A look at Big Dance and why 16 would be sweet

Kahuku's Kesi Ah-Hoy defended against McKinley's Jerry Coloyan at McKinley Student Council Gymnasium,. (Jan. 17, 2017) Bruce Asato/Star-Advertiser
Kahuku’s Kesi Ah-Hoy defended against McKinley’s Jerry Coloyan at McKinley Student Council Gymnasium,. (Jan. 17, 2017) Bruce Asato/Star-Advertiser

This Monday dancing business is still not quite embedded into the minds of all prep hoop fans.

But it is Monday and it is time for day one of the Snapple/HHSAA Boys Basketball State Championships. As it was with girls volleyball and girls basketball, Monday is something unique now. There was a three-day break between the first and second (quarterfinal) rounds for girls volleyball and basketball. With boys basketball, the break is two days, with the tourney resuming on a Wednesday. I’m told this is because Stan Sheriff Center was available on Friday for the championship games. Good deal.

(I prefer Blaisdell Center for video-taping purposes. Things are much more formal at SSC, understandably.)

Below, my ballot for the Star-Advertiser Top 10, which will be released in Tuesday’s print edition. Also, the pairings for today’s state-tourney action, near and far. More than two decades ago, Bobby Command penned an idea to have regional hubs on the neighbor islands with a 16-team format. The current tourney remains at 12 teams (Division I), but the addition of D-II and eight teams came at the right time.

I’d still love to see the D-I tourney expand to 16 teams — imagine Maryknoll, Kamehameha, Mid-Pacific or Maryknoll slayer Saint Louis added to the field — but that’s a topic for another rambling mess of words by this pupule.

Pupule ballot 2/13/17
1. Kahuku Red Raiders (23-3, 14-0 OIA)

Every individual can make a difference, just in varying degrees. When Kahuku played Kailua on Dec. 28, the host Red Raiders won 53-37. Without Jessiya Villa on Feb. 7, Kahuku rallied to squeak by the Surfriders 42-40 in the OIA D-I semifinals. Is Villa a +14 player for Kahuku or any other team in the state? I think the answer is a simple yes. Is he the best player in the state? It’s too early to answer that question. After all, five Jessiya Villas against five Samuta Aveas or five Dan Fotus would be tough to decipher. And it’s not about cloning players for an imaginary battle on the hardwood. Each team is a puzzle to be solved by its coaching staff. It’s also about matchups. Against a heavy fullcourt pressure team like Punahou, a master ballhandler like Villa becomes much more valuable, and Kailua is not a pressing team. So there’s an argument to be made that Villa is worth far more than +14 to his team. Same could be argued for Avea’s versatility and ability to see over pressure at his 6-foot-6 height. Or that Fotu’s value is almost immeasurable as a rim protector, post defender, post scorer, ballhandler…

No matter what, even if an opposing defense finds a way to slow all three, Kahuku’s role players bring a ton of pluses to the table. I’ve often said that Cherilyn Molina and Mikayla Tablit are the toughest defensive backcourt in the state in girls basketball. The same could be said of Codie Sauvao and Kesi Ah-Hoy in boys hoops. Mix in 6-4 Taimona Wright as a solid elbow shooter, bigs Stennett Alapa and Ra Elkington for spot minutes and massive presence in the paint, speedy youngster Marcus Damuni and cagey senior Kekaula Kaniho, and that’s a formidable group even without the big three. Top-seeded Kahuku will play the Kalaheo-Maui winner on Wednesday at McKinley, 7 p.m.

Sumo rank: Yokozuna.

2. Punahou Buffanblu (24-5, 11-3 ILH)
The gauntlet is the gauntlet. No league today demands more from its title contenders more than the league that once was home of the “City All-Stars” as scribed by ancient chroniclers such as the late Bill Kwon in the Star-Bulletin. For Punahou, it was five heavy-duty games in eight nights to 1) break the three-way regular-season tie at the top of the ILH standings, 2) compete for the playoff tourney title (which was won by ‘Iolani), and 3) capture the ILH crown. Tiring enough.

The Buffanblu learned to win via slower pace this season, and it was like watching the 1990s Hilo Vikings in a way, and in a capsule. Over time, those Viks coached by Larry Manliguis and his veteran staff learned to win at different speeds. Years of playing fast and furious in the BIIF, and then losing to slowdown tempo teams in the state tourney forced the Viks to evolve. Eventually, they won a state title under Manliguis in 1991, and again in ’00. Punahou leaped the learning curve, and that patience was rewarded with the throne. That’s two league titles in the past three years, each time with the Buffanblu and Raiders in the final. The last time the Buffanblu won states was ’12 with a win in the state final over… Kahuku.

