So, the Wizard (Frank Mauz) and I are e-mailing back and forth as usual about girls basketball. This afternoon, he asks what I think of the seedings and pairings for the state tourney. I’ve been out most of the day, so this is my first chance to look.
5 p.m. Mililani vs. Radford
7 p.m. Maryknoll vs. Kailua
5 p.m. King Kekaulike vs. Moanalua
7 p.m. Hilo vs. Leilehua
At Blaisdell Arena
3 p.m. King Kekaulike-Moanalua winner vs. Punahou
5 p.m. Hilo-Leilehua winner vs. Roosevelt
At Kealakehe High School
6 p.m. Mililani-Radford winner vs. Konawaena
At Lahaina Civic
6 p.m. Maryknoll-Kailua winner vs. Lahainaluna
The seedings are as follows: 1. Lahainaluna (27-1), 2. Konawaena (23-3), 3. Punahou (14-2), 4. Roosevelt (18-4).
I’ll enter this with this thought: There is more parity than I can remember this season. There’s no outright dominant dynasty, no Galdeira/Awa/Konawaena kingdom (queendom?), no Kuehu twins/Punahou domination. So the line between the top seed and fourth seed is thin, indeed.
As I’ve written in my posts about the Top 10 (and my ballots), top criteria for me is head-to-head competition. For the seeding committee, this is NOT often the case. They tend to rely on historical results. One hot season doesn’t usually impress them. Lahainaluna (18-1) was atop my ballot all season because a) its only loss was to Kamehameha, which later lost elite point guard Tiare Kanoa and never completely recovered, b) the Lunas beat Punahou (51-50), another team with a sparkling record, c) they beat Mililani handily (52-33).
But my hunch is that the committee is relying more on history to place Lahainaluna on this No. 1 pedestal, and it is a history decorated with great success: one state championship and an amazing run over the span of many years under Todd Rickard.
Konawaena at No. 2 is a bit of a surprise, but not entirely. The Wildcats lost to Kamehameha (preseason, 46-44) and also at Mililani (49-41). Even back then, the Wildcats showed great potential with Chanelle Molina, arguably the best player in the state, but apart from some very solid role players, Konawaena (15-2) is not deep. Of their small (eight players at the Kaiser Invitational) roster, almost half had never played organized basketball before. That’s one very thin bench.
But history is on the ‘Cats side. Coach Bobbie Awa has led the program to four state championships in the last seven years. They’ve truly earned respect, and respect is what the committee gives them this year.
Punahou at No. 3? I can just imagine how their coaching staff and fans feel about this one. Since losing that nail-biter to Lahainaluna — it was the Buffanblu’s first game of the season — and then to Maryknoll (55-45) to start the ILH season, they’ve been extremely tough. Eleven wins in a row. But the committee cares not for hotness. Though Punahou has an illustrious girls hoops history, it hasn’t been quite the same in the past few seasons.
It’s possible, maybe probable, that the committee didn’t see much difference between Konawaena and Punahou. Putting them in the same bracket negates things somewhat.
So how to explain Roosevelt at No. 4? This is a high-scoring team, undeniably entertaining to watch with its furious fastbreak and 3-point shooting. They’re not small, not big, and their posts are more stretch 4 and stretch 5 gunners from the perimeter. It comes down to history. That’s the only way I can see any justification for the OIA Red champs to be the lowest seed.
The Rough Riders have never won a state tournament title. Lahainaluna, Konawaena and Punahou have. Then there’s this: Roosevelt lost to Punahou (69-57) and Konawaena (57-54) at the Kaiser Invitational. They’ve won 13 in a row since, all OIA games. But frankly, the OIA is not a strong basketball league this season and in most seasons. There are always a few strong teams at the top, but the overall level of play and quality are rarely at a constant threshold.
Doesn’t mean Roosevelt or Mililani or any other OIA team can’t win the state tourney. Every year is different, an entirely new thumbprint from the year before. Roosevelt could win this tourney. They have more scorers than any other team, and they win tough games even if they aren’t hitting from long range.
The one common thread between the four league champions in D-I? Many of the players come from strong offseason basketball clubs that travel in the summer. Coach Awa and their parents may lead the state in fundraiser work year-round.
ILH runner-up Maryknoll (18-4), which lost to Punahou 29-28 on Friday in the ILH tourney final, will face Kailua (12-7) in the opening round. Kailua is a dangerous matchup, a team that loves to run and has an athletic swingman in Delcie Williams, who scored 44 points in a win over Kaiser this season. That winner will fly to Maui and face Lahainaluna.
That will be very, very tough. The Lady Lunas already draw some of the biggest crowds in the state, and that’s just for MIL play. Imagine how they’ll fill the Lahaina Civic for a state-tourney game against a heralded coach (Chico Furtado) and team from the almighty ILH.
Hilo (18-5) travels to Oahu after losing to Konawaena 46-45 (at Keaau) in the BIIF title game. The Vikings are no strangers to Honolulu after an amazing run last year behind star guard Aliyah Pana. The Vikings are probably one of the smallest teams in the tourney, but spunky, tough and fast.
They’ll be a fascinating matchup with Leilehua (14-5), a guard-oriented team that lost most of its interior scoring and rebounding to graduation. The Mules, under Elroy Dumlao, have become a strong program thanks in part to offseason competition and travel. This should be a fine battle at McKinley Student Council Gym on Friday.
The Hilo-Leilehua winner will take on Roosevelt (15-2) Saturday at Blaisdell Center. Hilo, a semifinalist last year, could be ousted in the quarterfinals this season. Leilehua, which won the OIA Red last year, might fail to reach the state semifinals. Again. It’s tough tourney.
