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 32, here’s a recap of everything that happened the last two seasons:
- Year 30: We lost five games in the non-conference schedule, ran the table in the Summit League, and won the conference tournament again. We earned a No. 12 seed to the NCAA tournament at 28-5 overall. We faced Cal in the first round, and lost on a heartbreaking buzzer-beater.
- Year 30 recruiting: We recruited for four scholarships and landed four players. Those players are SF D.J. Stapleton (No. 81 overall), C Kendric Morales (No. 11 center), SG Rob Borchardt (No. 137 overall), C Stevie Strong (No. 15 center)
- Year 31: We lost three games in the non-conference slate, again went undefeated in the Summit League, and won the conference tournament. We earned a No. 6 seed to the big dance. We beat Virginia in the first round and Clemson in the round of 32. We then lost to Oklahoma State in overtime on another buzzer-beater. We had no available scholarships for potential recruits.
There are only nine years left in our career at Western Illinois. We have seven national championships right now, which makes us the greatest program of the modern era. At this point, we’re only chasing the ghost of John Wooden, who won 10 national championships at UCLA. Can we catch him?
Our last national championship was way back in Year 28. We’re getting restless for another one. I think this roster has the combination of talent and experience to do it even after losing junior center Thom Towe early to the NBA draft. We start the year No. 10 in the preseason polls.
Let’s meet the starting lineup:
- PG Rashaun Diggs, redshirt senior, 90 overall: Diggs is a pint-sized 5’11 point guard with great outside shooting ability. He’s the best three-point shooter on the team and one of the best shooters we’ve had in program history. He’s more a scorer than a lead facilitator, and we’re a bit worried about his passing and ball handling in the tournament. The concerns with his size aren’t just limited to his height: at 169 pounds, he just doesn’t have the physicality to play through contact. How he holds up defensively in the tournament will be a big question. Former No. 154 overall recruit out of Colorado Springs.
- SG Dave French, redshirt senior, 93 overall: French was a five-star international recruit out of New Zealand who moved from point guard to shooting guard upon arriving in Macomb. He’s has a great all-around offensive skill set, existing as our best ball handling and passer, and our second best three-point shooter behind Diggs. He’s going to have to be our go-to star on the perimeter if we’re going to make a run to national title No. 8. Projected lottery pick.
- SF Spanky Fanning, redshirt junior, 90 overall: Fanning is a 6’6 wing who lacks a signature skill. He isn’t a knockdown shooter or a high-flying rim attacker on offense, and that has made his fit into our postseason lineup something of a question mark. Instead, Fanning projects as this team’s best glue guy, who can break the press as a ball handler, make some smart passes, and hold his own defensively. Former No. 92 overall recruit out of Davis, CA.
- PF Mitch Hunter, redshirt senior, 92 overall: Hunter was overlooked as a recruit, but we thought he had sleeper potential because of his massive frame and rebounding ability. As a senior, he’s turned into a dependable 6’9, 287 pound big man who can score inside and help protect the paint. He was a nightly double-double machine in our tournament run last year so let’s see him do it again. Former No. 201 overall recruit out of Atlanta.
- C Vinnie Harmon, redshirt junior, 90 overall: Harmon was our second leading scorer last year as sixth man. He has an ultra-aggressive offensive mindset and the skills to match it. Harmon has A ratings in inside and mid-range scoring, and is starting to develop a three-ball. He’s also a monster rebounder, and should finish his career with the highest offensive rebounding grade we’ve ever had here. While we wish he was a little better as a rim protector (B- grade), he should only get better in that are over the remainder of his career. Former No. 122 overall prospect and No. 8 center out of Cincinnati
We’re also really excited about our young bench. With no scholarships to offer out last season and four redshirt freshmen joining the rotation, we should have one of our deepest teams ever. Our bench will be led by two stud redshirt sophomore guards. Randolph Pompey is a 6’7 point guard who is an above average three-point shooter and on-ball defender, while being only average as a passer and ball handler. Scott Doornekamp earned minutes in the tournament last season as a 6’6 wing who can really shoot. We think both should make a big impact for us in March.
Pompey and Doornekamp will be joined by 6’8 RS sophomore power forward Ernesto Mack and three redshirt freshmen on the bench: 7-foot center Stevie Strong, 6’10 power forward Kendric Morales, 6’6 small forward D.J. Stapleton, and 6’5 shooting guard Rob Borchardt.
