All hands on deck for top-seeded Saints

St. Francis guard Manoa Kuali’i-Moe cut to the hoop for a basketbal against Hawaii Baptist. Photo by Bruce Asato/Star-Advertiser.

The logic of the bylaws is never about the perfect fit.

It certainly can cause a fit or two. With just eight teams in this field, keeping the 1 and 2 from meeting in the first or second round can be difficult. The result is what the pairings are each season. They aren’t perfect, but they follow the rule, and there’s never a dull moment when the brackets are released.

Roosevelt fans probably hollered when they saw their team pitted against defending state champion and No. 1 seed St. Francis in the Snapple/HHSAA Boys Basketball State Championships. After all, Roosevelt went 6-4 against D-I and D-II teams in the Oahu Interscholastic Association East. Among their wins, Moanalua, which is now in the D-I state quarterfinals.

On paper, the Rough Riders (14-8 overall) are far from the eighth-best team in the eight-team D-II state-tourney field. And in most tournament formats, the No. 1 seed is paired with the No. 8.

However, only the top four teams are seeded in this state tourney.
1. St. Francis
2. Kalani
3. Seabury Hall
4. Hawaii Prep


A) Should league champions be automatically seeded? Should the Kauai (Kauai Interscholastic Federation) be unseeded because it plays in the smallest league? These questions are moot because recognition of league champions may be the last aspect that ever changes in the process of the seeding committee. However, if seeds are removed from league champions, that adds a lot more work to the process. It also would require a rescinding of the bylaw that forbids teams from the same league from meeting in the first round and, as much as possible, the second round (semifinal).

B) Because of the bylaw, a team like Roosevelt can’t play in the same sub-bracket as OIA champion Kalani. That leaves only two possible pairings, with ILH champion St. Francis or BIIF champion Hawaii Prep. On the whole, though, the KIF champion often receives an unofficial No. 5 seeding since it doesn’t have the honor of a true seeded berth. So Kauai paired with Hawaii Prep, the 5 vs the 4. That left no other place but the slot with St. Francis.

“Roosevelt would not be the No. 8,” St. Francis coach Ron Durant said. “What can you do? It’s like (the seeding committee) is not going to listen to reason. So to me, it was going to be them or Kauai, I was figuring.”

Until the tourney tips off on Wednesday night, this is a stew of assumptions. The HHSAA has always relied heavily on historical data rather than temporal trends. This was true when Kauai and Maui had seemingly dominant teams in years past, only to lose in the opening round at states. In this year’s D-II field, things get a bit complicated — post seeding — because of St. Francis.

The Saints no longer have Manoa Kuali‘i-Moe on their roster or even on campus. Also missing, just for one game, is another senior, guard Bryce Nishida. He is still under suspension for an in-game incident against Honokaa at last year’s state tourney. Kuali‘i-Moe is irreplaceable, a glue guy who defended, blocked shots, rebounded, started the fast break and made good passes. The 6-foot senior was a secondary scorer to Kameron Ng (24 ppg) and other teammates, but his versatility is rare. Without Kuali‘i-Moe and Nishida, St. Francis is not a dominant team. The depletion of the roster, especially against a seasoned team like Roosevelt, might be enough to cause an upset.

Durant said it was a school disciplinary action. He could not comment any further.

If Roosevelt beats St. Francis, it’s not a true upset. But the stage has been set for potential upheaval in the natural order.

Here’s a look at the pairings for Wednesday’s quarterfinal round. Teams are listed with overall record and regular-season league record.

St. Francis Saints (26-3, 10-0 ILH D-II) vs. Roosevelt Rough RIders (14-8, 6-4 OIA East), Wednesday, 7 p.m., St. Francis gym
St. Francis
Seed: No. 1. Defending champion.
Seed: Unseeded. OIA runner-up.

Skinny: The schools are just a mile apart, but didn’t meet this season. Last year, Roosevelt lost in the OIA playoffs and missed the state tourney. Two seasons ago, St. Francis was the top seed, ousted Kalani in the opening round, and then was upset by unseeded Seabury Hall 40-37 in the semifinals. In that same tourney, Roosevelt was the No. 2 seed and lost to unseeded Honokaa 40-37 in the opening round. University went on to conquer the title.

In fact, in ’16, unseeded teams won three of the four opening-round games. The only seeded, league-champion team to advance was St. Francis. The seeding process was more precise last year when all four seeds advanced past the first round.

Roosevelt’s OIA title two years ago remains a signature moment. The opportunity to overthrow the Saints is here, but only if the Rough Riders value the basketball. They committed 15 turnovers in a 61-52 loss to Kalani during last week’s OIA final. The flurry of mostly unforced, lollipop passes that devastated Roosevelt’s title hopes should be correctible, but with a veteran team, it was a surprising sight.

