Welcome back to Western Illinois’ quest 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 on the About page of this website. Share it with a friend!
We started the year unranked in the preseason polls but rated as a 98 overall. After early losses to Northwestern and two-time defending national champ Louisville, our Leathernecks proceeded to win out and enter the NCAA tournament at 29-2 overall.
We earned a No. 7 seed to March Madness. We beat No. 10 seed Pitt, 99-84, in the opening round. We then defeated No. 2 seed Gonzaga, 94-85, in the round of 32 to make the Sweet 16 for the third time in program history.
We recruited for four open scholarships. We signed two players at the end of the early signing period: four-star point guard Brandin Price (No. 50 overall) and three-star center Sidney Dupre (No. 144 overall).
Here’s a look at the roster heading into the Sweet 16:
Our opponent in the Sweet 16 is No. 6 seed Memphis, coached by none other than John Calipari (remember, this game was released ahead the season in which the Tigers reached the national championship game with Derrick Rose). Memphis enters at 26-6 on the season and rated as a 92 overall.
Here’s a look at how we match up with the Tigers:
We streamed this game on Twitch, as we always do once our Leathernecks reach the second weekend of the NCAA tournament. Once again: I don’t play any of the games in this series; we are watching a computer simulation.
I exported the Twitch stream to YouTube. The game tips off at the four minute mark.
Big win, 119-99! We’re headed to the Elite Eight. Tempo-free team stats via @akulawolf:
Richard Johnson — esteemed author and president of the Macomb Tip-Off Club — called our first half performance the best 20 minutes in program history. He isn’t wrong — we dropped 71 damn points. What’s remarkable to me is just how quickly this game turned.
Memphis took the lead, 24-21, with just over 13 minutes left in the first half. Our star point guard, Billy Assel, proceeds to get called for a backcourt violation. The Tigers come back on the next possession and get a bucket off an offensive rebound + put-back to go up 26-21. From then on, it was straight demolition: We out-scored them 33-5 over the next eight minutes to blow the game wide open.
I feel like we’ve been talking about Draughan and Terrell needing to play like stars if this team was going to reach its full potential for the last two seasons. It’s happening. Terrell (22 points on 7-of-7 shooting) has always been a great finisher inside the paint, and he’s improved so much as an outside shooter. Draughan (24 points on 9-of-14 shooting) is basically a legend at this point and simply checks every box for a wing. They took over and turned a Sweet 16 game into a rout by halftime.
Can we talk about this Assel pass for a second? The man is so talented it felt like he was just toying with Memphis. I feel relatively confident he could have gone for 20 points and 20 assists if he played his regular minutes. Trevor Hoyer also stepped up after I wrote that our lack of rim protection was our biggest cause for concern heading into the game. He had five blocks in the first half and just totally owned the paint.
Did I expect we’d play the bench the entire second half because this was such a blow out? Certainly not, but it was nice to get a glimpse at what this team will look like next year after we presumably lose all five starters (four seniors + Assel as a projected lottery pick). Diondre Haynes continued his impressive tournament run off the bench, and I also liked what I saw from small forward Garik Frye in his first real opportunity. The future is bright, but we’re not worried about that now. Let’s go get another natty.
The win over Memphis set up an Elite Eight matchup with top-seeded Kansas.
No. 7 Western Illinois vs. No. 1 Kansas, Elite Eight
Why do we play Kansas every time we do a stream? After defeating the Jayhawks in the 2015 national championship game and in the 2018 Sweet 16, we again faced Bill Self’s team with a Final Four trip on the line.
The Jayhawks entered as a 98 overall at 30-5 on the year. Kansas actually had the highest-rated player in this game, senior shooting guard Rubert House, who was a 98 overall at the time of tip-off.
Watch the game starting at the 1:01:10 mark of the video:
Win, 95-75. And we’re headed to the Final Four! Here are the tempo-free team stats from @akulawolf:
This game was a blur from the start, but here are a few things I remember:
The live chat was like 97 percent Bill Self jokes, which was magical.
NAJEEB GOODE. Dear lord, what a game. I noticed earlier in the day that Goode was actually named Summit League POY last season as a junior. While he often feels like our most replaceable starter because he isn’t particularly big (6’7 at power forward) or a standout shooter, this dude showed just how special he can be against Kansas. He absolutely dominated the glass to the tune of 21 rebounds. He was consistently forcing turnovers on defense (three steals and a block) which led to offense the other way. And he was also finding open shooters as a passer in the halfcourt to finish with seven assists. Just a sick game all-around.
Terrell dropped 17 points in the second half to help us lock down the win. He’s killing it lately. Speaking of which ….
Draughan is averaging 21.25 points per game in the tournament. Terrell is averaging 21.75 points per game. That’s the formula for another national title run.
I still can’t get over this alley-oop pass by Billy Assel. That was our first bucket of the game!
And for the third time in six years, Western Illinois is headed to the Final Four. Our opponent is top-seeded UCLA. We’re live streaming this game on Saturday night at 8:30 p.m. ET on Twitch.
No. 7 Western Illinois vs. No. 1 UCLA, Final Four, 2020 NCAA tournament
The Bruins made the Final Four after defeating two-time defending champ Louisville in the Elite Eight. UCLA didn’t just beat the Cards, they destroyed them: 92-58. This is going to be a tough-ass game.
UCLA is rated as a 99 overall. Here’s how we stack up:
And here’s a first look at the UCLA roster:
They have six players rated in the 90s, just like us. They are maxed out in shooting, just like us. Remember that this game was released during the peak of the Ben Howland era at UCLA, when the program was coming off their second of three straight Final Four appearances. I’m nervous.
This game is going to be must-see. Here’s how you can watch it on Saturday night.
What follows is the rest of the original post:
We’re live streaming the Final Four on Saturday
Western Illinois vs. UCLA is going down at 8:30 p.m. ET and will be streamed on my Twitch channel. As always: I’m not playing the game, we’re watching a computer simulation. If we win, we’ll play the national championship game immediately after. It’s No. 5 seed Indiana vs. No. 3 seed Florida in the other national semifinal.
Game: Western Illinois vs. UCLA, 2020 Final Four
How to watch: My Twitch channel
Date: Saturday, June 13
Time: 8:30 p.m. ET // 7:30 p.m. CT
If we win: National championship game vs. Florida/Indiana will happen immediately after.
This is our third Final Four trip in program history (and third in the last six years). We want our second national title. I’ll send another email out 30 minutes before tip-off, so make sure you’re subscribed. I’ll see you on Twitch.
A few notes:
Someone started a Reddit page for our Leathernecks dynasty. Let’s all join that and get it poppin’.
Don’t forget about the latest release from Thanh’s novel “Simulating Success” on our Western Illinois run.
Reader John emailed me some music, so go check out his Bandcamp page.
And since everyone is always asking me how they can share in my elite taste in music: Here’s my running Best of 2020 playlist on Spotify. I’ve been making these best-of-year playlists for more than a decade. Subscribe if you’d like because I add to it regularly.
Western Illinois vs. UCLA. Saturday. Twitch. Let’s go get another natty.