We simulated a video game to try making the greatest college basketball coach ever at Western Illinois

Elwanda Tulloch

Welcome back to the Western Illinois Leathernecks’ chase for greatness in our simulated dynasty in College Hoops 2K8. This series was started in the early days of the pandemic after real sports were put on hiatus. The objective was spelled out bluntly in the headline of the very first story: […]

Welcome back to the Western Illinois Leathernecks’ chase for greatness in our simulated dynasty in College Hoops 2K8. This series was started in the early days of the pandemic after real sports were put on hiatus. The objective was spelled out bluntly in the headline of the very first story: Can the worst college basketball program ever win a video game national championship?



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I decided to takeover Western Illinois University in College Hoops 2K8 — the last college basketball video game made by 2K Sports — and try to lead them to a title while simulating every game. I would only control the recruiting and coaching strategies. Now in Year 19 of the series, the goal has changed. At this point, I’m trying to see if Coach Rick — better known as Ricky Charisma — can turn into the greatest college basketball coach of the modern era.

Here’s how the game works: as you accomplish certain tasks — beating the No. 1 team in the polls, landing a five-star recruit, ect. — you earn bonus points to improve your coach in six different categories. Staying at Western Illinois still has its challenges: we get fewer recruiting points as a low-major program, and some prospects prioritize playing at a premier school.

The project has grown in ways I never would have imagined. We stream every NCAA tournament game on Twitch to an eager community of fans (please join us). We run yearly bracket contests with the winner getting to create themselves or a character as a five-star recruit in the game (more on that later). We’ve also have a fan-started Instagram page, subreddit, and recruiting database. One reader in Japan even wrote a novel about the first eight seasons of our journey. Seriously.

The game gives you 40 seasons, and I plan on playing it out. New readers are very welcome to parachute into the middle of this, but you can find spoiler-free links to every season here if you want to read from the beginning. Skip the next few bullet points if you don’t want a big picture recap of everything that’s happened up to this point.

  • Coach Rick is now 43 years old as he enters Year 19 of his career with the Leathernecks. We won our first national championship in Year 8 (or 2015) as a No. 10 seed. We won our second national championship in Year 13 (or 2020) as a No. 7 seed. We went to the Final Four one other time, in Year 11.
  • Coach Rick’s record currently stands at 475-113 for his career. We are usually going undefeated in the Summit League at this point — unfortunately, the game doesn’t have conference realignment.
  • Our season has ended in the Elite Eight the last three seasons.
  • Coach Rick has a career record of 30-12 in the NCAA tournament. The 30 tournament wins would be tied for eighth among active college basketball head coaches.

Before we pick up with Year 19, here’s a recap of everything that happened last season

  • We started the year ranked No. 18 in the preseason polls and rated as a 99 overall with four returning starters. We dropped only one game — to No. 5 Stanford — during the regular season and then won the Summit League tournament once again.
  • We earned a No. 4 seed to the NCAA tournament and blew out No. 13 seed Florida Atlantic in the opening round, and No. 5 seed San Diego State in the round of 32. Read the recap here. We then beat No. 8 seed Louisville in the Sweet 16 before losing to UConn in the Elite Eight. We ended the year at 31-2. UConn went on to win the national title. Read the recap here.
  • We landed a four-man recruiting class that was ranked No. 9 overall in the country. It’s considered our best recruiting class ever.

Here’s a look at the roster coming into the season:



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© Provided by SB Nation


We return two starters from last year’s Elite Eight team. After losing four seniors to graduation, this year’s team to going to feel different. We’re unranked to start the season, but rated as a 97 overall.

