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Western Illinois, Year 20, 2026-2027

Written by on August 17, 2020

The Western Illinois Leathernecks begin Year 20 in our simulated dynasty in College Hoops 2K8. 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.
Before we start Year 20 of Coach Rick’s tenure at Western Illinois, here’s a recap of everything that has happened last season:

Coming off three straight seasons that ended in the Elite Eight, the Leathernecks enter the new year with two returning starters and a team rated as a 97 overall. We went 6-6 against a difficult non-conference schedule before going undefeated in conference and again claiming the Summit League tournament championship. We enter the NCAA tournament as a No. 12 seed at 26-6 on the season.
We faced No. 5 seed Cal in the first round of the NCAA tournament. We lost, 90-87, when our potential game-tying three at the buzzer fell short. Read the tournament + offseason recap here.
We landed three new players on the recruiting trail.

Western Illinois, Year 20, 2026-2027
Here’s a look at our roster coming into Year 20:

It feels like a new era at Western Illinois with only two returning starters and just one senior on the roster. This squad might not have the experience we’d ideally prefer — reflected in the game’s ‘team unity’ ranking — but we do have size and shooting at every position with some emerging young depth on the bench. If nothing else, I’m hoping we can set the table for an even better season a year from now depending on few NBA draft decisions.
Let’s run through the starters real quick. As something new this year, click on the names for a link to their player cards with full ratings.

PG Tron Whaley, redshirt junior, 87 overall: Tron enters the starting lineup for the first time as a junior after being a key piece off the bench last season. He’s grown two inches to 6’4 since committing and now looks like a steady lead guard with size and shooting ability. Has a 86-rating in three-point shooting, which is tops on the team. Former No. 128 overall recruit with C+ potential.

SG Mathew Alloway, redshirt freshman, 82 overall: The former Mr. Basketball out of Minnesota becomes the rare freshman starter for the Leathernecks. The 6’6 shooting guard doesn’t have a signature skill yet, but looks solid across the board. Rated as a 94 in speed and a 78 in three-point shooting. Former No. 31 overall recruit with B- potential.

SF Wilky Henry, redshirt senior, 93 overall: Henry needs to be a superstar this year for this team to play up to its potential. I think he can get there. Moving back to his natural position of small forward after starting at shooting guard last season, Henry is a massive 6’8, 242 pound wing who can shoot from three, rise above the rim for monster dunks, and handle the ball like a guard. We need him to be our go-to scorer on the perimeter. Former No. 80 overall recruit with C+ potential.

PF Allan Cunningham, redshirt junior, 89 overall: Cunningham is already on his way to becoming one of the most beloved players in program history. A standout in NCAA tournament games since his freshman season, ‘Ham’ is preposterously large (6’11, 289 pounds) with a refined skill set that includes legitimate three-point range. He’s a skilled inside scorer and rebounder while having an A grade in three-point shooting and an A- grade in speed. He should be a stud this year. Former No. 67 recruit with C+ potential. Projected first round pick.

C Pat Giddens, redshirt junior, 91 overall: Giddens is tied for the best potential rating in program history, per reader Evan’s Leathernecks Recruiting Database. This is his big chance to translate that potential into production on the court. Giddens moves into the starting lineup after being sixth man last season. He’s a bit short for a center at 6’9. but he’s impossibly strong at 290 pounds. Him and Ham up front is a supersized front court we’re hoping will be a great advantage for us all season. Former No. 115 overall recruit. Projected lottery pick.

There was some thought given to starting Henry at shooting guard again (where he goes down one point) to get sophomore Wilbur Ager in the starting lineup, but we prefer putting Henry at his best position, throwing Alloway into the fire, and letting Ager be one of the the better bench players in the country.
We’re going with a nine-man rotation this season: Ager and freshman center Kevin Brazzle will each get about 15 minutes per game, while freshman point guard Jamie Burke and freshman power forward LF Neal each get about 10 minutes per game. That means junior guard Vitor Andrisevic (79 overall) is out of the rotation. He will go down as the biggest recruiting bust in program history.
We also welcome three new incoming recruits to the team. All of them will redshirt.

