCAA tournament
Western Illinois is a No. 12 seed in the NCAA tournament. Our first round opponent will be No. 5 seed UConn Cal.
Before we get into the opening round, here’s a look at our roster:
I’ll break it all down for you because, potato quality:
Duncan Martinez goes up to a 97 overall, which ties him for the highest rated player in program history with Nic Cummings.
Yan and Schultz are each up to a 93 overall at point guard and power forward respectively. Reminder that: a) Yan never took a redshirt, b) he went down two points when we moved him to the one to accomodate D-Mart. To this point, Yan has not lived up to his billing as the highest rated recruit (No. 10 overall) in ‘Necks history, but as we all know, legends are made in March.
Towe (90 overall), Hunter (89 overall), and Harmon (84 overall) have the size and the talent to carry us in the front court, but lack the experience. Will it come back to bite us?
The bench improved quite a bit. Our redshirt sophomore guards Dave French (88 overall) and Rashaun Diggs (86 overall) will need to give us a reliable scoring punch off the bench if we’re going to go on a long tournament run. We’ll see what Spanky Fanning (up five to an 85 overall) — yes that’s his real name — can do, too.
Western Illinois enters the game rated as a 100 overall. Cal is rated as a 92 overall.
As always: we’re watching a simulated game, I’m not actually controlling the Leathernecks.
Loss, 88-85! For the first time in 10 years, Western Illinois fails to win at least one game in the NCAA tournament!
I realized we were in for a fight early in the second half. While Cal led by one at halftime behind some hot outside shooting, our ‘Necks have made a habit of running up the score out of halftime. That didn’t happen in this one. Instead, it was Cal who went on a run, opening up an 11-point lead five minutes into the final frame.
We clawed back behind the starters to tie it around 10 minutes to go. From there, it felt like the lead changed at least twice every minute. Buckets were traded, turnovers were forced, every 50/50 ball on an offensive rebound felt like the difference between a win or a loss.
Down two with about 35 seconds left, Martinez drove the lane, drew a foul, and knocked down both foul shots to tie it. Cal inbounded with the shot clock turned off. This is what happened next.
What a horrible way to go out for our seniors. Martinez (24 points, six assists) was excellent in his final college game. I honestly believe he would have won it for us if we got the last shot. Schultz was also very good — 20 points and nine rebounds on 8-of-16 shooting — but not quite Skip Clemmons-level like I was hoping. Yan was downright good after an up-and-down career: 14 points, nine assists, and five rebounds. He always should have been a point guard.
On the plus side, Thom Towe looks like a future star. He projects to be our go-to guy next season.
I thought last year’s tournament loss in the Final Four was the most exciting game we ever watched together on Twitch. This one might have topped it. Leathernecks basketball is still going strong, even if we can’t win them all. To the offseason!
Boston College wins the national championship as a No. 1 seed that was rated as a 100 overall.
DEKE VAN JR. WINS FRESHMAN OF THE YEAR AT SOUTH FLORIDA. He averaged 12.6 points and 6.3 rebounds per game.
Yan, Martinez, Schultz all get drafted after graduation. No one leaves early. That means we’re going to have a) no seniors next year, and b) no scholarships to recruit for. First time ever for the latter.
We lose an assistant and replace him coach Yates, who has a B+ rating in teaching and offense, and an A rating in charisma.
I get offered jobs by Cal (!), Virginia, Iowa, USC, and Northwestern, but turn them all down.
Stapleton commits on the first day of the spring signing period. The 6’5 small forward out of Reno, NV is ranked No. 81 overall and No. 14 at his position. A week later, Kendric Morales joins as our second signing of the year. Morales is a 6’10, 227-pound center out of Lancaster, PA rated No. 127 overall and No. 11 at his position. One wing and one big are in the books.
We’ve been going after 6’3 shooting guard Rob Borchardt for most of the season as one of our top backup plans. The Fresno, CA native becomes the third member of our recruiting class.
While Borchardt is ranked No. 137 overall and No. 33 at his position and lacks elite size, his AAU numbers were really solid. He averaged 14.5 points, 9.4 rebounds, and two steals per game on the circuit while shooting 38.6 percent from three-point range. We think he can be a sleeper.
We went back and forth on who we should offer with our final scholarship. After considering another wing, we ended up opting for a big. Stevie Strong — yes, his real name — becomes our fourth and final commitment of the class.
At 6’10, 213 pounds, Strong is rated as the No. 179 overall player and No. 15 center in his class. We’ll eventually move one of Strong-Morales to the four. They should be a promising front line for our future.