Let’s run through the starters real quick:

  • PG Angel Keita, redshirt senior (90 overall): Averaged 8.2 points and four assists per game on 37.8 percent three-point shooting last season as a first-time starter. Experienced major turnovers issues in the second weekend of the NCAA tournament, coughing the ball up a combined 12 times in our two games. The 6’2 guard is super fast (96 rating in speed), and he’s the best passer (89 rating) and second best three-point shooter (81 rating) on the team. After a disappointing end to last year, he needs to regain the trust of the fanbase and show out in his final season of college basketball. Former No. 58 overall recruit with C- potential.
  • SG Wilky Henry, redshirt junior (87 overall): Henry enters the starting lineup for the first time after moving from small forward to shooting guard, where he falls one point on his overall rating. He’s grown three inches since entering the program and is now a 6’8 wing who can shoot from deep (81 rating in three-point shooting) and finish above the rim (86 rating in dunking). Extremely impressive ball handler (90 rating) for a 6’8 wing. A little slow for a two guard with an B- grade in speed. Former No. 80 overall recruit with C+ potential.
  • SF Vernard Fulton, redshirt senior (94 overall): Projected as a first round pick in the last NBA draft, Fulton made the shocking decision to return to Western Illinois for his senior season. He is our first four-year starter in a long time. A natural power forward, Fulton moves to the wing for his final season, where he drops one point overall. While Fulton hasn’t been a primary scoring option before, he does all the little things that help teams win. He enters the year with A+ ratings in inside finishing, defensive rebounding, and defensive awareness. He’s also a capable three-point shooter (76 rating) who is fast enough to play the wing with an 84 speed rating. Has a strange but quick release on his jump shot that has drawn comparisons to Shawn Marion. Former No. 30 overall recruit with B+ potential. Projected top pick in the NBA draft.
  • PF Allan Cunningham, redshirt sophomore (85 overall): Cunningham is a massive 6’11, 281-pound big man who enters the starting lineup after a breakout NCAA tournament run last season. Scored 14 points on 6-of-7 shooting in our Sweet 16 win against Louisville. Surprisingly fast (A- speed) and extremely skilled as a three-point shooter (80 rating). Former No. 67 recruit with C+ potential.
  • C Timon Suotamo, redshirt senior (91 overall): Affectionately nicknamed ‘Chewy’ by the fanbase, Suotamo moves into the starting lineup after being our sixth man last year. He’s an elite inside finisher (99 rating) and a solid shot blocker (93 rating) who only has B/B- ratings as a rebounder. Second on the team in scoring last season by averaging 12.1 points per game. Former five-star JUCO recruit with A- potential. Projected lottery pick.


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I went back and forth on flip-flopping the forwards since they’re both natural fours (I wrote about the decision at our subreddit) but ultimately thought Fulton’s speed and passing advantage over Cunningham made him a better fit for the wing.

We’re going with a nine-man rotation this season. Sophomore center Pat Giddens (86 overall with A- potential) will backup both front court spots and get 16 minutes per game. Sophomore point guard Tron Whaley (81 overall) and freshman wing Wilbur Ager (80 overall) will get 11 minutes per game, and sophomore shooting guard Vitor Andrisevic (75 overall) will get five minutes per game.

We’re also redshirting the entirety of our incoming freshman class, which ranked No. 9 in the country. Here’s a look at our newest players:

  • C Kevin Brazzle, 76 overall with B potential: Former No. 127 overall recruit and No. 6 at his position. From Houston, stands 7’1.
  • PF L.F. Neal is a 77 overall with C+ potential: Former No. 137 overall recruit and No. 21 at his position. From North Little Rock, Arkansas.
  • SG Mathew Alloway is a 77 overall with B- potential: Former No. 31 overall recruit and No. 10 player at his position. He’s the fourth-highest ranked recruit in program history, per the Leathernecks Recruiting Database. Named Mr. Basketball in Minnesota.
  • PG Jamie Burke is a 71 overall with B potential: Former No. 71 overall recruit and No. 24 at his position. From Dallas.

We streamed this full season on Twitch. You can watch me play through it here.