St. Francis normally sticks to tough halfcourt man defense with occasional zone. Roosevelt has enough perimeter shooting, led by sharpshooter Micah Visoria (17 ppg), to cause most defenses to bypass any zone coverage. The Saints have an elite defender on the arc in Kordel Ng, who is also one of the best rebounding guards in the state. Losing Kuali‘i-Moe, however, might hurt significantly.

“We’ve been working mostly on defense the past week, focusing on knowing how to defend different players,” Durant said. “They’ve got Micah, so we’re going to have to be up on him. And the other young man, he’s about 6-3, (Kapono) Campos. I watched the game on TV of them against Kalani. He’s nice around the basket, he’s long. Chris Lee, another long one.”

The Saints’ prowess often derives from their fastbreak.

“Speed-wise, we might have an upper hand. We want to take advantage in transition,” Durant added.

Roosevelt will have two major points of concern defensively. One, by man or zone, the Rough Riders will need to contest all of Kameron Ng’s perimeter shots and drives to the rim. He is subtle, yet aggressive, crafty enough to draw contact and get to the free-throw line. Ng is a junior, but has the guile of a much older player when it comes to producing points.

Roosevelt will also have to contend with St. Francis’ bigs, including 6-3 senior Boris Vukovic. The native of Serbia has 3-point range, but settles in the low post to give his team a multitude of offensive boards. He was a major factor in the D-II state final last year.

Bubba Akana, the Saints’ active junior, will start.

“He’s athletic, can cover and defend, the perfect role player,” Durant said of the three-sport athlete. “He embraces his role. That’ll be a good matchup with Campos. Jett (Tanuvasa) is one of our co-captains, and he shows leadership abilities even he was coming off the bench.”

X-factor: The Saints have depth in the backcourt that few teams can match. Or had. They won’t need all of their guards, not with Tanuvasa available. He normally will play 20 to 25 minutes, but with Nishida sitting this one out, the might fill in for closer to 30 minutes. Kordel Ng, their defensive stopper, can’t afford to get in foul trouble. They need his rebounding and ballhandling against extended pressure. Coach Durant has the recipe for success, but he won’t have the luxury of depth that he had just two weeks ago. If Roosevelt attacks the basket consistently, that could dictate the flow and personnel decisions of this battle.

Hawaii Prep Ka Makani (13-4, 10-3 BIIF) vs. Kauai Red Raiders (10-4, 8-1 KIF), Wednesday, 5 p.m., St. Francis gym
Hawaii Prep
Seed: No. 4. BIIF champion.
Seed: Unseeded. KIF champion.

Skinny: Whether the KIF deserves an unofficial No. 5 seed each year, the league’s champion has often been highly competitive. On the other hand, no KIF team has won a state title in boys basketball, D-I or D-II. The notion of Kauai being pitted against No. 1 St. Francis while placing Roosevelt with HPA was probably not palatable for the seeding committee.

What does this mean for Hawaii Prep? This season, they have one of their tallest teams, which was a big part of their state title a few years back. HPA edged neighboring Honokaa in the BIIF championship game last week.

Kauai has not left the island all season. Their nonconference slate included a win over King Kekaulike (44-35) and losses to Kamehameha-Maui (47-44), University (54-36) and Konawaena (44-38). King Kekaulike missed the D-I state tourney, but KS-Maui qualified and lost to Kapolei on Monday. Konawaena qualified as the BIIF runner-up. Only University was a D-II opponent, and the Jr. ‘Bows lost to Damien on Saturday for the final ILH state berth.

HPA has a diversified portfolio of scorers in Jonah Hurney, Javan Perez, Michael Hanano and Matija Vitorovic.

There are at least two thoughts about the BIIF this season: 1) The integrated schedule allowed D-II teams to continue the annual development and improvement. Playing Konawaena, Kealakehe, Hilo, Waiakea, Kamehameha-Hawaii, Keaau is good for the D-II teams. 2) The league hasn’t been powerful at the top or across the middle for years. Case in point: only KS-Hawaii has been ranked in the Star-Advertiser Top 10 all season, partly because many of the teams are relatively young.

HPA beat Hilo (54-52, overtime), Konawaena (55-53) and Waiakea (57-55). There are also losses to KS-Hawaii (62-49) and Kealakehe (60-44). And losses to Kaiser (67-39) and Keaau (59-54) early in the season. With 12 wins in their last 13 games, Ka Makani have a ledger of success that Kauai doesn’t quite match. Like Kauai, however, HPA has not left its island for a game yet this season.

X-factor: Whichever team adjusts to Oahu officiating first will get the edge. And the difference between Oahu referees and Big Island referees has usually been the largest gap to close.

