Here’s how I voted in today’s Star-Advertiser Girls Basketball Top 10.
1. LAH (27-1)
2. PUN (14-2)
3. KON (23-3)
4. ROOS (15-2)
5. MS (18-4)
6. HIL (18-5)
7. KS (14-5)
8. MIL (20-3)
9. IOL (12-10)
10. HON (23-10)
I’ve had Lahainaluna, Punahou, Konawaena and Roosevelt among my top 4 or 5 for several weeks now, and it doesn’t matter to me what they were seeded for the Hawaiian Airlines/HHSAA Girls Basketball State Championships this week (and next week). When I vote, it’s always about head-to-head results first, and everything else second. The Lady Lunas have one loss — to a then-healthy Kamehameha squad that was defending state champion and ranked No. 1 for a stretch until a key injury (Tiare Kanoa). LHS has beaten Punahou (51-50), Mililani (52-33) and everybody else.
The Lunas deserve this ranking. Doesn’t mean they’re unbeatable. But they just might be even better now than they were during that trip to Honolulu in mid-November. So many long, athletic posts. A savvy, experienced backcourt. Coach Todd Rickard’s excellence. Then again, it’s been so long since they’ve been truly tested…
The Konawaena/Punahou 2 versus 3 seeding is kind of moot. Konawaena has the slight historical edge, winning four of the past seven state titles while Punahou hasn’t won it in several years. The teams somehow managed to not play each other at the Kaiser Invitational, where Konawaena showed a lack of depth. The ‘Cats lost to those then-healthy Kamehameha Warriors (46-44), beat Roosevelt (57-54) and lost at Mililani (49-41).
It’s no coincidence that Mililani is in Konawaena’s regional bracket. With Sarah Liva at center, they may just have the kryptonite to end Konawaena’s season IF the Trojans get past Radford on Friday.
Back to PUN-KON. Konawaena, like Lahainaluna, has not been tested much since returning from the Kaiser Invitational. There was a 13-point win over Honokaa, which is possibly the most underrated team in the state. Then there was the 46-45 thriller against Hilo at Keaau’s gym ib Saturday for the BIIF title.
Oahu-centric fans could look at that score and think this:
1. The Wildcats are overrated, almost losing to a lower-ranked team.
2. It was a neutral gym, so there you go, Konawaena is not worthy of a 2 seed.
Reality is, Keaau is roughly 127 miles from the Konawaena campus. It would be far more convenient and relaxing to fly from Kona to Honolulu than to drive from Kealakekua to Keaau. Staying overnight in Hilo (or wherever) after a BIIF semifinal win (over host Keaau 55-23) is a straight advantage for the teams in East Hawaii. They get to sleep at home, eat Mom’s cooking and mosey on over to Keaau’s gym to play.
The other reality is this: with Mililani in Konawaena’s bracket, it is third-seeded Punahou that actually has the “easier” matchup on paper. Punahou will face either King Kekaulike or Moanalua. No question that Moanalua is the favorite after nearly upsetting Mililani in the OIA Red semifinals last week. But Mililani has been a Top 5 team nearly all season. Moanalua has struggled to crack into the Top 10.
It’s true now and it’s been true in the past: The seeding committee works hard at pairings, and with half the field coming from one league (OIA), and an off-center number (12 is difficult while 8 or 16 would be easy) to work with.
Unlike the poll, I have Maryknoll and Hilo ahead of Mililani on my ballot. Much as I like Liva and the cast there, the issues of facing tough fullcourt and halfcourt pressure remain. That’s what Maryknoll’s defense brings. It’s their cornerstone. Hilo? They are a polar opposite of Mililani, especially with the lack of size, but they can bring tough defensive pressure. Until Mililani can consistently take care of the ball, go inside-out with the powerful, nimble Liva and then punish defenses from the perimeter with wide-open shots… well, Mililani could win this whole thing or lose in any round.
That’s one reason why this year’s state field is fascinating. There’s no utterly dominant team. it comes down to the team that plays best this week. Period. All events leading to this tourney are history.
The Kamehameha Warriors, even with PG Kanoa out, would do damage in this tournament. ILH gets just two state berths, so they were eliminated in the ILH tournament semifinal last week by Maryknoll by the narrowest of margins. That deprives fans of another chance to see one of the state’s finest players, Alohi Robins-Hardy. If you saw her play during the regular season, count your blessings.
As for Honokaa, I’ve had them at the 10 spot on my ballot forever. Well, maybe not forever, but in high school season years, yeah, it’s practically an eternity. Honokaa beat Moanalua 55-48 on Nov. 15. At the Kaiser tourney. Since then, the Dragons have 12 of 14 games, losing only to Konawaena and Hilo — a state finalist and a state semifinalist last season.
And yet, the voting panel of coaches and media continue to vote Moanalua ahead of Honokaa. I like Moanalua. They have a true go-to scorer in crafty lefty LaChae McColor. They hustle their okoles off defensively and play with physicality and grit that helps compensate for their overall lack of height.
