Western Illinois goes for national title No. 9 in College Hoops 2K8 sim


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 35, here’s a recap of everything that happened last season:

  • The Leathernecks started the year trying to win back-to-back national championships in a quest for title No. 9. We returned three starters and began the year at No. 4 in the preseason polls. We finished the regular season at 30-2 and earned a No. 2 seed to the NCAA tournament.
  • We beat Prairie State in the first round, Minnesota in the round of 32, Clemson in the Sweet 16, and then lost to Florida State in the Elite Eight on a buzzer-beater.
  • We recruited for three scholarships and landed three players: No. 6 center D.J. Foster, four-star shooting guard Ketshner Evertson, and three-star point guard Cam Kately.

Here’s a first look at our roster for Year 35:

I am still not over that Elite Eight loss to Florida State at the buzzer last season. It hurts because we had such a great senior backcourt in Randolph Pompey and Scott Doornekamp who already led us to a title in Year 33. It hurts because time is running out for us to match or surpass John Wooden’s record of 10 national championships before our series ends after Year 40.

We are still searching for title No. 9, and we’ll have to do it with what feels like a mostly new team. While we only return two starters, we do have four seniors in this year’s lineup. We begin the year at No. 12 in the polls.

Let’s meet the starters:

  • PG Arvydas Hardy, 88 overall, redshirt sophomore: Hardy is stepping into the spotlight after several flashes of greatness as a freshman off the bench for us last season. Hardy is the second-highest rated recruit in program history (No. 12 overall), and has an ideal skill set for a lead guard. At 6’4, Hardy is a dynamic pull-up shooter (87 rating as a three-point shooter) and also has A- ratings as a passer and ball handler. We want him to be our primary option on the perimeter this year. Former No. 12 overall recruit with C- potential from Mesa, AZ.
  • SG Rob Borchardt, 91 overall, redshirt senior: Borchardt enters the starting lineup for the first time as a senior after a somewhat underwhelming career up to this point. I had high hopes for Borchardt because of his combination of size (6’6), three-point shooting (85 rating), and on-ball defense (A grade), but he’s rarely made a big impact in tournament games. Maybe he just needed the bigger role he’s set to take on this year. Former No. 137 overall recruit with C+ potential from Fresno, CA.
  • SF D.J. Stapleton, 92 overall, redshirt senior: Stapleton was a question mark heading into last season as he entered the starting lineup for the first time, but he proved his worth with a solid tournament run. While the 6’6 wing is rated as a shaky shooter (72 three-point rating), he somehow made 11-of-17 attempts from deep during our run to the Elite Eight last season. Even if that level of shooting isn’t sustainable, Stapleton makes up for it with A ratings in on-ball defense, hustle, defensive rebounding, and close range finishing. After being a called a ‘glue guy’ for most of his career up to this point, we need Stapleton to emerge as a senior star as someone tied for our highest-rated player. Former No. 91 overall recruit Reno, Nevada with C+ potential.
  • PF Kendric Morales, 90 overall, redshirt senior: Like Borchardt, Morales is entering the starting lineup for the first time as a fifth-year senior. The 6’10 big man was a center recruit entering school, but his outside shooting ability (B+ grade) made him a natural fit to move to the four. His size should be a nice boost for our interior defense and rebounding. Morales is another player who hasn’t had a defining moment yet, but it feels like he has the skill set to carry us to big things. Former No. 127 overall recruit from Lancaster, PA with C+ potential.
  • C Stevie Strong, 92 overall, redshirt senior: This is setting up as a season of redemption for Strong. After leading the team in scoring as a first-time starter last year, Strong had a tremendous tournament run before a horrific zero-point performance on 0-for-12 shooting in the Elite Eight loss to FSU. Long-time fans of the series will remember that Deke Van also blew an NCAA tournament game for us as a junior before finding vindication as a senior on our first ever national title team. Let’s hope Strong can follow the same path. Former No. 179 overall recruit (and No. 15 center) out of Hammond, IN with C+ potential.

