HHSAA Boys Hoops: D-II pondering

by Paul Honda on February 18, 2014

2014 HHSAA Boys Basketball Bracket - Division II

The HHSAA had to wait a little bit longer to put out the Division II bracket since University High had to travel to Hawaii Prep on Monday for a play-in game.

So this is what’s in store for the Hawaiian Airlines/HHSAA Division II Boys Basketball State Championships.

SEEDING
1. St. Francis
2. Kaiser
3. Seabury Hall
4. Kohala

I’m not in complete agreement with the seeding, but it’s minor. STF is a legit No. 1, of course, being A) a defending D-II state champion, and B) winning the pretty tough ILH D-II title. Kaiser as a No. 2 seed is a bit of a surprise. True, the Cougars were verycompetitive in the OIA East, but their lack of overall experience showed in a lot of close losses. They definitely played well in the OIA White final against Kalani, overcoming a bunch of foul trouble, which came on the heels of five seniors quitting the team a couple of weeks earlier.

Seabury at No. 3 is a tough one to digest. Though the Spartans went unbeaten (14-0) in MIL D-II, there’s no long history of success at the state tourney. I’m not completely into the history-trumps-all-criteria camp, but at least Kohala upset two Top 10 teams in Konawaena (at Kohala, Kamehameha Park’s Hisaoka Gym, to be precise) and Hawaii Prep (at the BIIF tournament in Hilo).

GIven Kohala’s long history of semi-success at the state tourney, why seed it behind Seabury? My guess is this was a judgment call, nothing more. And a way to reward a league champ that went unbeaten. After all, a run like that should be honored, not punished. Just so happens that I disagree a bit. Moving on…

PAIRINGS
This is what the real stuff is about. As it is with D-I, half the teams come from the OIA, the HHSAA tries its best to avoid same-league matchups in the first round, and it gets weird trying to create a fair playing field. But in D-II, the beauty is in the eight-team field, as opposed to the 12-team grouping for D-I. That means no first-round byes in D-II.

Saint Francis vs. Kalani, Earl C. Holmer Gymnasium
Some folks might get berserko about any team getting a home-court edge in the state tournament, but HHSAA chief Chris Chun clarified recently that this has happened before. Though the HHSAA prefers to avoid any homecourt edge, Kalani offered the use of its gym months ago, and with so few schools volunteering for the extra work, Chun accepted.

So why not have Kalani and St. Francis play at the other (neutral) court in Kaimuki’s gym? I’ll find out soon enough.

As for the matchup, it’s an interesting one. The Saints lost their coach (and AD), Sol Batoon, during the iLH D-II tournament, but have been winning and playing well nonetheless. They have one of the state’s top players in Matthew Nuumanaia, a 6-5 senior with guard talent and the heart to pound the ball inside on big boys. He wills this team to victory sometimes.

STF’s quickness will be matched by Kalani’s. The Falcons love to play fast, and if their “bigs” like Brandon Roberts are effective — he loves to shoot the 3 as a stretch 5 — that means Nuumanaia or big Blaine Won will have to leave the paint. My pet peeve about the Falcons is that when the lane opens up, their bigs hesitate to attack the rim often times. Kalani needs a way to get some easy baskets from time to time. We’ll see if they continue to live and die by the 3.

Kohala vs. Kauai, Earl C. Holmer Gymnasium
I haven’t seen anything on Kauai, which was unbeaten in the KIF (8-0). I do know about the Cowboys. From all reports, Kealen Figueroa is a true baller. There’s some skepticism, understandably, about the Cowboys since they were second to HPA in BIIF D-II for most of the season, and HPA point guard Kalen Camero was out (concussion) during the league title game.

But the tradition and talent of Kohala basketball remains. In time, they’re going to pull up the young keiki now playing in middle and elementary school, like former BIIF all-star Kalei Emeliano’s sons, and re-ignite the program. That’s still a few years away, of course.

Kaiser vs. Hawaii Prep, Kaimuki gym
If Camero is cleared from his head injury, this is a wildly wrong matchup for a quarterfinal in D-II. HPA might have drawn the first seed if not for the PG’s injury before the BIIF final. HPA had been ranked in the Star-Advertiser Top 10 for the past month or so, beating the likes of Konawaena (on the road). Ka Makani are big, efficient and always working on new elements, my BIIF watchers tell me.

Kaiser? When Chance Kalaugher (6-5) and Matt Kaili (6-4) are not in foul trouble, they wreak havoc on defenses in any classification. They’ve got a reliable PG in Kelsey Lewis II and solid defenders like Isaac Slade-Matautia, Melvin Kahunanui Jr. and Trevin Kahunanui. Even with the loss of the five seniors who quit the team, Coach Branden Kawazoe still gets the most out of his reserves. They may go cold offensively for stretches, but that pressure defense is constant.

Seabury Hall vs. Damien, Kaimuki gym
The Spartans are an unknown quantity for this Pupule, and though the MIL can be tough in D-II some years, this wasn’t exactly one of them. Meanwhile, Damien had plenty of competition in ILH D-II. The Monarchs have one of the best low-post talents in the state, Kapi‘ina King, a 6-7 junior.

PUPULE FORECAST
This could be a fun tourney to watch from the start, especially with the Kaiser-HPA and Seabury Hall-Damien battles on day 1. Kohala is the darkhorse contender, a team practically nobody outside the BIIF has seen, and they have that one factor that plays big in the postseason: a truly fantastic scorer.

I really don’t see any team challenging St. Francis until the final, but the Saints have shown some vulnerability at times. Nuumanaia has battled through an ankle injury, and he is the force behind that squad.

Seabury Hall’s biggest obstacle isn’t just Damien, but the fact that they haven’t played a tall, strong, deep team in a long, long time. The MIL doesn’t have crossover competition between D-I and D-II like the BIIF and OIA, and ILH D-II is practically a D-I league, to be frank. (They compete against the “second teams” of Punahou, ‘Iolani, Kamehameha and Saint Louis, too.)

If HPA is at full strength, they will exploit Kaiser’s penchant for fouling. If HPA doesn’t have Camero on the court, it will be interesting to see the adjustments in roles play out.

The Saints should win this tourney. So much comes from winning the title the year before. They’ll know how to finish close games, as they did in the latter part of the ILH season. If HPA Is healthy, it should be a St. Francis-HPA final. If HPA isn’t healthy, I like Kaiser’s toughness and defense, even against a talented squad from Damien.

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