This is a huge year for recruiting with four available scholarships. This class will need to be ready to play early in their careers and could help form one of the last great Leatherneck squads before I get forced into retirement after Year 40. As such, we’re swinging for the fences. We decide to offer these four players:
- PG Arvydas Hardy, No. 12 overall and No. 6 at his position, from Mesa, AZ
- SF Reece Mascoll, No. 40 overall and No. 4 at his position, from Riverside, CA
- PF Al Reece, No. 138 overall and No. 19 at his position, from Glendale, AZ
- C Felipe Hopes, No. 139 overall and No. 8 at his position, from Federal Way, WA
Hardy would be the second highest-rated prospect in program history if we can land him. Mascoll is already 6’8 and posted a high three-point percentage in AAU. Reece is a 6’11 power forward, and Hopes looks like a productive 6’11 center. Let’s cross our fingers.
Expectations are sky-high as a top-10 team preseason. Let’s go!
How did the non-conference slate go?
Our stay in the top-10 didn’t last for long. We opened the season against a loaded Florida team led by two created players as former winners of the bracket contest (7’5 center Ralph Sampson Jr. and 6’3 power forward Biggie Smalls), and they beat us in overtime. Next we faced a consistently good Indiana program, and they beat us by 20. 0-2 is not how we wanted to begin the year.
Then we started to get hot. We beat DePaul behind 19 points from Harmon. We knocked off Oregon State behind 24 points from Diggs and 21 points from French. We beat Illinois behind 19 from Harmon and 13 from French. We beat Wichita State behind 27 from Harmon, and then beat No. 12 Dayton behind 23 from Harmon and 17 from Diggs.
Suddenly we were headed into conference season at 11-2 on the year. Before we get into conference play, we have the early signing period deadline in recruiting. Can we land any of our targets before the offseason?
Two in-season recruits! That has … maybe never happened before? It’s certainly never happened with two blue chippers like Hardy and Mascoll.
Hardy is the big prize. As the No. 12 overall recruit, he becomes our second highest rated recruit ever. Mascoll also looks awesome as the type of big wing with shooting ability that we’ve built this program around. Here’s the list of every top-30 overall prospect we’ve recruited to Western Illinois since the series began, via the amazing Leatherneck Recruiting Database (features some spoilers if you click through if you haven’t been watching the Twitch streams).
Even better, we’re also tracking to land Hopes and Reece at the end of the season. I can’t remember another time where we’ve landed our four original recruiting targets. This could be a big, big class, and it’s already off to an amazing start.
Now: can we run the table in the Summit again?
Did we go undefeated in Summit League play?
Yes we did. We again entered the conference tournament with a perfect 18-0 record in the Summit League.
We defeated IUPUI, 94-65, in the Summit League tournament championship game to punch our ticket to the big dance once again. We will enter the tournament at 28-2 on the season.
Here’s a look at the end of season stats:
Harmon averaging nearly 20 points and more than seven rebounds per game as a first-year starter is damn impressive. He’s now projected as a first round pick, and I’m praying he comes back for his senior year. Diggs and French both averaging more than 13 points per game is also great to see. Hunter was again a reliable as a scorer, and Doornekamp came off the bench to average double-figures.
We were ranked No. 17 in the polls on the last week of the season as we clinched the auto-bid. What seed will we get?
2039 NCAA tournament
We earned a No. 6 see to the NCAA tournament. Our first round opponent is No. 11 seed West Virginia.
Here’s a look at our updated roster heading into the tournament:
Despite the fact that we’re currently on a 28-game winning streak, we feel like we need to make some changes to the starting lineup for tournament time. Diggs is moved to the bench and replaced by Randolph Pompey at point guard. Fanning is also moved to the bench and replaced by Doornekamp at small forward. This gives us the most size and shooting possible in the lineup, and puts some extra scoring bench on the bench as our highly rated seniors take on second units.
We enter the game rated as a 100 overall. GW is rated as a 91 overall. Let’s go!
Win, 98-85! We blew them out from the opening tip and held on in the second half for the win.
The changes in the starting lineup worked out super well. Doornekamp was our leading scorer with 22 points on an efficient 9-of-14 shooting from the field. He was able to stretch the floor and give us the type of reliable shooter we didn’t have on the wing with Spanky starting. Pompey was awesome too with a double-double. Both only sophomores! The future for the Necks is bright, my friends.