We’re also going to be super deep this year. Leading the bench will be three redshirt sophomores who, along with Hardy, once formed the No. 5 recruiting class in America. Reece Mascoll, a 6’9 and nearly 250-pound small forward, is the guy we’re most excited about. There’s also 7-foot, 266-pound power forward Al Reece and 6’11 center Felipe Hopes. Joining them in the rotation will be two redshirt freshman shooting guards: Augustine Bruthelieus and Jerald Elliott. Bru is likely to be our backup point guard in tournament games.

We’re also bringing in three freshmen who will all redshirt. They are:

  • C D.J. Foster, No. 6 overall center: 74 overall, C potential. Has grown an inch to 7’2.
  • SG Ketshner Evertson, No. 96 overall recruit: 73 overall, B potential. Has grown an inch to 6’8.
  • PG Cam Kately, No. 114 overall recruit: 72 overall, B- potential. Has already grown an inch to 6’5.

Recruiting

We have four scholarships to offer this year. This will be our last recruiting class that will have the opportunity to stay in school for the full five years before the series ends. I’m getting choked up just thinking about it.

After surveying the available options, we decided to offer the following players:

  • 6’10 center Brody Munoz out of Nashville: No. 169 overall player and No. 6 center.
  • 6’7 shooting guard Bernie Doyle out of Detroit: No. 36 overall player and No. 16 at his position.
  • 6’3 point guard Shane Duany out of Chicago: No. 57 overall player and No. 15 at his position.
  • 6’10 power forward Oscar Fray out of Lynn, MA: No. 118 overall player and No. 17 at his position.

It also just dawned on me that we’re going to have no seniors — and by extension, no available scholarships — next season. We really need to win title No. 9 this year. At No. 12 in the preseason polls, we should have a chance to do it. Let’s get it.

How did the non-conference slate go?

We started off 3-0 including a win over No. 6 Indiana to begin the season. Things got bad from there: we immediately dropped three straight, with a two-point loss to Rutgers, a four-point loss to Auburn, and a seven-point loss to Syracuse that dropped us out of the polls.

We rebounded by winning a tournament rematch over Florida State, 87-74. We followed that up with a win over Illinois and a loss to No. 15 Michigan State. We ended the non-conference season at 6-4 overall.

Can we go undefeated in the Summit League once again?

Yes we can. We go 18-0 in the regular season and then win three more games in the conference tournament — including a tight seven-point win over UMKC in the championship game — to earn our automatic bid to the big dance.

We’re going to be entering the NCAA tournament at 27-4 on the year. I have absolutely no idea what seed we’ll get. Before we get to Selection Sunday, let’s check out the end of season stats:

STEVIE. After averaging 18.3 points per game last year, he boosted his scoring average to 21.3 as a senior to lead the team. I’m also thrilled to see Morales take such a big jump, going from averaging seven points per game last year to 13.8 PPG this year. We’re going to need to let the big dogs eat if we want to make a deep run in March.

Stapleton also put up some nice all-around numbers, but only hit 30 percent of his threes. Borchardt didn’t score as much as I anticipated but did make 40 percent of his threes on 90 attempts.

I’m also pretty encouraged by the shooting numbers of our younger players even if they didn’t put up huge counting stats. Sophomore point guard Arvydas Hardy hit 48.8 percent of his three-pointers on nearly 90 attempts. I also can’t remember too many players averaging more than six assists per game, which Hardy accomplished. It looks like he’ll have a chance at breaking the program’s single-season assist record if we make a run to the national title. Fellow sophomore Reece Mascoll hit 45.2 percent of his threes on 42 attempts, and also shot 54 percent from the field.

How did recruiting go?

We finally landed an in-season recruit. Feels like our first in a while.

Brody Munoz is a ‘Neck. The No. 169 overall prospect and No. 6 center (centers are always devalued in the recruiting rankings for whatever reason) out of Nashville is joining the program to give us some much needed big man depth behind last year’s center recruit D.J. Foster. Super excited for him.

