Western Illinois’ NCAA tournament run in Year 20, continued

Western Illinois’ NCAA tournament run in Year 20, continued

We pick up with the Leathernecks facing No. 5 Minnesota in the first round of the NCAA tournament in our 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, I simulate every game in this series (even the ones we watch on Twitch) and only handle the recruiting and coaching strategies.
We pick up with Western Illinois in the first round of the 2027 NCAA tournament. Here’s a recap of everything that has happened so far this season:

Western Illinois entered the season seeking redemption after losing to Cal in the first round of the NCAA tournament last year. We began the new season rated as a 96 overall with three new starters. We went 3-6 against a difficult non-conference schedule before sweeping the Summit League and again capturing the conference tournament championship.
We enter the tournament as a No. 12 seed. Our opponent in the first round is No. 5 seed Minnesota.
We recruited for one scholarship and are in position to land five-star JUCO shooting guard Edwin Wolfe in the spring.

READ: Western Illinois, Year 20, 2026-2027

Here’s a look at our roster heading into the 2027 NCAA tournament:

Not going to lie, there’s some real pressure heading into this tournament run in my 20th season as head coach at Western Illinois. We saw our season end in the Elite Eight in Year 16, Year 17, and Year 18. We lost in the first round last season. While I already have a strong case as the greatest mid-major coach in college basketball history, we all know this is a “what have you done for me lately” culture. It will be so hard to face the fanbase if we bow out early again.
Unfortunately, our shaky non-conference slate means we got a raw deal by the selection committee. It’s going to be a tough road through the bracket for us as a No. 12 seed, and it starts against a talented Minnesota team. Both teams enter the game rated as a 98 overall.

Minnesota is real good — you can check out the Golden Gophers’ roster here. Their senior shooting guard Carlos Klatsky is rated as a 95 overall — only four players are rated higher entering the tournament — and he’s matched up against our redshirt freshman Mathew Alloway. Their front court is stacked. Their five best players are either juniors or seniors. I am expecting this to be tough as hell.
The one thing giving me confidence is how we performed in the regular season against No. 1 Louisville in a game we watched together on Twitch. We gave the Cards all they could handle in a true road game before losing in the end. I love our inside-outside combination with senior small forward Wilky Henry and junior power forward Allan Cunningham. I trust our guards more than I did last year. While we have struggled in quick sim games, the pieces on this squad fit together better when we watch full games together on Twitch, I think. We need to take care of the ball, dominate the glass, and hopefully get a stellar performance from Henry as our go-to option on the perimeter.
We streamed this game on Twitch on Sunday night. As always, I’m not controlling Western Illinois; we’re watching a simulated game played by the computer. I’m not playing any of the games in this series, I only do the recruiting and set the coaching strategies. We did do something new this year, though: for the first time, I’m allowing myself to make in-game substitutions. Why not? There’s too much pressure to let poor rotation choices cost us.
The game should begin when you press play. Let’s go!

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Win, 89-72! We’re onto the round of 32 where we will face No. 4 seed Ole Miss.
“SECOND HALF TEAM” has become a rallying cry for our Leathernecks during the Twitch chat, and it paid off once again. Thank the heavens, because that first half was tense. Our defense looked good, but Minnesota was still matching baskets with us the entire way. We couldn’t get anything going from three-point range early. I was wondering who was going to step up to be the hero, but instead the whole team pretty much raised its level of play in the second half.
A few shout-outs:

Wilky Henry was outstanding — he was up to 24 points on the night when we pulled the starters with about five minutes remaining. Henry didn’t do anything in our first round tournament loss to Cal last year (7 points in 33 minutes), so it was great to see him splashing threes and using his size (6’8, 240+ pounds) to bully people at the rim. That is exactly the type of performance we need out of him to keep winning.
Allan Cunningham is simply an all-time Stream Team performer. Dude is so big (6’11, 290 pounds) but still so graceful, and has three-point touch to match. For all the praise we give Ham — read our beat writer Matthew Morrow on Cunningham coming into the season — we often overlook his passing ability. Not anymore: Ham was dropping dimes like a vintage Chris Webber in this one, beating constant double-teams in the second half by kicking out to open shooters. Beautiful stuff.
Our center Pat Giddens has been generally maligned by the fanbase for being too short (6’9) and too overweight (close to 300 pounds), but he’s also the highest rated junior in the NCAA tournament. I was waiting for his production to match his ratings, and it finally happened. Giddens looks formidable offensively and held his own protecting the rim. Good stuff — we need more of that is we want to keep winning.

Reader Abby blessed us with clips from the win. My favorites: this three-pointer from Silky Wilky:

Manual subs! Featuring a Cunningham steal and finish:

Nice block by backup center Kevin Brazzle + a knockdown jumper from freshman guard Mathew Alloway:

Bring on Ole Miss.
No. 12 Western Illinois vs. No. 4 Ole Miss, round of 32, 2027 NCAA tournament
Another tough matchup for our Leathernecks. Ole Miss enters the game as a 99 overall, which is one point higher than us. They have five players rated in the 90s, though most of their talent is in the backcourt and on the wing rather than in the front court. Here’s a look at the roster:

We need Cunningham and Giddens to eat inside. Waiting for us in the Sweet 16 would be a matchup with top-seeded Dayton, who are led by junior big man Matt Boswell, the player we created for the first-ever winner of our bracket contest. That would be such a fun game.
We also streamed this game on Twitch on Sunday night. Again: we’re watching a simulated game, I’m not controlling the teams. The game should start when you press play. If not, go to the 1-hour, 11-minute mark on the video below. Click through if you want to see the Twitch chat’s running commentary.
LET’S GO!