Second-seeded Punahou will play the Kailua-Konawaena winner on Wednesday at Radford, 7 p.m.

Sumo rank: Yokozuna.

3. ‘Iolani Raiders (20-9, 11-4 ILH)
What? A league runner-up shouldn’t be this high on my ballot? Shusssh. Do I really need to list all the Top 10 teams ‘Iolani has beaten this season and compare it to who Lahainaluna has beaten? I like the Lunas program, more specifically the work ethic instilled the past three years by Coach Justus. But right now, ‘Iolani has A) the better resume, B) is far more battle-tested, and C) would win in a head-to-head matchup. Unless the Raiders are at the tail end of six games in eight nights, which was the case on Saturday when they played Punahou. Players like Hugh Hogland on fumes. Really, is this the best way to go about it? Probably. Well, the regular-season schedule could always move earlier by a week, couldn’t it? With the state tournament dates earlier than ever, not much wiggle room. I would never suggest that the boys (or girls) season be moved to the spring to accommodate all the indoor-sports teams that are crammed during the winter season.

The Raiders host Moanalua in a state-tournament opener today, 6 p.m.

Sumo rank: Yokozuna.

4. Lahainaluna Lunas (22-1, 14-0 MIL)
Could the Lunas win this state tournament? Yes. They might be the most well-rested of any league champion (or entrant). They have height, depth, solid guard play and a system that is star-less. For debate’s sake, let’s look at who the Lunas have played this season, including the opponent’s win-loss record.

W 45-38 Leilehua* (13-9, 10-3 OIA)
W 43-26 Farrington (8-13, 6-7 OIA)
W 51-30 Hayward (Calif.)
W 61-34 @ Radford (5-13, 4-7 OIA)
W 59-28 @ Kamehameha-Maui (8-7 MIL)
W 69-42 Kaimuki (4-13, 3-8 OIA)
L 52-50 David Douglas
W 68-57 St. Francis* (23-4, 10-0 ILH D-II)
W 60-41 Maui (9-8, 8-6 MIL)
W 61-24 Pitt Meadows
W 52-20 Hawaii Prep (8-7, 8-5 BIIF)
W 66-19 @ King Kekaulike (3-13, 3-10 MIL)
W 53-11 Baldwin (2-15, 1-11 MIL)
W 59-20 Kamehameha-Maui (8-7 MIL)
W 69-48 Maui (9-8, 8-6 MIL)
W 72-34 King Kekaulike (3-13, 3-10 MIL)
W 60-23 @ Baldwin (2-15, 1-11 MIL)
W 53-31 @ Kamehameha-Maui (8-7 MIL)
W 64-22 Maui (9-8, 8-6 MIL)
W 67-29 @ King Kekaulike (3-13, 3-10 MIL)
W 51-17 Baldwin (2-15, 1-11 MIL)
W 65-33 King Kekaulike (3-13, 3-10 MIL)
W 63-28 Kamehameha-Maui (8-7 MIL)
* Top 10 team

It must be noted that Baldwin was a longtime MIL powerhouse, a systematic dynasty that grinded all leagues foes into dust. Not anymore. King Kekaulike had a nice run a few years back. Run is long done. Maui? The era of Tevita Finau and that remarkable unbeaten run that ended at the state tourney, years past now. It’s not Lahainaluna’s fault that competition in the MIL is at its lowest ebb in what feels like decades. It would be even worse if the Lunas played the MIL’s D-II teams, which is sad because Seabury Hall and Molokai once were very competitive. Even Hana had its share of ballers in years past. Lahainaluna is the Gonzaga of Hawaii high school basketball, except that the WCC, comparatively as a college conference, the home of many good teams with much more parity.

I still wonder why the Lunas didn’t bulk up that preseason slate more, but that’s their choice. Two Top 10 teams all season. That’s not just unimpressive, it begs the question of whether they will be prepared come state tourney time. Time and experience are now on their side, and their penchant for precision and inside-out offense is all about higher percentages. The third-seeded Lunas will meet the Leilehua-Kapolei winner on Wednesday at Radford, 5 p.m.

Sumo rank: Ozeki.