Kalani Falcons (13-4, 8-2 OIA East) vs. Honokaa Dragons (13-13, 9-4 BIIF)
Seeded: No. 2. OIA champion.
Seeded: Unseeded. BIIF runner-up.

Skinny: The Falcons are among the most deliberate, opportunistic teams in the state, D-I or D-II. That discipline as a team is a key ingredient in their success against D-I foes in the OIA East. Max Pepe, a senior point guard, sets the tone with a contained aggression and a penchant for getting his teammates high-percentage shots.

“Max, I like his demeanor. He always plays with a chip on his shoulder, yet he plays under control,” Falcons interim head coach Everett Frye said.

In their title-game win over Roosevelt last week, Kapaa Nishimura (15 points, five assists) and Isaiah Lee (13 points) provided the slashing and ballhandling skills that fit perfectly with Kalani’s wide spacing. Nishimura’s ability to hit the deep 3 is a big bonus, but it’s his shot selection and versatility that mean just as much to the Falcons.

“He has matured,” Frye said.

The Dragons are as prepared as they could possibly be. Coach Jayme Carvalho brings his team to Oahu in preseason every year, getting them action in tournament play and one-off games on the same day.

Spencer Herring is one of Honokaa’s go-to scorers. He had 16 points in the loss to HPA. Shelton Carvalho had 18 rebounds.

X-factor: The early trip to Oahu didn’t yield great success in the win column, but they had a close loss to Farrington and a 37-36 win over host Radford at the James Alegre Invitational. The one-point loss to HPA doesn’t diminish the overall effort of the Dragons. They will scrap and battle for everything and wear that toughness as a badge of honor. If Kalani doesn’t come ready to battle, this could be a much closer game than it would seem on paper.

Seabury Hall Spartans (21-8, 9-1 MIL D-II) vs. Damien Monarchs (14-8, 7-3 ILH D-II)
Seabury Hall
Seed: No. 3. MIL champion.
Seed: Unseeded. ILH runner-up.

Skinny: Seabury Hall has been competitive since the start of the season. The Spartans lost in semifinal round to Kalani last year, and in ’16, they reached the final before losing to University.

Damien has been through peaks and valleys. The lost to Kalaheo 83-82 in late November, then went through the highs (wins over Baldwin — twice — and King Kekaulike). The Spartans were largely unchallenged in MIL D-II play, losing only to Lanai. Of all their 29 games, only one has been against a Top 10 team: Kalaheo.

Damien is far more tested, having played six ranked teams. The losses were impressive in themselves: Campbell (59-51), Kahuku (60-53), Kaiser (65-57), Maryknoll (62-50), Kamehameha-Hawaii (55-47). Then came the ILH D-II regular season, when players were suspended. One of them remains off the team, and the Monarchs faced the challenge of overcoming those key personnel losses.

Kolin Galdiano, Crumel Mooring and their resilient, experienced Monarchs came through in the deciding game against University, hitting 10 free throws in a row down the stretch.

They lack the height and rebounding of the early season, but Damien knows how to persist with smart shot selection and a willingness to be physical on the boards. The Spartans are the seeded team and has a history of some success at states, but in reality, this should be a dead-even game.

X-factor: Big dance experience. The Monarchs haven’t played in the state tourney since ’14, when they lost to Seabury Hall — then the No. 3 seed — in the opening round. Hawaii Prep went on to beat the Spartans in the semifinals, and then Kalani in the title game. Tourney experience is on Seabury Hall’s side with Isaiah Payne and Noah Payne. Kama Konohia is another difference maker for the Spartans, who have reached the semifinals in five of the last six seasons. Seabury Hall has not won a state title yet.

Division II

Match #DateMatchupTime/ScoresSite
1Feb. 14(4) Hawaii Prep vs. KauaiKauai, 53-50St. Francis
2Feb. 14(1) St. Francis vs. RooseveltStF, 62-51St. Francis
3Feb. 14(3) Seabury Hall vs. DamienDMS, 57-45'Iolani
4Feb. 14(2) Kalani vs. HonokaaKaln, 51-33'Iolani
5*Feb. 15Seabury Hall vs. HonokaaHon, 47-41Kaimuki
6*Feb. 15Hawaii Prep vs. RooseveltRoos, 44-43Kaimuki
7Feb. 15Damien vs. KalaniDMS, 45-37St. Francis
8Feb. 15Kauai vs. St. FrancisStF, 65-42St. Francis
9*Feb. 16Honokaa vs. RooseveltRoos, 54-44Stan Sheriff Center
10*Feb. 16Kalani vs. KauaiKaln, 42-38Stan Sheriff Center
11Feb. 16Damien vs. St. FrancisStF, 76-52Stan Sheriff Center
* — consolation


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