On the other side, Mililani (20-3) meets Radford (11-8) in an opening-round game at Radford’s James Alegre Gymnasium on Friday. Radford is probably the only team in the OIA bigger than Mililani. They’ve met twice already; Mililani won 54-27 in the regular season, then won 54-36 in the league playoffs.
The winner will meet Konawaena (23-3) on Saturday at Kealakehe High School. A full house is not out of the question for a program that has never hosted a state-tourney game. Whoever the Wildcats host, it will be a contrast in styles. The ‘Cats are smaller and rely on tough on-ball defense and precision offense. Mililani needs Sarah Liva to get as many touches as possible in the low post. Konawaena doesn’t have the two or three bigs in the post to defend like it has in past years.
What the Wildcats have is a go-to scorer in Molina who is willing to take responsibility and carry her team if and when necessary. That is worth a great deal.
King Kekaulike, the MIL runner-up, will face Moanalua (12-7) in another opening-round game at McKinley. Na Alii have been a distant second (at best) to Lahainaluna for a long, long time. Flying to Oahu to face Moanalua, a fast, tough, defensive-minded squad with a go-to scorer (LaChae McColor) is a monumental challenge for King K.
The winner will face Punahou (14-2) on Saturday in the other game at Blaisdell Center.
Keep in mind that the quarterfinal games at Blaisdell on Saturday will begin early: 3 p.m. and 5 p.m., to be followed by the Division II championship game.
The semifinal round will be played at McKinley Student Council Gym. It’ll be a packed house. I recommend getting there early.
The final will move back to Blaisdell Arena, and with no consolation games in the tourney anymore, the only other game will be the third-place contest.
My pick for the title game? I think Punahou may get there thanks to its industrious attitude about defense and a nice balance of weapons (Tyra Moe and Keau Fey inside) offensively. I also think Konawaena could reach the final if Molina decides to dominate, even if defenses double-team her. She’s an elite athlete who has a great motor and doesn’t rely just on her perimeter game or post game to succeed.
Lahainaluna is so athletic, long, persistent, quick. They love to press and push the ball. I just don’t see them losing before the final.
My guess: Lahainaluna vs. Konawaena in the final. Molina carries the Wildcats to an upset win for the title. If Punahou gets to the final, I think the Buffanblu do the job and win a title. It’s been too long since the Lunas have been tested, and though they have nice balance, they lack a go-to scorer in crunch time. That could hurt.
Darkhorse pick: Hilo. If Pana gets going, it’s very difficult to stop her. Probably the best slasher in the state. And I haven’t seen a coach use a box-and-one defense in ages.
Honokaa (23-10) earned the No. 1 spot, followed by Hawaii Baptist (12-3) at No. 2, Farrington (9-4) at No. 3 and Molokai at No. 4.
It’s not a particularly strong year in girls basketball D-II. Kamehameha-Hawaii’s stable of talent has diminished somewhat, which is only natural considering the wealth of players the Warriors had in the past.
Honokaa? They’ve been at No. 10 on my Top 10 ballot for weeks and weeks. Regardless of classification, they’re the best team outside of the top nine, even better than Moanalua — a team the Dragons beat in preseason. Not a whole lot better, maybe just a smidge. But the Dragons have talent and many of them were there last year when they reached the final and lost to KS-Hawaii.
I haven’t seen HBA yet this season. I have seen Farrington. They can be extremely tough when the 3-point shot is falling because they have three formidable post players, including rebounding machine Jeveva Toilolo and multi-skilled guard/forward/center Penina Faumui. Toilolo and Faumui combined for 39 rebounds in the OIA White title game against Kalani.
Molokai? Haven’t seen them either, but I do know the MIL D-II race was tough this year.
The Kalani-University winner will take on Honokaa. Kalani (12-13) and UHS (8-4) meet on Friday at Kaimuki High School. The Lady Falcons are quick and love to run. They’re fun to watch, but they have no size to speak of, so they run more.
Kapaa will meet St. Francis. The Saints are entrenched in D-II state tournaments these days, whether it’s boys hoops, girls hoops, girls volleyball or softball. That winner will take on Molokai at Kaimuki on Saturday.
At Kalani, Kohala (6-6) will face Castle (6-7). The winner plays ILH champion Hawaii Baptist (12-3). Also at Kalani, KS-Hawaii (11-8) plays Le Jardin.
Le Jardin? Yes, the Bulldogs (10-6) are in the state tourney for the first time, according to the Wizard. The victor gets to play Farrington on Saturday, again at Kalani.
Kalani is the kind of team that can surprise and run away because its depth at guard and willingness to play the speed game. But to match up with a physical, fast team like Honokaa, which is guided by veteran coach Daphne Honma, it takes the right artillery.
That makes Farrington a logical choice to reach the final. We’ll see what Kapaa and St. Francis can do, but this looks like a Honokaa-Farrington final. I don’t know if there’s any player in D-II who can stop Faumui, a forward with guard skills and the strength to play center when necessary.
But the Govs are streaky from deep, while the Dragons are a year wiser and better.
My guess: Honokaa over Farrington in the final in a physical, bruising battle. My darkhorse pick is Kalani.
So there, just a few thoughts. I’ll send this to the Wizard and see what he thinks. After all, Mr. Frank Mauz has been at nearly every girls state tournament since the first in 1977.
A final note: In case you haven’t heard, the tourney (Division I only) is in regionals mode. The first two rounds are split across the state, hosted by respective league champions from the BIIF, ILH, MIL and OIA. Those first two rounds will be played on Friday and Saturday.
The semifinals and finals will be played the following weekend (Feb. 7-8) on Oahu. Semifinals at McKinley. Final at Blaisdell.