PG Koko Reeves out of San Antonio, No. 52 overall recruit: 73 overall, C potential. Reeves is the smallest recruit we’ve ever had, but he’s already grown an inch to 5’11 since committing. His C potential grade is disappointing, but he looks like an absolutely elite shooter, already rated as an 82 from three-point range.

SF Jitim Dupre out of Chicago, No. 91 overall recruit: 76 overall, C+ potential. Dupre is a tall, lanky wing at 6’9. He’s a bit disappointing as a three-point shooter with a 72 rating.

C Artie Snipes out of Riverside, No. 177 overall recruit (No. 10 center): 75 overall, B+ potential. The 6’11 center is the heaviest recruit we’ve ever had at 282 pounds. Looks like he’s going to be another outstanding big man for the Leathernecks.

Recruiting
We only have one scholarship to recruit for this year. I want to hit the JUCO market to find a five-star shooting guard or power forward to join timeline of last year’s three-man class. I use my first two visits on these players:

6’2 shooting guard Edwin Wolfe out of Federal Way, WA
6’4 shooting guard V.J. Roberts out of Chicago

JUCO recruits aren’t numerically ranked and don’t have AAU stats, but Wolfe is the top shooting guard among JUCO players when the class is sorted by recruiting stars, so we offer him the scholarship.
Also we have to create a player for the winner of last season’s bracket contest, Isaac Springer. I asked Isaac to give me some details the player he wanted to create, and this is what he hit me with:
I actually had a small idea if I won: would it be possible to create Jon Bois instead? I’m not a huge college basketball fan (or much of a basketball fan in general), so I don’t really know anything about stats or positions or what’s good. But Jon is my favorite content creator online, and he’s what’s helped me find SB Nation and all of the great work that everyone is doing there. I think it’d be fun to introduce him into the Leathernecks universe.
Say no more, my man. Jon Bois, five-star shooting out of Louisville, is officially in the Leathernecks Universe. We’ll follow Jon’s recruitment and his career wherever he ends up. As a reminder, we don’t go after created players at Western Illinois to preserve the integrity of the game.
Finally, it’s time to begin the season. We start the year unranked in the polls and rated as a 96 overall. Let’s go!
First game: @ Illinois
I’ve had this game circled on my calendar since the Illini shocked us in the opener last season. We run this state, and we’ve proven it multiple times in the last decade. It’s time to issue the Illini an emphatic reminder of that.

Loss, 83-62. Oh my god. The Illini smacked us from the opening tip-off and there was nothing we could do to recover. That is not how we wanted to start the season. Ager had a good game and pretty much everyone else struggled.
Next up we have Georgetown. The Hoyas are rated as a 91 overall.

Win, 76-50. There we go. Look at Cunningham ball out with 23 points and six rebounds on 3-of-4 shooting from three-point range. That’s why this man is an icon. Read our beat writer Matthew Morrow on what makes Cunningham so special. I’m gonna need my guards to do better than shoot 1-of-13 from the floor, but thankfully it’s a long season and they should improve along the way.
As I sim to the next week, I noticed that my backup option on the recruiting trail V.J. Roberts really likes us. If he commits by the early signing period, we’d get a coaching point for landing our first five-star recruit in season. I decide to pull the scholarship from Wolfe and give it to Roberts. If he doesn’t accept it, I will probably re-offer Wolfe, assuming he doesn’t hate me now.
Next game is against Louisville, who enters at No. 1 in the polls. We decided to watch this game on the Twitch stream. The Cards enter at a 96 overall. The game will begin when you press play:

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Loss, 111-105. Damn, we almost had them. I feel a lot better about my team after watching them go toe-to-toe with No. 1 in the country on the road. My freshman shooting guard Mathew Alloway looked terrific offensively, finishing with 24 points on 1-of-18 shooting. He also picked up a nickname on the Twitch stream: All Day. Let’s just decide not to talk about his defense. Cunningham was again phenomenal, Wilky Henry was solid, and we found a new breakout player in backup center Kevin Brazzle. He’s huge at 7’1 and was immediately more effective than our starter Giddens, who got into early foul trouble.
Our defense was just terrible all around. Louisville shot 50 percent from the field and 43 percent from three. They also forced us into 18 turnovers with their press. We’re going to need to close-out on shooters and take care of the ball if we want to make a deep run.
As the early signing period begins, we have a rematch with Cal, who knocked us out of the NCAA tournament in the first round last year. I’ll take one hot serving of revenge, please.