5. Maryknoll Spartans (21-6, 8-4 ILH)
The grind of the ILH slate caught up with the Spartans, and their inconsistency against a 1-2-2 matchup zone by Saint Louis — as well as what Coach Kelly Grant described as defensive lapses — ended the season. It was a remarkable season with 12 wins in their first 12 preseason games. The team is still one of the youngest in the state. And if we had a 16-team field in D-I boys basketball, Maryknoll would probably be the best perimeter shooting team in the state tourney.

Sumo rank: Ozeki.

6. St. Francis Saints (23-4, 10-0 ILH D-II)
A year ago, Punahou coach Darren Matsuda predicted that St. Francis would move up to ILH D-I. The talent, the youth, the potential in 2016 were evident to Matsuda and a whole lot of ILH basketball observers. Even former coach Solomon Batoon once said that the program would move up if and when the Saints (formerly Troubadours) won a D-II state championship. They did just that in ’13, but a dropoff due to mainly to graduation had St. Francis right there in D-II since. They reached the state semifinals last year. Now the Saints are the top seed in the D-II state tourney. Most of their key players are juniors. Do they move up next year? The same question can be asked about Mid-Pacific’s underclassmen-heavy girls team.

The Saints play Farrington on Wednesday at Kalani, 7 p.m., in the D-II state-tourney opening round.

Sumo rank: Sekiwake.

7. Kamehameha Warriors (16-14, 4-8 ILH)
The argument (?) for a 16-team field never felt stronger than by examining the Warriors’ resume. Late-season losses to eventual ILH champion Punahou 57-55, Maryknoll 42-41, ‘Iolani 39-31. The case for Kamehameha in a brutal ILH schedule will gain no traction with non-ILH observers. But for fans who want to see the state’s best, Kamehameha is clearly among the best 12, and absolutely among a sweet 16.

Compare Kamehameha’s list of wins to Lahainaluna’s; the latter has two Top 10 wins. Kamehameha?

W 50-38 Kailua*
W 57-55 St. Francis*
W 50-44 Mid-Pacific*

Forget the close losses to Top 3 or Top 10 teams for a moment. Should a 16-14 team merit more consideration than a 22-1 team because it has one more victory over a ranked team? I have Kamehameha ranked three notches lower than Lahainaluna, so perhaps my own perspective is skewed, but in terms of what a state tournament could or should be, yes. I would love to see Lahainaluna play Kamehameha. Right NOW.

Sumo rank: Sekiwake.

8. Kailua Surfriders (19-9, 11-4 OIA)
This is probably the most whiplash-causing team in the state. The ‘Riders have huge wins and soul-crushing defeats, and they keep bouncing right back.

W 47-43 ‘Iolani*
W 52-47 Corona del Sol (Ariz.)**
W 57-48 Dr. Phillips (Fla.)**
W 38-36 @ Leilehua*

The Top 10 losses: Kahuku, Kalaheo,
Also, a loss at Kaimuki.

The health of guard Everett Torres-Kahapea made a major difference, and his return has been a big plus. Kailua plays at Konawaena tonight, 5:30 p.m.

Sumo rank: Sekiwake.

9. Kapolei Hurricanes (19-6, 12-1 OIA)
Rolling through the OIA West is never easy, not with long bus rides and varying styles of play. But it doesn’t compare to facing the beasts from the East. One positive during the playoffs was the resiliency of the Hurricanes. They ousted a solid McKinley squad, hung on to eliminate Moanalua, and after a slow start against No. 1-ranked Kahuku, battled hard and kept the game relatively close in the OIA title game. The ‘Canes showed signs of evolving during that Kahuku game, finding ways to score when primary options were stifled. Kapolei hosts Leilehua tonight, 6:30 p.m., in opening-round state-tourney action.

Sumo rank: Sekiwake.

10. Saint Louis Crusaders (11-16, 2-10 ILH)
This is a rare case, for me, of a team’s current level of play outweighing its complete resume. As of this moment, they were good enough to beat Maryknoll, a Top 4 team, on the road, and one night later, was right there with defending state champion ‘Iolani before losing by 10 points. The season is over for the Crusaders, but on a neutral court, they can play fast or slow, mix up defenses and have enough senior leadership to beat everyone else below the 10 spot.

Sumo rank: Komusubi.