I also think we need to start a conversation about Vinnie Harmon. Dude just put up 18-18 in his first tournament start after a killer regular season. I really hope he comes back for his senior year, but the chances probably get smaller and smaller the deeper this tournament run gets.
The win sets up a round of 32 matchup with No. 3 seed Stanford
The No. 3 seed Cardinal enter the game rated as a 97 overall. We’re a 100 overall.
Stanford has a legit roster. Two of their four best players are centers, and they also have a pair of talented junior guards. Typically we have a big advantage in the front court against most teams, but we won’t against Stanford.
A return trip to the Sweet 16 is on the line. Let’s go!
Win, 107-97! Oh my gosh, I thought we were going to blow that game.
After dominating the game in the first half, Stanford slowly started to chip away at the lead. We still led by 10 points with under seven minutes remaining, but our offense went a little cold and Stanford simply couldn’t miss. They were hitting threes, grabbing offensive boards, and forcing some of our bench players into turnovers.
After Doornekamp hit a pair of free throws to put us up one with about 35 seconds left in regulation, Stanford quickly tied it with a quick three. We had a chance to win it in regulation at the buzzer but …..
Harmon just missed. That’s okay, because we dominated the OT period to come away with a win.
Our entire perimeter was pretty great. French was as reliable as ever, finishing with an efficient 19 points and five assists. Pompey was excellent at both ends to finish with 14 points and eight assists. Doornekamp had 21 points even during a tough shooting night (7-of-21 from the floor). Hunter had a monster line: 19 points, seven rebounds, five steals. Harmon played an extremely Harmon game, going for 15 points and 15 rebounds and showcasing an aggressive offensive mindset throughout.
Survive and advance! We’re happy to still be dancing.
The win sets up a game with No. 7 seed Baylor in the Sweet 16
Baylor has lost 11 games on the season, but still has a pretty solid roster. They enter as a 95 overall.
This is the round we lost in last season when Oklahoma State shocked us at the buzzer. We can’t let it happen again this year. Let’s go!
Win, 92-72! We’re onto the Elite Eight!
This was a beatdown from the jump. How about Dave French? Dude is trying to become a program legend with this tourney run. The senior guard from New Zealand hit 9-of-11 shots from the field and 7-of-9 attempts from three. Doornkamp is quietly turning into a great compliment on the wing as well as a transition threat and slasher who can also shoot. He scored a game-high 26 points by shooting 10-of-15 from the field.
- Another double-double for Harmon? Check.
- Another good game for Pompey? Check.
- Another double-double for Hunter? Not quite this time.
The win puts in the Elite Eight where we’ll face No. 8 seed Houston
Houston enters rated as a 95 overall. They are led by 6’11 junior center Shavlik Silva, who we once targeted on the recruiting trail.
Final Four trip on the line. Let’s go!!
Win, 106-74! We’re back in the Final Four!
Complete dominance from the ‘Necks from the opening tip. The ball was flying around the floor side-to-side and our shooters weren’t missing. The Houston guards couldn’t handle our press, and we were able to get so many free baskets by causing turnovers. We were up by 23 at the end of the first half and the bench took it from there.
It was nice to get a good look at some of the younger guys on the pine. RS freshman D.J. Stapleton projects as a glue guy-style small forward who struggles to shoot threes, but he knocked a couple down tonight. Borchardt is a 6’5 shooting guard who is more of a natural shooter, and he went 3-of-5 from deep.
The starting lineup just feels like it’s peaking the right time right now. We have a great inside-out complement with French and Doornkamp attacking from the perimeter around Harmon and Hunter’s inside scoring touch. Pompey is also looking like a very solid tournament floor general. Being 6’7 as a point guard sure helps.
Now we’re in the Final Four facing No. 1 seed Ole Miss
Damn, this Ole Miss team is loaded. The Rebels have six players rated in the 90s and five players rated 94 or above. You will remember that we have five players rated in the 90s, but only Dave French (96 overall) is at or above 94. Here’s how the two teams matchup:
Yep, both teams are rated a 100 overall. Ole Miss is a 100 in every category but Team Unity! They have an edge on us there, too.
This is going to be our biggest test yet. We’re two wins away from title No. 8. Let’s go!