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Win, 116-85! We’re going to the Sweet 16! Here are the tempo-free team stats from @akulawolf:

@SBN_Ricky not sure it’s possible to be much better than this offensively pic.twitter.com/zRvek6XJfz— Steven (@akulawolf) August 17, 2020

We just witnessed the best NCAA tournament performance in program history. Wilky Henry, have yourself a day!
Here’s what I wrote about Henry at the start of the season: “Henry needs to be a superstar this year for this team to play up to its potential.” It happened in an epic way, and we’re going to the Sweet 16 because of it. Henry was absolutely unconscious, pouring in 46 points on 10-of-16 shooting from three-point range. He shattered the program’s previous tournament scoring record of 34 points set by Kim Kone in Year 17.
Honestly, it felt like he could have scored 60 easily. We pulled the starters with 9:35 seconds left as we were up 22 points. I tried to manually sub Henry back in to get 50, but the game took him out right away. LOL. Still an unreal performance either way.
But for real: 46 points on 27 shots in 26 minutes. We might never see a performance like that again in Leathernecks history. Let’s go to the clips from reader Abby, starting with a three and then a dunk from Wilky:

More Wilky:

Nice pass from Wilky to point guard Tron Whaley:

Silky Wilky forever.
The fan-started Leathernecks Instagram account created this graphic to honor his historic performance:

View this post on Instagram

Silky Wilky dropped an all time Leathernecks high 46 points against Ole Miss! 46 is the most points scored in the tournament since David Robinson put up 50 in 1987. Will he go down as a top 2 small forward in WIU history? A post shared by Leathernecks Nation (@leathernecks_nation) on Aug 18, 2020 at 8:11am PDT

The highest scoring NCAA tournament game since David Robinson! I love how seriously that was noted.
We’re going to need him to keep going, because we’re moving onto the Sweet 16 to face No. 1 seed Dayton.
No. 12 Western Illinois vs. No. 1 Dayton, Sweet 16, 2027 NCAA tournament
Dayton enters the game as a 97 overall — we’re a 98 overall. This is how the two teams matchup:

Here’s a look at Dayton’s roster. The Flyers are led by one-time bracket contest winner, studio host, and created baller Matt Boswell. Boswell has put up huge numbers ever since he was added to the game, winning national freshman of the year and developing into Dayton’s leading scorer each of the last two seasons.
This team is a No. 1 seed for a reason. Each of the top nine players in the Flyers’ rotation is either a junior or a senior; they also have a good mix talent evenly dispersed in the backcourt, front court, and on the wing. Did I mention that Boswell humbly predicted he would drop 28 points on Giddens if the two met in the Sweet 16 while on the bracket breakdown show? Yeah, that’s bulletin board material.
Our Leathernecks aren’t going to change anything after back-to-back blowout wins to start the tournament. I just doubt it will be that easy again. I can’t wait to see what Wilky Henry does for an encore. Something tells me we’re going to need him.
This is the matchup everyone wanted to see. Leathernecks vs. Flyers. Giddens vs. Boswell. We’re even playing at the Staples Center for the first time ever. We’re going to be out here looking like the Lakers in our purple jerseys.
We streamed this game Tuesday night on Twitch. The game should tip-off once you press play on the video. Let’s go!

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Win, 109-82! We’re going to the Elite Eight!
We absolutely blitzed them from the opening tip, getting out to a 13-2 lead to start the game. Boswell picked up his second foul just 4:30 minutes into the game, and was benched for the rest of the first half. By the time he came back, it was a blowout. We took a 25-point lead into the break and didn’t even play our starters the entire season half.
This one will go down as the Tron Game. The dude was just lights out. I think he hit his first seven shots from floor. Tron’s line looks fantastic — 21 points and four assists on 9-of-11 shooting from the field and 3-for-3 shooting from deep — before you even factor in that did this in only 16 minutes and didn’t even play the second half. Last season’s Angel Keita critics must feel immensely vindicated to see his replacement at point guard ball out like this.
Uh, can we talk about the fact that our bench just out-scored a No. 1 seed’s starters in the second half? Unreal. It was great to see our maligned junior shooting guard Vitor Andrisevic pop off for 15 points and hit three three-pointers. Brazzle and LF Neal look like they’re going to make up a dynamic front court one day. And I really like what I’ve seen from freshman point guard Jamie Burke so far. He even got a new nickname on the stream: Maverick. Because he’s from Dallas, get it?
We have highlights from reader Abby. Let’s start with Tron in transition:

A Giddens block leads to a Wilky three:

Tron doing it all at the end of the first half:

A nice rip from Vitor:

We now face No. 2 seed Indiana in the Elite Eight. The Hoosiers just beat No. 6 seed Pitt to get here.
No. 12 seed Western Illinois vs. No. 2 seed Indiana, Elite Eight, 2027 NCAA tournament
It’s hard to believe considering the seeds, but we’re the higher-rated team entering the game. Indiana is a 95 overall, we’re a 98 overall.
You can check out the Hoosiers’ roster here. IU is led by point guard and one time Leathernecks recruiting target J. Stivers, who is their highest rated player at 94 overall and appears to be the best long range shooter in the NCAA tournament with a 97 rating in three-pointer shooting. Indiana also has a big junior wing rated as a 92 overall to battle Silky Wily, and they have a 7’2 center. It’s a really solid roster up at the top, but we have a big advantage in terms of depth.
This is the fourth Elite Eight appearance in the last five seasons for the Leathernecks. We lost in this round the other three times. The way we’re playing right now, I honestly don’t believe anyone can beat us. We streamed this game on Twitch on Wednesday night. There’s nothing I want more to see this team reach the Final Four for the fourth time since I became head coach. The game will start when you press play on the video.
I’m hyped. Let’s go!

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Win, 105-69. Another blowout. Oh my, we’re going to the Final Four!
We closed the first half on a 24-8 run and it was all over from there. Our starters were pulled before halftime. Seriously. I don’t know what has gotten into my team during this run but we’re playing like the 1996 Bulls 2018 Villanova so far in this tournament. There wasn’t even a standout player in this game — just absolutely ruthless two-way efficiency from the entire squad. The ball was zipping around the floor, we dominated the glass, and shot a blistering 55 percent from the field.
This team is on fire right now. Look at the margin of victory through our four wins in this tournament:

17 point win over No. 5 Minnesota in the first round
31 point win over No. 4 Ole Miss in the round of 32
27 point win over No. 1 Dayton in the Sweet 16
36 point win over No. 2 Indiana in the Elite Eight

We’re winning by an average of 27.75 points per game in this tournament. Just wild. The thing I’ve noticed during this tournament run is that teams have pressed us less. I think that’s helped us take care of the ball, which has helped us win. It will be interesting to see if that continues in the Final Four, which is going down on Sunday, Aug. 23 at 8:30 p.m. ET on Twitch.
But first let’s watch the highlights from the win over IU, via reader Abby. Great sequence to start us off: a three from Cunningham, followed by a block, followed by a big dunk from our freshman two guard Mathew Alloway.

Excellent inside-out game between Ham and Ager:

Nasty drive and finish by Wilky Henry:

Damn, we’re going to the Final Four. After those three straight Elite Eight losses in Year 16, Year 17, and Year 18, I thought we had blown our big chance. We’ve been incredible throughout this tournament run so far, and we’re not stopping yet.
Our opponent in the Final Four is No. 2 seed Pepperdine. On the other side of the bracket, we have No. 5 seed Villanova vs. No. 4 seed Maryland.
No. 12 seed Western Illinois vs. No. 2 seed Pepperdine, Final Four, 2027 NCAA tournament
Pepperdine got here after beating a talented Clemson team in the Sweet 16 and then getting past No. 4 Charlotte in the Elite Eight. The Wave enter with a sparkling 32-4 record while No. 14 in the RPI, but we have a big five-point advantage in overall rating entering the game.
Here’s how the two teams matchup against each other:

Here’s a look at the Pepperdine roster. Five of their six players are seniors and they have a bunch of size throughout the lineup. We’re going to be streaming this game on Sunday, Aug. 23 at 8:30 p.m. ET on Twitch. Come party with us as we try to win our third national championship in program history. Here’s how you can watch:
Here’s how to watch Western Illinois vs. Pepperdine in the Final Four:
Game: No. 12 seed Western Illinois vs. No. 2 seed Pepperdine, Final Four, 2027 NCAA tournament
How to watch: My Twitch channel
Date: Sunday, Aug. 23
Tip-off time: 8:30 p.m. ET // 7:30 p.m. CT. The stream will start a little earlier.
If we win: The national championship game against the winner of No. 4 Maryland vs. No. 5 Villanova will follow immediately after.
A few links before I get out of here:

There’s a great piece on Pat Giddens on the Subreddit today.
Join the Leathernecks Reddit for continued discussion on the team. We also have a fan-started Twitter account (with spoilers of Twitch streams before the recap goes out) and Instagram page you can follow.

Reader Evan’s Leathernecks recruiting database now includes size progression over time. He wrote about it on Reddit, but it’s wild seeing some of these changes. For example: Wilky Henry has gained three inches and 43 pounds since he committed. I hope no one gives him a PED test before the Sweet 16.
We had 130 entries in the bracket contest this year. Hell yeah. Check out Sean’s Blog Team app for the current standings, which works on desktop and mobile.

Reader Thanh Nguyen wrote a fan-fiction e-book on the first eight seasons of Ricky Charisma at Western Illinois.

WESTERN ILLINOIS VS. PEPPERDINE
FINAL FOUR
SUNDAY NIGHT ON TWITCH
I’LL SEE YOU THERE
GO ‘NECKS.
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