Recruiting

We have three scholarships to recruit for this season. We need a guard, a wing, and a big. There’s an extra emphasis on getting a quality small forward, because that’s the only position we didn’t land last season. I decide to use my visits on the following players:

  • SG Kim Dewitt out of Pueblo, CO, ranked No. 18 overall and No. 6 at his position
  • SF Tanoris Estrada out of Oakland, ranked No. 54 overall and No. 8 at his position

Dewitt is an All-American, which would get me a coaching point if we can land him. I offer both players a scholarship on the first day I’m allowed to do it. My final scholarship offer goes to 6’8 center Daryl Brittian, who is ranked No. 159 overall and No. 9 at his position.

We also have to create a character for the winner of last year’s bracket challenge — Sean Garland. Here’s what Sean wrote:

My player will be me, he’ll be as true to life-size (5’5”, 150) as the game will allow. Slashing point guard similar to De’Aaron Fox or John Wall, with great passing skills and plenty of speed to burn. Decent outside shooter but more often uses his quickness to get to the rim through traffic. Predictably bad at contesting shots on defense but can pick a pocket or two. Messy blonde/light brown hair and I’ll also continue the created player beard trend we’ve got going here. Also not sure if I can still pick a future opponent too but if so I’d love to see a Houston matchup!

Garland is our fourth created player to enter the Leathernecks Cinematic Universe. It’s worth noting our first winner Matt Boswell committed to Dayton and ended up winning national freshman of the year. There is information on how to enter this year’s bracket contest at the bottom of this post.

It’s finally time to start the season

We open the year against our in-state rivals Illinois. The Illini are a 92 overall. Let’s go!



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Loss, 69-57. Man, that is not how we wanted to start the season. Just a brutal shooting performance from our guys: we shoot 29 percent from the field and go 1-for-18 from three-point range. Our backcourt of Keita and Henry was particularly brutal. You aren’t beating anyone when you’re that cold and also have 16 turnovers.

As we sim to the next week, Brittian gets an offer from New Mexico that he likes significantly better than ours. We drop him and offer Artie Snipes, a 6’11 center out of Riverside, California who is ranked No. 177 overall and No. 10 at his position.

Next on our schedule is Arkansas. The Razorbacks are an 85 overall. Can we pick up our first victory of the season?



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Win, 81-68. Look at Fulton bully his way to 17 points by going 11-of-12 from the foul line. We love to see it. Keita had a nice game (14 points on 6-of-11 shooting), and I was impressed by our young bench of Tron Whaley and Wilbur Ager. That was a game we had to win and we took care of business.

Seton Hall is next. The Pirates are No. 14 in the latest polls and enter the game as a 96 overall. The Hall has been making deep tournament runs consistently in this simulation. This is going to be a huge test.



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Loss, 96-89. We were able to hang tough against a talented team, but our offense just fell apart in the second half. The good news: Chewy was incredible to finish with 34 points and seven rebounds, and I loved what Keita did putting up a 14-8-5 line. Bad news: Fulton fouled out in 16 minutes, and Henry and Cunningham didn’t do anything. We fall to 1-2 overall, which is not how we wanted to start the season.

As the early signing period begins the next week, we face an uphill climb for both Dewitt and Estrada despite being the only offer at the moment for both. Colorado leads for Dewitt, and San Jose State leads for Estrada. I’m going to ride it out but I fear that we may need to start looking into backup options.

We have two games this week. The first one is against Dayton, led by iconic sophomore power forward Matt Boswell.



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Win, 91-75. Boswell was excellent (22 points on 7-of-14 shooting), but we were able to pull away early and lock down the win. I love what Henry was able to do (14 points on 5-of-9 shooting), and Chewy continues to be productive. Also shout-out to Tron for hitting double-figures in scoring for the first time in his career, I believe. He’s going to be really good down the line.