Win, 91-63. Eat it, Bears. Cunningham carried us like always with 20 points, Henry puts up a 9-9-9 line in a game where he shoots 2-for-11, Tron goes 5-for-5 from deep to score 18 points, which I believe is a career-high. Hell yeah. We’re 2-2- on the year.
We have our two early conference games on the final week of the early signing period. We blowout both UMKC and IUPUI to make us 4-2 on the year. Unfortunately, we don’t land the commitment we were looking for from Roberts. Since Wolfe appears to be the higher rated prospect and still doesn’t have any other suitors, we pull the scholarship from Roberts and re-offer Wolfe.

In other news, Jon Bois commits to Dayton!
Next up we have Stanford. The Cardinal are 3-4 on the year and enter as an 87 overall.

Loss, 77-75. Woof. Giddens and Henry played well, but that’s a team we should beat. It’s tough to get an at-large bid in the Summit League when you’re losing to likely non-tournament teams like Illinois and Stanford, so we’re probably going to need to win the conference tournament again to punch our ticket.
We have a tough week coming up, too: we travel to face Michigan and Duke in true road games.
The Wolverines are No. 17 in the polls and the defending national champions. Can we get back on track?

Loss, 86-74. Ugh. My center Giddens only playing seven minutes because of foul trouble wasn’t ideal, and neither was his backup Brazzle also getting into foul trouble. Great game from Henry with 23 points — we need more of that. It’s become apparent that this team isn’t as good defensively as we typically are.
Alright, Duke time. The Blue Devils are ranked No. 9 in the polls entering the game.

Loss, 99-60. Zero combined points from my backcourt seems less than great. This regular season is not going how I had hoped.
Next up we have Dayton, who enter at No. 11 in the country. The Flyers are led by Matt Boswell, the player we ever created for the first ever winner of our bracket contest. Dayton has not made the tournament yet since Boswell’s arrival, but it looks like they’re going to do it this year. This would be a nice win if we can get it.

Loss, 74-60. Boswell with 14 points in the win. We have left ourselves zero margin for error in the conference tournament.
We only have one more non-conference game left: @ Vanderbilt. The Commodores are led by one-time Leathernecks recruiting target Stane’s Hobson, who is a 93 overall as a senior point guard.

Win, 106-102! Hell yeah. We really needed that heading into conference play. Cunningham killed it (23 points on 9-of-14 shooting), Tron Whaley is turning into a dynamic point guard (18 points, six assists), and Brazzle gave us a nice lift off the bench with 10 points. I love the three-point shooting and the assists. Let’s keep it going to finish out the year strong.
It is now time for Summit League play. We have gone undefeated in the Summit the last two seasons. Can we do it again?
Yup. We finish off the perfect slate in conference play to enter the conference tournament at 21-6. Here’s a look at the end-of-season stats:

Great year for Cunningham. He’s just so damn good; the fact that he’s our primary option on offense is the thing that has me feeling optimistic about our tournament chances. Having four starters finish in the teens in scoring average feels pretty good, too. I also have to note our three-point shooting numbers were through the roof this year. Here’s what we did from deep:

Tron Whaley: 47 percent on 117 attempts
Wilky Henry: 40.3 percent on 114 attempts
Allan Cunningham: 47.2 percent on 74 attempts
Mathew Alloway: 50.7 percent on 63 attempts