In equally good news, we are also poised to land 6’7 shooting guard Bernie Doyle (No. 36 overall) and 6’10 power forward Oscar Fray (No. 118 overall) on the first day of the spring signing period. The only original target we missed out on was point guard Shane Duany. We have instead pivoted to 6’7 small forward Floyd Keller out of Dallas, rated as the No. 101 overall prospect in the class. We still have some work to do on him, and have a few backup options on our target list as well.

2042 NCAA tournament

We are a No. 8 seed in the NCAA tournament and first round matchup with No. 9 seed NC State. We enter as a 100 overall, while the Wolfpack are rated as a 97 overall. This isn’t going to be an easy game to open our tournament run — and if we’re lucky enough to win, a date with No. 1 seed Seton Hall is looming.

Before we embark on our tournament run, let’s check out our roster:

A few things jump out when looking at this roster:

  1. Our four best players are all seniors. Seems like a good sign.
  2. We have great size inside with Stevie Strong (7-foot), Kendric Morales (6’10), Felipe Hopes (6’11), and Al Reece (7-foot).
  3. Damn, we are deep! Five players rated in the 90s, nine guys rated as an 85 or above. We also have redshirt frosh shooting guard Jerald Elliott who is rated as an 84 overall and has a good mix of size (6’6) and shooting on the wing.
  4. For as solid as our seniors should be, it feels like the sophomores will have to step up in a big way if we’re going to make a deep run. 6’4 point guard Arvydas Hardy — the second highest rated recruit in program history at No. 12 overall — can start to really build his legacy in this tournament. Same goes for jumbo forward Reece Mascoll, who is already a 90 overall. Reece and Hopes may have to play critical minutes, too. I loved this class coming in and can’t wait to see them do work.

This opening matchup against NC State is going to be a way, way tougher test than we hoped for as a first round game. Oh well. As always, we’re watching a simulated game against the computer; I’m not controlling the Leathernecks.

Let’s go!

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Win, 95-86! Wow, that game was a lot closer than the final score might indicate.

We had fully blown our 12-point halftime lead midway through the second half. With five minutes remaining in the game, we trailed by four. We decided to roll with three sophomores in our closing lineup: Hardy at point, the senior Stapleton at the two, Mascoll at the three, Reece at the four, Strong at the five. They brought us home a victory.

Strong was terrific, going off for 17 points on 7-of-9 shooting while also adding five stocks (steals+blocks). Stapleton was also great, scoring 20 and continuing his hot tournament shooting by making 2-of-4 shots from three. The sophomores were also awesome: Hardy popped off for 17 points and seven assists with 4-of-6 shooting from three, Mascoll was a total monster with 17 points, six assists, and four boards, and Al Reece gave us eight points, 10 boards, and some solid defense.

That’s the damn blueprint. We’re rolling onward.

The win sets up a round of 32 game with No. 1 seed Seton Hall

Seton Hall enters at 31-4 on the year. I was expecting this team to be a complete powerhouse, but their roster — while full of size, quality guard play, and tons of seniors — isn’t super loaded.

The Pirates are rated as a 96 overall with 96 team unity rating. Can’t remember seeing a unity rating that high before. We are a 100 overall with an 87 team unity rating.

This should be our biggest test on the way to the Final Four. Got to get this one. Let’s go!

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Win! 101-98! We’re going to the Sweet 16.

Sheesh, this game was neck-and-neck (no pun intended) for all 40 minutes, pretty much. Hall started to pull away with six minutes left as they took an 89-80 lead. That’s when we put in our closing lineup, this time adding Mascoll over Stapleton at the three with the rest of the starters and going with a 1-2-1-1 zone full court press. It paid off immediately. We were able to get a couple steals that led to transition baskets as we started to chip away at the lead. Three-pointers in the final five minutes by Rob Borchardt and Mascoll cut the deficit to one, but we were still having trouble gaining the lead. A putback for an and-one by Stevie put us on top and set us up for a dramatic end-of-game sequence.