On the cusp:
Moanalua Na Menehune (9-16, 8-7 OIA)
What more could be said about a team that struggled mightily early in the season, proved resilient through a major stage of development, and became a very tough out in the postseason? That’s Moanalua, which lost its first nine preseason games and easily could have folded. Instead, Na Menehune won four of their next five games, then lost four in a row, then won four in a row. They mounted a huge rally and nearly caught Kapolei in the OIA semifinals, and then lost at Kailua for third place. R.J. Dominiguez is a force in the paint with crafty moves mixed in with some deceptive power, and his left-handed release is always a tough one to really challenge for defenders. They have enough shooting, especially with Caleb Casinas, who has been magma hot lately, but they’re prone to hot and cold streaks, just like their season as a whole.

The numbers said a lot early on, not so in terms of wins and losses, but in margin. Eight of those nine early losses to start the season were by single-digit margins, including several to Top 10 teams. When that happens, things usually balance out, or revert to the mean. Coach Byron Mello was not a happy camper at the time, but he had to know that things would turn around. Eventually. Finally.

L 59-53 Punahou
L 60-51 Hayward (Calif.)
L 63-54 Saint Louis
L 75-70 Mid-Pacific
L 57-48 ‘Iolani
L 43-41 Kamehameha
L 64-62 @ Mililani
L 46-44 Kamehameha
L 57-44 Saint Louis

And here they are, in the state tourney, facing the defending champions. (See more in matchups below.)

Mid-Pacific Owls (7-12, 2-9 ILH)
Still better than most teams statewide.
Sumo rank: Komusubi.

McKinley Tigers (12-11, 9-5 OIA)
Sumo rank: Maegashira.

Kalaheo Mustangs (14-10, 10-4 OIA)
At full strength, the Mustangs are capable of reaching the state finals. When will they be at full strength? Who knows.
Sumo rank: Komusubi.

Leilehua Mules (13-9, 10-4 OIA)
A young, but vastly improved and entirely dangerous team.
Sumo rank: Komusubi.

Konawaena Wildcats (10-1 BIIF)
In the final seconds against Waiakea, the ‘Cats A) allowed the game-tying 3-point shot, and B) threw the inbounds pass away to Calvin Mattos, who had just drained the 3, and he scored the winning basket at the buzzer.
Sumo rank: Maegashira.

Waiakea Warriors (9-7, 8-3 BIIF)
Sumo rank: Maegashira.

Kamehameha-Hawaii Warriors (15-11, 10-3 BIIF)
Sumo rank: Juryo.

Mililani Trojans (8-10, 7-4 OIA)
Sumo rank: Juryo.

Honokaa Dragons (22-10, 11-3 BIIF)
The Dragons will be tough in the D-II state tourney. They travel every winter for preseason play on Oahu.
Sumo rank: Juryo.

Hawaii Prep Ka Makani (8-7, 8-5 BIIF)
Lost to Honokaa by one point in the BIIF D-II final.
Sumo rank: Juryo.

Seabury Hall Spartans (19-4, 13-1 MIL D-II).
The Spartans beat University by two points in preseason, and University lost to Le Jardin for the final ILH berth in the D-II state tourney. The MIL segregates D-I from D-II during the regular season, so take the Spartans’ win-loss mark for what it is. They beat University 42-40, Baldwin 59-26, Kapaa 51-32, Maui 51-34 and Pitt Meadows 82-38 in preseason. They lost to Maui 66-57, Kaiser 57-40 and Corona 63-53.
Sumo rank: Maegashira.

Aiea Na Alii (7-11, 6-7 OIA)
Sumo rank: Juryo.

University Junior Rainbows (16-9, 7-5 ILH D-II)
Sumo rank: Juryo.

Le Jardin Bulldogs (15-10, 6-7 ILH D-II)
After key injuries during the season, the Bulldogs got healthy for the playoffs and knocked out Hanalani, Damien and University to reach the big dance.
Sumo rank: Juryo.

Assets (13-3, 12-1 ILH D-III)
Just an amazing D-III program that I can’t stop giving props to. Was close against HBA in the ILH D-II playoffs before losing 52-40.
Sumo rank: Juryo.

Punahou II (17-4, 9-0 ILH D-IAA)
Beat Le Jardin 50-46 and HBA 53-50, lost to Kailua 50-44. Typical tough D-II team from one of the ILH’s powerhouse programs.
Sumo rank: Maegashira.

Damien Monarchs (12-7, 7-3 ILH D-II)
A competitive program that dropped down from D-I, and just a couple of years later is eliminated from D-II state-tourney possibilities by losing to Le Jardin. There was a time back in that ’13, ’14 stretch when the Monarchs were very close to becoming a formidable D-I program. But as with HBA’s girls hoops team — as well as MPI girls and MPI boys, the Monarchs are basically a 1.5 program in the ILH. Or a shade below, 1.4, right now.
Sumo rank: Juryo.

