Welcome back to Western Illinois’ chase for greatness in College Hoops 2K8. You can find a full explanation of exactly what we’re doing here + spoiler-free links to previous seasons at the About page of this website. Share it with a friend!
This post will recap the start of the Leathernecks’ run in the NCAA tournament in Year 16, or the 2022-2023 season. Here’s a recap of everything that has happened this season so far:
We lost our two best players from last year’s Sweet 16 team to the NBA draft when Austen Kleinzweig and Borislav Grimes declared as juniors. With four new starters, the Leathernecks entered the season unranked in the polls and rated as a 94 overall.
We opened the season with an upset win over No. 2 Duke at Cameron Indoor Stadium. Our non-conference slate also included a victory over eventual top-seed UConn. We did finally lose a game in the Summit League this year, falling to Southern Utah in the regular season, breaking a winning streak that dated back to Year 10. We finished the season at 26-5 overall and earned a No. 10 seed to the NCAA tournament.
Senior center Roberto ‘Jorts’ Djordjevic broke the program’s single-season scoring record (25.9 points per game) and all-time scoring record by becoming the first Leatherneck to ever score 2,000 points under Coach Rick. Jorts also tied for the NCAA lead in points per game.
We recruited for four scholarships. We haven’t landed anyone yet, but should sign four-star 6’10 power forward Allan Cunningham (No. 67 overall) on the first day of the spring recruiting period.
Here’s a look at our roster heading into the NCAA tournament:
Our tenth-seeded Leathernecks will face No. 7 seed Louisville in the first round. Here’s a look at the Cardinals’ roster. Here’s how the two teams matchup — Louisville is rated a point better than us entering the game.
We streamed this game on Twitch. As always, we watched a computer simulation; I’m not playing any games in this series, I’m only doing the recruiting and setting the coaching strategies.
The game should begin when you press play, but if not just go to the 31-minute mark.
WIN, 99-91. We’re moving on to the round of 32. Team stats from @akulawolf:
What a game by Garik Frye. The senior was a career backup before this season, trapped behind Kleinzweig as members of the same recruiting class at the same position. Now he’s our second-highest rated player (93 overall) and an absolutely critical component to our chances of making a deep run in March. Frye is always disruptive defensively and able to finish in the paint on offense, which he did again. Against Louisville, he finally got hot from deep (typically a weakness in his game), canning three big three-pointers to help keep us in front throughout the night.
Jorts was uncharacteristically quiet in the first half, but went off for 13 points and 11 rebounds just in the second half to help us lock down the win. Two more shout-outs for our freshman: Vernard Fulton was a huge part of our defense, finishing with three steals and four blocks. Angel Keita — our lone guard off the bench — looked aggressive offensively and finished with 12 points.
Reader Abby was kind enough to clip a bunch of highlights from this game. My favorite clip might be the second one, Fulton with an acrobatic finish off a nice feed from Jorts. Check them out.
As expected, our opponent in the round of 32 will be No. 2 seed Dayton, who took care business vs. UC Riverside in their opening game.
No. 10 Western Illinois vs. No. 2 Dayton, round of 32, 2023 NCAA tournament
We were actually rated two points better than Dayton (97 overall vs. 95 overall) entering the game despite the Flyers’ being the higher seed. Here’s a look at Dayton’s roster.
We also simulated + watched this game on Twitch. The game should start when you press play, but if not tip-off happens at the 1:31:00 minute mark:
Win, 90-75. We’re going to the Sweet 16! I believe this is the first time in program history we’ve reached the second weekend in back-to-back seasons. That’s a hell of an accomplishment.
The Twitch commenters have long hyped us as a SECOND HALF TEAM and it happened in a big way in this game. Jorts was incredible, particularly in the first half when it felt like he was the only person on the team who could score. His final line was just monstrous: 24 points, 11 rebounds, five assists, and four blocks. He even hit both his threes! Some are saying he should be considered a $5 center now.
The other big storyline from this game was the play of the bench. Argentinian small forward Renardo Verdejo gave us a huge scoring lift, and even completed a four-point play. Cam Medina also showed up during a disastrous game for our starter Fulton to finish 6-of-7 from the field for 12 points.
Got to say, I’m really proud of my squad. I deemed this a rebuilding year after we lost Kleinzweig and Grimes early to the NBA, but instead we’re still dancing after the first weekend. We want to be a program that can consistently reach the Sweet 16. Feels great to be back again.
Our opponent in the Sweet 16 will be No. 6 seed Ohio State.
We’re streaming the game Tuesday, July 7 on Twitch at 8:30 p.m. ET.
Here’s how we matchup with Ohio State:
Here’s a look at the Buckeyes’ roster. You may remember that we lost a recruiting battle to Ohio State for their starting small forward Barlett. Here’s how to watch the game.
Here’s the rest of the original post.
Game: Western Illinois vs. Ohio State, Sweet 16, 2023 NCAA tournament
How to watch: My Twitch channel
Date: Tuesday, July 7
Tip-off time: 8:30 p.m. ET // 7:30 p.m. CT. The stream will start a little earlier.
If we win: Elite Eight game vs. the winner of No. 1 Kansas vs. No. 5 UAB will happen immediately after.
The Twitch streams are always a ton of fun so please come hang out. Big game coming up against the Buckeyes.
Bracket contest update
We got 135 entries in our first ever bracket contest (though some were left incomplete). Thanks so much to Sean Vinsel of Hoops Insight for creating such an awesome app for us. You should be able to access the leaderboard on your app, but here are the leaders after the first weekend:
As you will notice, I am not good at this. I already lost two Final Four teams. Shouts to Kev and Eric for leading after the first weekend.
The winner gets to create themselves or a character as a recruit for next season. They also get to pick the opponent we will open the season with next year. We will again plan on streaming the season opener for Year 17 just like we did for this year.
A few other notes:
I’ve been reading the final version of Thanh’s novel “Simulating Success”. It brings me joy. Be on the lookout for that soon.
I’ll see you on Twitch for the Sweet 16 on Tuesday at 8:30 pm. ET. Go ‘Necks.