Strong took a long two-point jumper in an apparent attempt to get a two-for-one in the last minute that bricked badly. Seton Hall had the ball with two seconds separating the shot clock and game clock. After losing on a buzzer-beater in the tournament last season, we were terrified it was going to happen again.

Lucky, lucky, lucky. Leathernecks win.

Really an amazing game by Stevie: 28 points on 10-of-14 shooting, buoyed by 8-of-11 at the line. Borchardt also had arguably the best game of his career, going off for 15 points on 3-of-4 shooting from three. The same can be said for Morales, who can us strong interior play all game and ended with 19 points on 8-of-12 shooting.

Mascoll kicked ass again (17 points) and fully looks like a future star. This was a disappointing game for Hardy, who only had five points but did add 13 assists. Let’s hope he can redeem himself next game.

The win sets up a Sweet 16 game with No. 4 seed Nevada

A second game against a team called the Wolf Pack in this tournament? Sure, sign me up.

Nevada looks awesome, rated as a 98 overall and entering at 27-5 on the year. We are not catching any breaks with these tournament matchups.

Elite Eight spot on the line. Let’s go!

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Win, 102-78! We blew them out in the second half to keep our tournament run alive.

We only had a nine-point lead with under five minutes left when we blew it open. This time we benched Borchardt in crunch-time, slid Stapleton to the two, and put Mascoll at the three with the rest of the starters. From that point on, we blew the doors off of them for an easy win.

Stevie Strong is having a really incredible senior tournament run. This time: 23 points, eight rebounds, five assists on 9-of-15 shooting to pace the win. Stapleton was again very solid (14 points, seven rebounds) but his shooting fell off a bit with just a 2-of-9 from three. It was another passive game offensive for Hardy, but his three-point stroke looked good. I really thought he was going to be a takeover scorer for us at point guard after his freshman year tournament run, but apparently that’s not going to be the case.

The saving grace has been Mascoll. What a stud. He put up 13 points off the bench on perfect 5-of-5 shooting. Only a sophomore and with great positional versatility, I think we found a future star.

The win sets up an Elite Eight game with No. 3 seed South Carolina

South Carolina enters as a 98 overall. The Gamecocks have a pretty stacked roster. This isn’t going to be easy.

We’re one win away from our third Final Four berth in the last four years. The dream of championship No. 9 is getting closer. We just need a win here to keep the run alive.

Let’s go!

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Win, 96-81! We’re going to the Final Four!

This was another close game late in the second half, but some big plays by our senior wings carried us to victory. Rob Borchardt had the best night of his career, scoring 20 points on 6-of-9 shooting from three, including several big hits late to keep us in front. Here’s the dagger:

D.J. Stapleton also helped carry us offensively (16 points) even if he didn’t have the most efficient night shooting 7-of-17 from the floor.

Mascoll (18 points) was sick again. I also thought we got some nice minutes from Augustine Bruthelieus, a natural two guard who has become our backup point on this tournament run. Though Bru only scored two points, he did help pace the offense with six assists. It was another whatever game for Hardy, but it was nice to see him splash a couple threes.

We’re in the Final Four! Let’s go!

The win sets up a Final Four game vs. No. 1 Wisconsin

Wisconsin is stacked. They enter at 31-5 on the season and rated as a 100 overall with 93 team unity. We’re also a 100 overall with 87 team unity.

The Badgers have a 6’10 senior small forward named Boyd Granger who is really scaring me. I love Stapleton’s defense, but it’s going to be tough giving up four inches in that matchup. We might need more Mascoll than ever in this game.

No. 3 seed Vanderbilt and No. 6 seed Oklahoma State are on the other side of the bracket. We can’t look ahead yet, though. Before we get the opportunity to play for national championship No. 9, to put us one away from tying John Wooden’s record, we need to win this game.

Two wins away from a natty! Let’s go!

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Loss, 95-86. Our NCAA tournament run ends to the Badgers in the Final Four.

Honestly, Wisconsin was just the better team. They shot 55 percent from the field, we shot 45 percent. They out-rebounded us by six. They forced us into 16 turnovers. They had more points in the paint, more fastbreak points, more second chance points. That was a loaded team and I fully expect them to beat whoever they play in the title game.