The poll often times comes down to sheer numbers. The majority of Hawaii’s population resides on Oahu, as do the voters in the poll. It’s the same basic math that applies to voting at the annual athletic directors conference, or at the HHSAA executive level. It is, I guess you could say, democratic.
But on my ballot, democracy is irrelevant. Honokaa beat Moanalua. Case closed.
As for the bubblies…
Farrington is sometimes very fun to watch. Penina Faumui can run the point, but is used more as a physical post scorer, a wing shooter and, maybe most importantly, as a key ballhandler in the Govs’ pressbreaker. In other words, if she isn’t available and helping break Kalani’s press last week, Farrington loses the OIA White title game.
Why not Farrington at No. 10? They’ve lost to Maryknoll (59-27) and Moanalua (59-55) and Kaiser (51-48). (I don’t have a full list of all their preseason wins and losses.) They also beat a pretty tough Kailua squad (50-49). They have the makings of a potential Top 10 team, but alas, the loss to Moanalua. Being a Division II team (not a great idea for one of the biggest schools in the state, not in basketball), the Govs had just one shot at the D-I teams on its regular-season slate. A 64-42 loss to Roosevelt was not a convincer, either.
I mentioned on Sunday that Farrington may be the toughest possible matchup for Honokaa in the D-II state tourney, which tips off on Wednesday and ends on Saturday. We’ll see if that comes to fruition. Wouldn’t surprise me if one of them loses on the way.
Leilehua still has that sharp backcourt, but the lack of rebounders — face it, last year’s frontcourt was so good, it spoiled most fans — leaves the Mules with inconsistency. One night, they beat Radford by 26. The next time, they need overtime to get past Radford. The Mules have lived and died by the 3, and they usually slow the pace down and try to out-execute teams. I wonder if they could speed some games up and put their legs to use. I thought that would’ve worked better against Kailua during the OIA Red playoffs, especially since Kailua had played just 24 hours earlier.
It’s a tough call. Sometimes running the court sounds easy to do, but without consistent rebounding, much tougher to put into action.
Hawaii Baptist was perfect in ILH D-II play. They got two very close games from St. Francis and University, then trounced everybody else. True, ILH D-II girls hoops is not the strongest league. It’s a collection of truly small schools, unlike the OIA White. HBA lost to D-I Radford (39-33) and Leilehua (47-23) in preseason. I think the Eagles are an overachieving team that worked its way to a league championship. Of course, if they do this three years in a row, there will be anonymous cries from opposing fans for HBA to move up to D-I.
That’s a mentality that needs to bite the dust. D-I and D-II were never supposed to be about power ratings, wins and losses. Just as the national federation (NFHS). When small-school teams achieve success through work ethic and unity, that should be celebrated. Moving up to D-I should be a small school’s choice, not the howl of the jealous, bitter masses.
Hawaiian Mission went 9-1 in ILH D-III play. God, I wish there was a D-III state tournament. Even if it had just four schools. Most public schools would be too big to qualify (by my standards). A field of HMA, Kohala, Pahoa and Lanai would suffice. (Molokai is a tad too big.)
Logistically and economically, D-III as a state tourney is a tough, tough sell. Even the programs that qualify would be pressed to raise the funds. I know that. But let me dream a little. I don’t think D-III teams would expect to play in the Blaisdell or even McKinley. It could start out at one of these tiny schools as a two-day event. The point would be to play the tourney and establish a classification level for the worthy and smallest programs — just like other states. If I’m a player at Lanai, would I want to play in this tourney if it were at Hawaiian Mission or Kohala?
Finally, it can’t be overstated that attendance at the regional quarterfinal games in Lahaina and Kona are under the spotlight. I have no doubt that the Lady Lunas will fill the Lahaina Civic. They’ve always had some of the most vocal, passionate fans in the state. Same with Konawaena, though the Wildcats will be playing at Kealakehe’s gym, roughly 17 miles up the road.
If both sites sell out on Saturday, that’s a win for state-host site distribution. If both sites somehow draw tiny numbers, this would then become the first and last quadrant/pod/regional format. Ever.
I’m guessing Lahainaluna draws more than 2,000 to the Civic. I’m guessing Konawaena pulls in about 1,700. If it were at Konawaena’s campus, it would be 2,000-plus. If my estimates are close, that will be roughly 2,500 to 3,000 more fans that the tournament would draw for quarterfinal games on Oahu. And I’m being conservative.
HHSAA executive commissioner Chris Chun and the board are taking a chance with this format. It’s a long overdue step forward in these Pupule eyes. Bobby Command, the former West Hawaii Today sports editor, penned his thoughts on quadrants two decades ago. We’ll see how the sites fare. At the administrative level, the timing is right as the commish finesses new, exploratory ideas into the system.
Wish I could be at both sites. Please keep me posted, my fellow hoopaholics on Facebook.