Now it’s time to make our schedule for next year. This is what we went with:
@ Northwestern, Great Alaskan Shootout, @ South Florida, vs. Illinois State, @ Florida, @ Washington State, vs. Valpo, @ San Francisco, Gossner Foods Holiday Classic (?), vs. Loyola (IL)
Let’s keep this moving, shall we? Yan, Martinez, and Schultz have graduated. A new generation of ‘Necks are about to come into focus.
Let’s meet the starters:
PG Rashaun Diggs, redshirt junior, 87 overall: Diggs is the smallest player we’ve ever had here at 5’11, 165 pounds. He’s also projecting as one of the better three-point shooters we’ve ever had, while not being particularly skilled in passing and ball handling. I assumed Diggs would likely be a sixth man for us when he committed, but he’s developed nicely. Long-time fans of the series will also remember we had great success with another tiny point guard in Koko Reeves many years back. Here’s hoping Diggs follows his path. Former No. 121 overall recruit out of Colorado Springs with C- potential.
SG Dave French, redshirt junior, 90 overall: French was a five-star international recruit out of New Zealand, and enters his junior year projected to be our primary option on the perimeter. A natural point guard, French goes up a couple points on his overall rating at the two. He has grown to 6’4, projects as a skilled shooter with a three-point rating in the low 80s, and is also the best passer and ball handler on the team. Projected first round pick with a B potential rating.
SF Spanky Fanning, redshirt sophomore, 86 overall: Fanning is a 6’6 wing whose best attributes are as a rebounder and defender. He is not the type of skilled three-point shooter we typically like on the wing, but he does have impressive dunking ability. Will he be able to hit enough shots for us to go on a deep tournament run? Former No. 92 overall recruit out of Davis, CA with B- potential.
PF Mitch Hunter, redshirt junior: 90 overall: A massive, throwback power forward at 6’9, 270 pounds, Hunter isn’t a threat to shoot from the outside but impresses as a rebounder and paint protector. He has some nice post scoring ability and will also get a few putbacks each game. We felt like he was undervalued as a recruit, and he has been a nice piece for us so far. Excited to see what he can do as a senior. Former No. 201 overall recruit with C+ potential.
C Thom Towe, redshirt junior: 90 overall: Towe should be poised to jump to the NBA if he has a breakout junior year as expected. He impressed last season in his first year as a starter as a solid two-way big who could score inside the paint and also protect the rim. While he’s not the biggest five man ever at 6’11, 230 pounds, Towe just finds a way to get the job done. Projected lottery pick out of Garden Grove, CA with B+ potential.
Redshirt sophomore center Vinnie Harmon (86 overall) will be our sixth man and should play a big role. The rest of the bench will be rounded out by our redshirt freshmen class: 6’6 shooting guard Scott Doornekamp (82 overall, C+ potential), 6’6 point guard Randolph Pompey (79 overall, D potential), and 6’8 power forward Ernesto Mack (79 overall, C potential) will all get minutes.
We are redshirting our four freshmen. Here’s how they’re rated:
D.J. Stapleton, 76 overall, C+ potential: Rated No. 91 overall and No. 14 at his position. Enters school as a 6’5 small forward out of Reno, NV.
C Stevie Strong, 75 overall, C+ potential: Rated No. 179 overall and No. 15 at his position. Enters school as a 6’10 center from Hammond, Indiana.
SG Rob Borchardt, 74 overall, C+ potential: Rated No. 137 overall and No. 33 at his position. Enters school as a 6’3 shooting guard out of Fresno, CA.
C Kendric Morales, 74 overall, C+ potential: Rated No, 127 overall and No. 11 at his position. Enters school as a 6’10 center from Lancaster, PA who will move to power forward.
We have no scholarships to recruit for this year, so we will be putting a bunch of juniors on our target list. We want a big class a year from now when we’ll have four open scholarships.
We do create a recruit for reader Dave as the winner of last year’s bracket contest: 6’3, 350-pound power forward Biggie Smalls out of Brooklyn.
We’re unranked to start the new season.
How did the regular season go?
We crushed the regular season this year. We earned big wins over Northwestern, South Florida (with Deke Van Jr.!), Florida (with Ralph Sampson!), and Illinois State. Our biggest losses were to Arizona and Washington State, with Big Country Reeves Jr.
We went out to sweep Summit League once again and win the conference tournament.
We entered the NCAA tournament with a record of 31-3 on the season.
2038 NCAA tournament
We were given a No. 6 seed in March Madness. Our opponent in round one is No. 11 seed Virginia. We enter the game rated as a 99 overall. UVA is rated an 87 overall.
Here’s an updated look at our roster:
Towe led the team in scoring at 19.5 points per game, and dropped 42 in one game during the conference tournament. It looks like he’ll jump to the NBA after this season as a projected lottery pick. This could also be the final run for Dave French, who has established himself as our top perimeter threat. French is a projected first round pick. I really like how the bench developed this season. The freshman combo of Doornekamp and Randy Pompey should be excellent in the backcourt for a long time, while Mack looks like the consummate glue guy.