I wish there was a way I could tell my team to shoot more threes. Getting up enough 3PAs is going to be a big key going into the postseason.
But first, we have to win the Summit League conference tournament again. We again enter the field as the top seed. As I’ve noted, I really don’t think we’ll have enough juice to get an at-large bid after our shaky non-conference schedule. We can’t have a letdown here.
Summit League tournament
First game is against Oral Roberts. They enter at 7-22 on the season.
Win, 123-62. Henry scores 24, Giddens scores 22, and Cunningham scores 20. We hit 12-of-19 threes in this game, too. We have UMKC next.
Win, 81-61. Henry plays arguably his best game of the season, finishing with 28 points on 12-of-17 shooting in the win. We out-rebounded them 36-19. Seems good. Now we have Fort Wayne in the title game. Why am I so nervous about this?

Win, 86-52! Tron just crushes it with 26 points, seven assists, and 6-of-8 shooting from three. Ham put in work like always, too. I am more relieved than excited — but hell yes, we’re going dancing again. I’m hoping for a single-digit seed, but I doubt our resume was good enough for it.
2027 NCAA tournament
We’re a No. 12 seed against No. 5 seed Minnesota in the first round. Wow. We haven’t faced the Golden Gophers in this simulation before, so that should be fun.
Here’s a look at our roster heading into the tournament:

It’s going to be Wilky and Cunningham leading the way. We just need Alloway to not actively hurt as our lowest rated starter in years as an 85 overall. For the record, I liked what he showed in the Louisville game and I’m super optimistic about his future. We also need Giddens to finally play up to his rating, especially as a projected lottery pick and what appears to be the highest rated junior in the country.
Here’s a link to the Minnesota roster. The Golden Gophers enter the game as a 98 overall — just like us. Here’s how the two teams matchup:

This is going to be a really tough test for a first round game. We’re going to watch the simulated game together on Sunday, Aug. 16 at 8:30 p.m. ET on Twitch. We’ll talk about that more in a second. But first, let’s get to this year’s bracket contest.
2027 NCAA tournament 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 Sunday, Aug. 16 at 8:30 p.m. ET on Twitch.

This is everything you need to know:
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?
Yes. You can find the rosters for every team on the right side of the bracket in the East and West regionals here. You can find the rosters for every team on the left side of the bracket for the South and Midwest regionals here. Just arrow over to scroll through the rosters.
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 sean@hoopsinsight.com or “Email as attachment” and email as an Excel file (not PDF please!) to sean@hoopsinsight.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.
Readers David, Matt, and Josh made an NCAA tournament preview show
I love the Leatherneck community so much. Please watch David, Matt, and Josh breakdown this year’s team and the entire NCAA tournament bracket in a 25-minute selection show.
This is the best.

The old clips got me choked up a little bit. Amazing work by them.
You might have noticed Boswell and the Dayton Flyers would likely be our opponent if we can reach the Sweet 16. I would love nothing more than to make it happen. Especially after Boswell said he would drop a cool 28 points on Giddens on the bracket show.
We need to win two games on Sunday night first, though. Here’s how you can watch Western Illinois in the 2027 NCAA tournament.
How to watch Western Illinois vs. Minnesota in the first round of the 2027 NCAA tournament
Game: No. 12 seed Western Illinois vs. No. 5 seed Minnesota, first round, 2027 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: Sunday, Aug. 16
Tip-off time: 8:30 p.m. ET
If we win: We’ll face the winner of No. 4 seed Ole Miss vs. No. 13 seed Yale in the round of 32 immediately following the first round game.
Here a couple bonus links:

Join the Leathernecks Subreddit started by reader Evan.

Reader Thanh Nguyen in Japan wrote a fan-fiction e-book on the first eight seasons of Leathernecks basketball under Coach Rick. Spoilers ahead, but this is absolutely incredible and I highly recommend buying it.
We now have a fan-started Leathernecks Twitter account. There will be spoilers on there from the Twitch stream before the recap post goes out.

Come hang out and watch our Leathernecks take on Minnesota in the NCAA tournament on Sunday, Aug. 16 at 8:30 p.m. ET on Twitch. Thank you and go ‘Necks.
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