All that drama: the ILH’s basketball tiebreaker maze

Maryknoll nearly won the regular season on Monday, losing to ‘Iolani after leading by 15 points. On Tuesday, without injured point guard Hailey Perez, the Spartans edged Punahou in the opening round of the ILH tournament. Maryknoll meets Kamehameha on Wednesday with a state-tournament berth at stake. Paul Honda/Star-Advertiser

The tiebreakers and playoff formats of the ILH and OIA are so different.

They do serve their purposes, of course. In the OIA, where there is no automatic state berth for regular-season supremacy, it all comes down the the playoffs. For years now, the top two teams in the OIA West and East have earned first-round byes, homecourt advantage and the the edge in fresh legs, all because opening-round teams have only 24 hours to rest before the quarterfinal round.

For any team boarding the bus, going to that opening-round game, playing, boarding again, driving 15, 20, even 35 miles back home, getting to bed by (maybe) 11 p.m., getting up for school around 6 a.m., boarding another bus, then playing a well-rested divisional top-two team — nobody does this. Not the NCAA and certainly not the NBA.

It is one of the most unique formats in play for one of the most unique leagues in the nation. And the simplicity — basically a championship bracket — is golden. The OIA girls basketball finals tonight — Campbell vs. Moanalua in Division I, and Pearl City and Castle in D-II — are a crisp end to the league playoffs.

The ILH? (Cue Dracula/The Count laughter.) Is there another league with as complex a tiebreaker and playoff system in the country? (Probably not.) What the ILH has in terms of ease of travel and convenience in Division I basketball, it has a nuanced and crammed setup that has that mid-term exam week vibe.

It’s delicious for hoop fans, naturally.

Coming into Tuesday’s action, the ILH D-I girls scenarios were basically this:

> if ‘Iolani and Maryknoll win today, Maryknoll qualifies for states.

> If ‘Iolani loses and Punahou or Kamehameha win tourney, Punahou or Kamehameha is in.

> if ‘Iolani wins the tourney and Punahou finishes 2nd, there will be a playoff between Maryknoll (regular season #2) and tourney #2.

Because of Kamehameha’s stunning 46-32 win at ‘Iolani on Tuesday night, Maryknoll-Punahou transformed into an elimination bout. Maryknoll eked out a 43-40 win over Punahou, ending the Buffanblu’s season.

The scenarios are now this as of Wednesday: Scenario 2* is playing out. The Monday tiebreaker/back-to-back clearly affected ‘Iolani and Maryknoll.
Now Kamehameha can make states by winning at Maryknoll tonight. If Maryknoll wins, it qualifies.

Then the winner then plays at ‘Iolani on Thursday for the ILH championship. That will be the fourth game in four nights for either Kamehameha or Maryknoll.

Punahou came to Maryknoll on Tuesday and nearly knocked out the Spartans, losing 43-40, in the ILH tournament (Round 2). Paul Honda/Star-Advertiser

Did it have to be as condensed? Maybe there could’ve been an extra day between a possible tiebreaker game and the tournament, but with the state championships scheduled to begin next Monday, all leagues consistently prioritize as much rest time as possible between the playoffs and the big dance.

In the end, the scenario is the same for all of the ILH’s D-I teams. Survive and advance. Lose and go home. In that sense, it is fair. Tiring as heck, but fair.

ILH boys basketball is in an even more pupule predicament thanks to the three-way tie atop the standings as the regular season closed. Maryknoll could have aced its biggest test to date by beating Saint Louis to capture outright first place. Instead, Saint Louis won, 53-43, on Tuesday. Coupled with ‘Iolani’s 55-42 victory over Punahou, Saint Louis, Maryknoll and ‘Iolani are in a logjam.

The league drew straws (or flipped a coin) and Saint Louis got the best deal. Maryknoll plays at ‘Iolani tonight. The loser becomes the third seed in the upcoming playoff tournament (Round 2). The winner plays at Saint Louis on Thursday for the regular-season title. In some years past, the team that got the bye had to travel, which was a good way to balance the scales a bit. Not this time.

So this keeps the league’s top boys teams busy today and Thursday. In addition, there may be one more game on Friday. If Saint Louis loses, it would play the loser of Thursday’s game for the sake of seeding for the tournament. A byproduct would also be that the top three teams would end up playing the same number of tiebreaker games in that instance.

Round 2 begins on Friday with the third seed hosting the sixth seed, Mid-Pacific, and fourth seed Punahou hosting fifth seed Kamehameha.

On Saturday, the next round plays out with the top two seeds. The tournament title game will be on Monday. If that winner is not the regular-season winner (which will be determined by Thursday), an ILH championship game will be played on Wednesday (Feb. 1).

It’s a bit of a maze. With only two state berths allotted to ILH D-I boys basketball, the ILH gauntlet is as grueling and merciless as ever.

In case the allotted berths don’t seem to make sense, here is what the HHSAA has on its site:

Number of eligible (D-I) teams: 31.
Number of teams by league: OIA 14, ILH 6, BIIF 6 and MIL 5.

With 12 spots in the D-I state field, this converts to ratio numbers.

OIA: 5.42 teams
ILH 2.32 teams
BIIF: 2.32 teams
MIL: 1.93 teams

The HHSAA rounds out these numbers to:
OIA: 6 teams
ILH: 2 teams
BIIF: 2 teams
MIL: 2 teams

This is why, as some have asked, why there is no play-in game this year. That doesn’t soothe the heat for ILH fans. Five ILH teams are In the current Star-Advertiser Top 10: No. 1 ‘Iolani, No. 2 Maryknoll, No. 4 Saint Louis, No. 5 Punahou and No. 8 Kamehameha.

It’s strictly math. It is also why there is so much weight on every regular-season game in the ILH, as it has been for decades. Even the expansion of the tournament field from eight teams to 12 never really satisfied all ILH teams and fans. The gauntlet began with athletic and academic competition, and has intensified and grown with time. It doesn’t stop families from sending their student-athletes to play in the ILH.

It is a multi-layered decision that has such disparate destinations. The same player who may have scored 15 points per game on an OIA D-I or D-II team might not have made the cut at a premier ILH program.

The differences are what make prep sports on Oahu amazingly varied. Some might say painfully extreme, especially in post-COVID competition.

The back-to-back-to-back-to-back games for certain ILH title contenders is one of a kind. Even the state tournament goes no longer than three days in a row (after a Monday opening round). As one coach says, “It is brutal.”

For fans, it is borderline operatic.


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