We went to full court press out of desperation and made the game interesting late, but we couldn’t get on top. Stevie Strong went out with a great performance — 22 points on 10-of-16 shooting. Great tournament run for him as a senior. Al Reece also looked really good (10 points and six rebounds) and should be a huge part of this team for the next two years. Mascoll again scored the ball well (13 points) and looks like a future stud. Hardy (2-of-10 shooting) and Stapleton (3-of-9) had bad games when we couldn’t afford it.

It stings to come so close to a natty but fall just short. We have five years left in this dynasty before mandatory retirement at the end of Year 40. We need two national titles to tie John Wooden’s 10. We need three to surpass him. We’re also going to have zero seniors on the team next year.

We have our work cut out for us, but we roll ahead. Onto the offseason.

Offseason

  • Wisconsin wins the title. What a team.
  • Stapleton and Strong get drafted. Borchardt and Morales do not. All of the underclassmen are coming back.
  • Our career record now stands at 1,012-194 with eight national titles. Not bad for a Summit League school.
  • I get offered a job by Texas A&M, Washington, Auburn, and others, but turn them down. We’re going all 40 in Macomb.
  • We lose an assistant and replace him with someone who has a B grade in teaching.

Recruiting

We have one recruit (center Brody Munoz) locked up and we’re poised to add two more ready to commit. As we sim to the first day of the spring signing period, we land two new ‘Necks: Bernie Doyle and Oscar Fray both commit.

Doyle has immaculate size for an off-guard at 6’7, but he didn’t play AAU so we have no idea how he’ll shoot it or how good he’ll be defensively. I guess we’ll see, but I’m feeling super good about landing a top-40 prospect like him.

Fray should also be awesome. He has enough size to swing between the four and the five, and his AAU stats (15.4 points, 6.5 rebounds) were super solid. I’m also hoping he has the potential to turn into a decent shooter based on his 73.6 percent mark from the foul line.

With our last scholarship, we’ve been chasing small forward Floyd Keller out of Dallas. He commits a few weeks later:

Keller is ranked No. 101 overall and No. 24 at his position. Those AAU numbers are wild: 40 percent three-point shooting, 9.6 rebounds per game, almost three steals per game, and also 5.4 turnovers per game!?! My dude lives life on the edge. Can’t wait to see what he turns into.

This is going to be our last recruiting class that has the opportunity to stay all five years, and I think we nailed it. Two stud wings, two good bigs. It comes in as the No. 12 recruiting class in America. Hell yeah.

Now it’s time to set our schedule for next year. This is what we come up with:

Cyclone Challenge, @ Stanford, vs. Valparaiso, @ South Florida, vs. Michigan, @ Indiana, @ Colorado State, @ Wisconsin, vs. Illinois, @ Cal.

Year 36

Here’s a look at our roster for Year 36. Spoiler alert: we are currently at the start of our NCAA tournament run, so this is how the roster looks heading into March.

All three freshmen are going to redshirt. Here’s where they came in at:

  • SG Bernie Doyle, No. 36 overall prospect: 76 overall, C potential. Has already grown an inch to 6’8. I’m thrilled to see he already has a 78 rating in three-point shooting.
  • SF Floyd Keller, No. 101 overall recruit: 76 overall, C+ potential. 80 rating in three-point shooting.
  • C Brody Munoz, No. 169 overall recruit: 74 overall, B potential. Has already grown an inch to 6’11.
  • PF Oscar Fray, No. 118 overall recruit: 74 overall, C potential.

We’re going to be streaming the NCAA tournament in Year 36 on Sunday, April 18 at 8 p.m. ET on my Twitch channel. Spoiler alert: We’re already in the Elite Eight. Let’s go win a natty.

Watch Western Illinois’ Year 36 tournament run

What: Western Illinois’ Year 36 NCAA tournament run

When: Sunday, April 18 at 8 p.m. ET.

Where: My Twitch stream

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