We wrap up the week with a home game against No. 11 Duke. That’s right, we got the Blue Devils to come to Macomb. Duke enters at a 95 overall. We streamed the simulated game on Twitch on Wednesday night. It should start when you press play:

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Win, 96-74! We looked great … expect for Keita, who the entire fanbase now hates. In better news, I have a feeling that Allan Cunningham is going to go down as a Leathernecks legend. He’s such a killer finisher on the inside and is shockingly super skilled on the perimeter. Here’s two great plays from Honey Ham (as the Twitch chat calls him) in this clipped by reader Abby: a tomahawk dunk after getting the defense to bite on a pump fake, and a tip-dunk off a miss by Henry:

That’s our biggest win of the year. We’ve been shaky in simmed games so far this season, but I’m thrilled that we looked so good when we actually watched the game. That’s a great sign for tournament time when we watch every game.

As we enter the final week of the early signing period, I’m crossing my fingers we have chance with Dewitt, who is at 93 percent interest and still doesn’t have any other offers.

First, we have No. 9 Miami this week, who enters the game at 6-0 on the season. Big test. Can the win over Duke be a launching point for the rest of the season?



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Loss, 87-71. Ugh. Another big game from Suotamo (24 points) and a solid effort from Keita (13 points and seven assists) but we got run off the floor in the second half. This team should have shooters — we have three starters rated in the 80s in three-point shooting — but we haven’t been able to consistently hit from downtown yet. That could be a problem. Next is our two early conference games that we have every year, and we blowout both South Dakota State and Fort Wayne.

We get some bad news on the recruiting front the next week: Dewitt commits to Colorado, and Estrada commits to San Jose State. The dream of landing our first All-American is pushed off to another year. Also, congrats to our created player Sean Garland for committing to Ole Miss. This can be you in the next post if you win this year’s bracket challenge:



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We have to find some new recruits now. After scouring the uncommitted prospects, I decide to offer the following players:

  • SF Jitim Dupre out of Chicago, ranked No. 91 overall and No. 19 at his position
  • PG Koko Reeves out of San Antonio, ranked No. 62 overall and No. 27 at his position

I love Dupre’s size on the wing, and considering most of my players have been growing once they get in school, I figure he could get up to 6’11 or so eventually. Reeves is small at 5’10 but his AAU numbers were tremendous. We could really use a stud shooter like him in the backcourt.



a screen shot of a video game




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I’m also continuing to recruit Snipes, but I’m starting to get concerned because ‘playing at a big program’ is revealed to be his No. 1 priority.

Next on the schedule is a game against the defending champs and the team that knocked us out of last year’s NCAA tournament in the Elite Eight: UConn. The Huskies enter at 9-1 and No. 2 in the polls. They’re rated a 100 overall. I’ve got a bad feeling about this.



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© Provided by SB Nation


Loss, 88-75. Can’t say I’m surprised with that result. We actually had it tied at halftime before another second half collapse. The loss drops us to 5-4 on the season.

We have three more games before conference play begins. The first one is against Notre Dame, who reached the national championship game last year before falling to UConn. The Irish appear to have lost most of their top players from last year but still look formidable.



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Loss, 83-78. Man, we are struggling this season. I’m officially nervous we’re not going to make the NCAA tournament for the first time since Year 4 if we don’t get the automatic bid by winning the Summit League tournament.

Next up: Stanford. The Cardinal beat us in the regular season last year — one of only two losses we had all season — before reaching the Final Four. We’re out for revenge:



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Win, 83-75! We really needed that one. That might have been the best game of Angel Keita’s career — 18 points, eight rebounds, six assists, and five steals on 5-of-12 shooting. I don’t think he’s had a great season but it’s nice to see him step up against quality competition. Chewy continues to be a monster as the man in the middle, and I’m liking Henry’s production, too.

The final game of the non-con schedule comes against Charlotte. The 49ers have consistently been one of the best programs in the country in this simulation, so I’m not expecting this to be easy.