University Jr. Rainbows (15-8, 6-4 ILH D-II)
The defending D-II state champions were ousted in the league playoffs.
Sumo rank: Juryo.

Kalani Falcons (14-10, 8-6 OIA)
Champions of OIA D-II. I haven’t seen a team go four corners as long and as well as this team does. Again, Floyd Mayweather would and should be proud. Jab and move, jab and move!
Sumo rank: Maegashira.

Farrington Governors (8-13, 6-7 OIA)
After a nice run to the OIA D-II final, the Govs played tight for three quarters against Kalani before finishing strong.
Sumo rank: Juryo.

Campbell Sabers (15-10, 7-4 OIA)
Kalani ended the Sabers’ D-II title and state-tourney hopes, beating Campbell 52-45.
Sumo rank: Juryo.

Christian Academy Patriots (10-2 ILH D-III)
Only two losses were to division champion Assets (46-45, 50-40).
Sumo rank: Juryo.

If we had a D-III state tourney (boys basketball)…

Anuenue (0-11 OIA East) or Waialua (1-9 OIA West)
Ka‘u (5-8 BIIF)
Kohala (5-8 BIIF) (or St. Joseph 2-7)
Lanai (6-6 MIL D-II)
Assets (12-0 ILH D-III)
Christian Academy (10-2 ILH D-III)
Hawaiian Mission (7-5 ILH D-III)
Play-in: Anuenue-Waialua loser vs. Hana (0-12 MIL D-II)
(Note: Updated Feb. 14.)

Snapple/HHSAA State Championships
Division I, opening round
Monday, Feb. 13

Kalaheo at Maui
If the real Kalaheo team shows up, this could be a runaway win. But with inter-island travel, anything can happen. Maui is playing at home, which is worth at least six to eight points, maybe 10. The Mustangs have a stellar combo with scorers Captain Whitlock and Noah Woodby, and a solid core of supporting scorers like Andrew Kearney. How will a largely untested Sabers team fare against an OIA powerhouse that had an underachieving regular season?

Moanalua at ‘Iolani
The Raiders have ways of seizing control in matchups against run-and-gun teams like Moanalua. The biggest question is, have the Raiders had enough rest time to recover from that crazy stretch of six games in eight nights? Moanalua has some lights-out shooters, including Casinas. Dominguez has been a force in the paint. But they haven’t played a team quite like ‘Iolani, which has 6-9 Hugh Hogland protecting the rim. If Dominguez gets inside and uses his leverage and crafty moves, Hogland could get into early foul trouble, and that would not be good for a Raiders squad that has no true center behind their giant senior.

Kailua at Konawaena
The running Wildcats have one edge, and that’s rest time, against a Kailua team that has to travel from school in Windward Oahu to the airport and fly over to the Kona Coast, then drive 19 miles to Onizuka Memorial Gymnasium. The Surfriders, with their 6-4 center, Christian Mejia, and a strong front court, will be conservative and play possession by possession. They manage to get just about every foe to play slow ball with them, and it’s an art to be appreciated in this age. The young Wildcats had a BIIF title in hand before some last-second botches against Waiakea. Between the two neighbor-island sites tonight, Konawaena should have the larger crowd by far.

Leilehua at Kapolei
Interleague games at the state tourney’s opening round are always hazardous, especially for higher seeds like Kapolei. The teams met late in the regular season; Kapolei won the road game 58-42. The Mules have enough shooting and rebounding to hang with any team, but probably can’t afford to run with the fast Hurricanes. The backcourt of Isiah Higa and Ja’Shaun Carter is among the best statewide.

What a 16-team field in D-I boys basketball state tournament would look like:

ILH (3 entries)
Maryknoll (regular-season 3*) or Kamehameha/Saint Louis

MIL (2 entries)

BIIF (3 entries)

OIA (8 entries)


  1. AOK February 13, 2017 3:12 pm

    While a nice thought, and something I wholeheartedly agree with Paul, getting a 3rd ILH representative is nothing but a pipe dream. Even before Open Div for football was created, HHSAA said many times that 2 more OIA teams would be added before a 2nd ILH team. Why? No idea at all. I thought this was about finding a true state champ. Not getting equal representation from leagues pending the # of teams in the league. This sounds like some wannabe Tile IX BS to me. But, yes how awesome would a 3rd team from the toughest league in the state be?…

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