I’m a little worried about our play on the wings and a general lack of experience, but this team is good enough for a deep run.
As always: we’re watching a simulated game; I’m not controlling the ‘Necks. Let’s go!
Win, 87-65! We were up by so much we decided to ‘sim to end’ with about eight minutes left in the game.
We only led by eight points at the half, but turned it up from there. I thought pretty much the whole team looked great. Dave French paced the offense throughout the game to finish 18 points. Diggs chipped in 11 points and tied the program record for assists in a tournament game with 13. Hunter gave us a double-double (13 points and 12 rebounds) and Towe lived up to his billing as a top NBA prospect with 17 points and six rebounds in the win.
The win sets up a round of 32 matchup with Clemson
Clemson is loaded. Both teams enter rated as a 99 overall. I don’t think this is going to be a ‘sim to end’ game.
Sweet 16 berth on the line. Let’s go!
Win, 84-68! This actually was another sim to end game as we held a 20+ point lead with about four minutes to go.
This was a big-time win against a great team. French was wonderful once again, finishing with 17 points on 6-of-7 shooting from the field and 3-of-4 shooting from deep. He’s turning into a great player before our eyes. Mitch Hunter made it two double-doubles in two NCAA tournament games to end his night with 12 points and 10 rebounds. Towe wasn’t super efficient (7-of-16 shooting) but still had 15 points, nine rebounds, six assists, and three blocks in the win. How about backup center Vinnie Harmon with 16 points and nine rebounds off the bench?
The win sets up a matchup with Oklahoma State in the Sweet 16
Oklahoma State is going to be a serious test. They have a 6’10 small forward, talented guards, and enough bigs to compete with us on the glass.
We enter the game rated as a 99 overall. The Cowboys are a 98 overall.
Loss, 107-104! Another heartbreaking ending in the NCAA tournament for the ‘Necks. Oh my god, we lose on another buzzer-beater. How???
The last two minutes of regulation were ridiculous. Towe gave us the lead with a Dirk-like fadeaway. After Oklahoma State answered, Dave French gave us the lead again with a beautiful up-and-under layup. Up two with 30 seconds left, French went to the foul line looking to ice the game. He missed the front end of the one-and-one, but Towe recovered, was fouled, and sank both free throws.
Game should be over up four with 30 seconds left, right? Wrong. Oklahoma State hit a quick three. After Mitch Hunter knocked down two free throws, their shooting guard Stys hit a bomb of a three from NBA range to tie the game. Doornekamp had a clean look from three at the buzzer but missed. We went into overtime.
The two teams traded buckets in OT. French tied the game at 104 all with under a minute left with a corner three. Towe took a three (????) on our final offensive possession and bricked it. That gave Oklahoma State the ball at the end of the game. Here’s what happened:
Unbelievable. Oklahoma State had some ballers on that team. Sometimes you just have to tip your cap.
There were some truly great performances from our guys even in defeat. French finished with 28 points and seven steals. Hunter posted a double-double for the third straight tournament game. Towe had 21 points. Harmon and Doornekamp each contributed off the bench.
The ‘Necks will be back. It just stings to know we’ve bowed out of the tournament in painful fashion each of the last three seasons.
No. 1 seed South Carolina wins the national championship
Towe leaves early for the NBA draft, where he was projected as a lottery pick. Everyone else is coming back. We’re going to be incredibly deep next season with the redshirts coming off last year’s freshmen class. I want a title run for No. 8.
I get offered by Minnesota, Baylor, Oregon, and Northwestern, but turn them all down. WIU 4 Life.
This is going to be a quick offseason because we didn’t have any scholarships to recruit for. Let’s set the schedule for next season:
@ Florida, @ Indiana, vs. DePaul, vs Valpo, @ Oregon State, vs. South Florida, @ Illinois, vs. Wichita State, vs. Dayton
I don’t have a screenshot of the roster at the beginning of the year, but I do have one from where we left off: at the onset of the Sweet 16.
It is a deep and talented team. Could we be on our way to our eighth national title? We’re going to be picking up with the Leathernecks in the Sweet 16 by streaming the remaining games on Twitch on Monday Jan. 25, at 8:30 p.m. ET.
Here’s how you can watch.
How to watch Western Illinois’ Sweet 16 run continued in Year 32 on Twitch
What: Western Illinois is in the Sweet 16 in our College Hoops 2K8 simulation. We’ll stream each game in this tournament run until we lose or win the national championship.
Where: On my Twitch channel
When: Monday Jan. 25, at 8:30 p.m. ET.
For email updates on this series, sign up here. Go ‘Necks.