Loss, 90-84! And just like that, our season is over.
I thought we had them in the first half. French hit a baseline jumper just before the halftime buzzer, and we headed into the break with a six-point lead. We were even for most of the second half, but our offense fell apart in the last three minutes. I do think the better team won.
French was so, so good throughout this entire season as our senior star. Unfortunately, he couldn’t buy a bucket in his last game. He finished 4-of-15 shooting from the field for only 11 points. We needed more out of him and he couldn’t deliver. It happens, he still had a great season and a very good career.
On the plus side, Pompey, our 6’7 RS sophomore point guard, was brilliant, finishing with 23 points and 10 assists. He looks ready for the big-time next season. Doornekamp also looks great after dropping 20 points. It was an oddly quiet night for Harmon. Maybe he’ll come back next year now?
Onto the offseason. The dream of title No. 8 is deferred for another year.
- Ole Miss wins the national championship after knocking off NC State in the title game.
- Vinnie Harmon wins Summit League Player of the Year as a junior.
- Dave French, Rashaun Diggs, and Mitch Hunter all graduate and get drafted into the NBA. Harmon is coming back! Very exciting.
- My career record is now 909-185 with seven national championships at age 57. I turn down every incoming job offer.
- We lost another assistant and replaced him with Coach Fitzwater who is rated an A- in offense, an A- in teaching, and a B in defense.
We are already off to an amazing start in recruiting after nabbing Hardy (No. 12 overall) and Mascoll (No. 40 overall) in-season. We have another player, power forward Al Reece, ready to commit on the first day of the spring signing period.
I’m super excited for Reece. He’s rated as the No. 138 overall recruit and the No. 19 power forward, but we think he can out-perform that ranking because of his size and production on the AAU circuit. At 6’11, 248 pounds, he’s already huge for a four and could grow even taller. He also averaged a double-double and had high block and steal rates during the summer. He’s going to be legit.
The last player we’ve been chasing from the very start of the season is 6’11 center Felipe Hopes out of Federal Way, Washington. He commits the next week:
Hopes is the No. 8 overall center prospect. He feels like a bet on his long-term tools rather than his present-day production. We think he’s going to be really good down the line.
What a great recruiting class — one of our best ever. As we sim through the recruiting period, our incoming recruiting class is ranked No. 5 in the country. Hell yeah. I knew Ricky Charisma could find the magic on the recruiting trail once again late in his career.
Now it’s time to set the schedule for next year. We go with:
@ Michigan, Great Alaskan Shootout, vs. St. John’s, @ Ole Miss, @ Florida, @ Stanford, vs. South Florida, @ San Francisco, Gossner Foods Holiday Class, vs. Illinois State.
Here’s a first look at our roster in Year 33. Spoiler alert: the ratings reflect the roster as it headed into the NCAA tournament.
We start the new season ranked No. 13 in the preseason polls.
We’re redshirting all four of the true freshmen, and we’re super excited about their future. Here’s where they came in at:
- PG Arvydas Hardy, 79 overall, C- potential: 6’3 point guard from Mesa, AZ becomes our second highest-rated recruit over as No. 12 overall and No. 6 at his position. He’s the fourth highest-rated true freshman we’ve ever had.
- SF Reece Mascoll, 80 overall, C potential: 6’8 small forward from Riverside, CA looks great but he’s only rated as a 70 in three-point shooting which is a little disappointing. No. 40 overall recruit, No. 4 at his position. He’s tied for the second-highest rated true freshman we’ve ever had.
- PF Al Reece, 75 overall, C- potential: 6’11 power forward from Glendale, AZ was rated No. 138 overall, No. 19 at his position.
- C Felipe Hopes, 74 overall, B+ potential: 6’11 center from Federal Way, WA was rated No. 139 overall and No. 8 at his position.
The next Leathernecks stream will be on Monday, Feb. 15 at 8:30 p.m. ET on my Twitch stream. This will actually be our tournament run in Year 34, because I’m running a little behind on recaps. Everyone on that team has been mentioned in this update, so it should be fun if you want to check out a stream for the first time. Here’s how to watch.
Watch Western Illinois’ Year 34 tournament run
What: Western Illinois’ Year 34 NCAA tournament run, starting in the Sweet 16
When: Monday, Feb. 15 at 8:30 p.m. ET.
Where: My Twitch stream