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Loss, 90-63. Blown the hell out, sheesh. Suotamo was awesome (32 points) but otherwise that box score is UGLY. We can’t afford many more 3-for-14 shooting nights from three. The loss drops us to 6-6 as we enter conference play.

We are typically dominant in the Summit League, going six straight years without a loss at one point. Can we run the table and finish 18-0 in conference again?

Yes we can. We finish the regular season at 23-6 overall. Here’s a look at our team stats:



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Suotamo had an absolutely dominant year, finishing second in the entire country in scoring behind a center from Cal. I’m pleased to see all five of my starters averaging double-figures in scoring. Keita’s per-game numbers look good, but it’s worth noting he was very inefficient as a shooter, finishing the year with at 43.7 percent from the field and 31.3 percent from three-point range.

In-season recruiting is now over as well. All three of our targets — Dupree, Reeves, and Snipes — have their recruitments totally up in the air to this point. We’ll have to wait for the spring signing period at the conclusion of this season.

That brings us to the Summit League tournament. While we’re clearly the best team in the field (the next highest rated in the conference is Southern Utah at 78 overall), this is still going to be intense because I’m not sure if our resume is good enough to get an at-large bid if we lose.

Summit League tournament

Our first game is against Oakland, who enter at 7-21 on the season.



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Win, 56-52. OMG, we needed overtime! That could have been disastrous. We badly need to get our wings going. Anyway, survive and advance. Next up is Oral Roberts, who enters at 10-20 on the season.

Win, 99-41. That’s more like it. Suotamo goes off for 37 points by hitting 18-of-23 shots from foul line. Monster. Cunningham also adds 20 points in the win. Our front line is looking good. Also! This was also Coach Rick’s 500th career win, which gets us a rare coaching bonus point! It’s been years since I got one of those. Now we have Southern Utah in the title game. They enter at 18-12 on the season. I am unreasonably nervous for this.

Win, 96-61! Chewy scores 32, Cunningham scores 20, Fulton and Henry both with 15. We’re going dancing once again.

2026 NCAA tournament

We draw a No. 12 seed and a first round matchup with No. 5 Cal. Here’s a look at our current roster:



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Cal enters at a 98 overall, while we’re up to a 100 overall. Here’s how the two teams matchup:



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You can look at Cal’s roster here. THIS IS A MATCHUP OF THE TOP-TWO SCORERS IN THE COUNTRY, BOTH CENTERS. I’m hyped for our Timon ‘Chewy’ Suotamo vs. Cal’s Homer Maki-Tulokas. This is basically Shaq vs. Hakeem.

We’re going to stream this game live on Twitch on Sunday, Aug. 9 at 8:30 p.m. ET. More info on that in a second. But first, we need to announce the bracket contest.

Yes, we’re doing another bracket contest. Here’s how it works

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. 9 at 8:30 p.m. ET.

I’ll explain everything you need to know in a minute. First, here’s a look at the full bracket:



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© Provided by SB Nation


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

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 and Matt made an NCAA tournament preview show

I’m considering this the greatest thing ever. They even got a celebrity guest with Dayton forward Boswell.

Last season, we had 130 entries, which set a new all-time record. Let’s break it this year. Just make sure you turn in your bracket before we start the Twitch stream at 8:30 p.m ET on Sunday night. Here’s how to watch the Leathernecks in the NCAA tournament.

How to watch No. 12 Western Illinois vs. No. 5 Cal in the NCAA tournament

Game: No. 12 seed Western Illinois vs. No. 5 seed Cal, first round, 2026 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. 9

Tip-off time: 8:30 p.m. ET

If we win: We’ll face the winner of No. 4 seed Alabama vs. No. 13 seed CS Northridge in the round of 32 immediately following the first round game.

Also be sure to check out this piece from our beat writer Matthew Morrow on the state of the team.

Go ‘Necks. See you Sunday.

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Gallery: Predicting Notre Dame’s Schedule Results for 2020 (SMG)

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