Govs, Buffs and tangled webs

Near and far, prep hoops fans are bracing for what could be the most debatable seedings and, more so, pairings, in boys state-tournament history.

After all, from the start, it’s been a season of parity. The Star-Advertiser Top 10 has been in shake-up mode from Week 1. Even this week, while No. 1 Kalaheo went down, No. 2 Kahuku appeared to be prime for a move to the top spot for the first time this winter. Instead, Farrington toppled another Goliath, beating Kahuku 48-44 on Thursday for the OIA Division I crown.

Farrington? The same team that was 3-3 midway through the OIA season?

Punahou’s narrow 48-46 win over ‘Iolani on Friday all but secured the Buffanblu’s status as the state’s top team entering next week’s state championships. Both Punahou and ‘Iolani tams had already qualified for the state tourney, which is why Leilehua coach Patrick Wetzel was in attendance. Even Farrington senior forward Bryce Tatupu-Leopoldo was in attendance, somewhat incognito with his big-framed black spectacles on.

So where does this put Farrington in the ancient eyes of the HHSAA seeding committee? League champions will be seeded — and receive first-round byes — according to… well, there is no exact science to it.

“This year, more than any year, six teams could really win it,” Punahou coach Darren Matsuda said. “There’s Farrington and everybody doesn’t know about Lahainaluna. I actually went to Lahaina and watched them and they’re good. They’re really good. They’re 23-2 for a reason.”

The seeding committee, regardless of sport, has long leaned on historical data. One year, Maui went 27-0 through preseason and MIL play, but was not seeded No. 1 for the state tourney. This, despite the fact that the tall, athletic Finau brothers had transferred from Lahainaluna to play for the Sabers. Sure enough, in the quarterfinal round, Maui fell. It took them a half to get accustomed to the rough, physical play that Oahu officials permitted — at the time — and when Maui made a run in the second half, it wasn’t enough.

On the flip side, a proven program like Konawaena has gained much leverage over the years by the girls basketball seeding committee. Before 2004, the Wildcats were an unknown quantity to most Oahu observers. Five state titles later, they got a bit more respect, but not entirely. In the girls’ tourney a week ago, top-seeded Konawaena had to face ILH runner-up Punahou in a quarterfinal. Punahou was ranked No. 5 at the time statewide.

Therein lies the root of seedings and pairings. It’s not just about ranking teams, though Roosevelt — unbeaten in OIA play and against all Hawaii teams — was fourth out of four league champions in the girls tourney. It’s also about matchups, whether they suit the needs of fans, TV or, ultimately, the coffers of the HHSAA. A Konawaena-Punahou quarterfinal was a magnificent lure for fans and TV viewers, though quite unfair to both the Buffanblu and Wildcats. Konawaena won the game, 51-37, with a second-half surge and secured its sixth state crown.

The seeding committee was proven correct, in some oddly beautiful way.

This is the heart of it, and there is a by-law in the HHSAA book about securing proper balance, or words to that effect, in a field that usually has 12 teams, and always has half of it coming from one league: the OIA. The only exception in recent years has been when other leagues field fewer teams in D-I (opting for D-II), and shifting the ratio paradigm. There were years when the OIA had five out of the 12 berths, but more recently, it’s been squarely at six.

This is fun for OIA fans, particularly families of players and alums. But it creates a logjam. The HHSAA tries its best to minimize OIA-versus-OIA matchups, but it can’t be entirely avoided. Radford had to play Mililani the opening round of the girls hoops tourney last week.

We’ll see something similar when the boys basketball seedings are released this weekend.

For Punahou and ‘Iolani, it’s going to be a week of diatribe as well as basketball. That’s because of 1) the OIA’s radical undercut action when Farrington toppled the two Goliaths, and 2) the existing parameters that set the OIA’s second- and third-place teams into the ILH champion’s bracket.

That’s the norm. It would make almost no sense to put the OIA 3 in the same bracket with the OIA 1. Then again, who knows? Maybe the seeding committee will alter that, though I’m not sure if that is within the HHSAA’s bylaw.

Punahou’s staff and players are approaching each game as a championship game, period.

“If you want to win state, you have to beat the best. We’ll probably get Kalaheo and Kahuku, but you’ve got to be able to win anyway,” Matsuda said.

In other words, we will probably have this scenario for the boys basketball state tourney: Last week’s No. 1 (Kalaheo), No. 2 (Kahuku) and No. 3 (Punahou) teams all in the same bracket.


>> Punahou seeded first, followed by Farrington and the MIL champion (probably Lahainaluna), and the BIIF champion (Konawaena or Kamehameha-Hawaii). This would make sense because the Govs have history on their side; they reached the state final last season and lost in a close game to ‘Iolani. They also have decades of success on their side, relatively speaking — no state titles in recent years, but lots of competitive teams. Lahainaluna has been a force in the MIL for many years, but not at the state level. (Their girls team is another story.) The BIIF’s top D-I teams are relatively young this year, and not even the best teams on the island. The BIIF’s D-II finalists, Pahoa and Kohala, are arguably the best two teams on the island.

This would put Punahou in the same bracket with Kahuku, a loaded team with a front line of 6-foot-7, 6-6 and 6-5, and Kalaheo, which had been ranked No. 1 in the state for several weeks before losing to Farrington. Talk about a heck of an entertaining bracket. The Buffanblu could (and probably will) end up playing these two teams in the quarterfinal and semifinal rounds.

>> Farrington, ranked in the Top 3 early in the season, doesn’t look the part of a No. 2 seed, not with its 6-foot and under roster, not with its 27-percent field-goal shooting the OIA final. But upon further review, no observers can dispute that the Governors are probably the best statewide at playing as a team on both ends of the floor when it matters most. They outrebounded a far bigger Kahuku squad 19-17. They dominated a much taller Kalaheo squad in the paint. They play like a team of grown men, fighting for every inch of space and position in the paint, making the extra pass, locking down defensively in the clutch and, probably most telling, hitting foul shots when games are on the line.

If the committee chooses — if the loophole is available — to put the OIA 3 in the same bracket with Farrington, that would surprise many.

“Farrington beat two good teams. They weren’t lucky,” ‘Iolani coach Dean Shimamoto said. “They’re peaking at the right time and they’re just as scary as the other guys.”

If any coach understands the flow of a game, efficient use of personnel and the art of peaking, it is Shimamoto. His Raiders team last year slammed on the brakes at midseason, going from an uptempo, helter-skelter pressing mantra
to a more controlled, selective approach. That decision to stop running with the Maryknolls of the world yielded the biggest prize by season’s end: a state championship.

Farrington has pulled in its reins quite a bit — Jake Smith is looking more for his drive and layups rather than jacking up “10 or 11 threes by halftime,” as he said — to become more efficient. They don’t do what ‘Iolani does in terms of X’s and O’s, but the mentality is there.

If the bracket is drawn out as expected, the Governors will have ‘Iolani in their bracket, and probably Leilehua. The Mules lost at Kalaheo on Thursday in the OIA third-place game, and as the OIA 4, they’ll probably be in line to play ‘Iolani, which is why Wetzel was at Hemmeter Fieldhouse on Friday night.

>> Why not Lahainaluna as the 2 seed?

That could happen, but again, with just two MIL representatives and a history of moderate success at the state tourney, the Lunas will likely be the third seed. They did win the St. Francis tournament and looked good doing it — a very controlled tempo and a nice balance of weapons from 1 to 5 — but overall, the Lunas’ strength of schedule in preseason and league play wasn’t anywhere as tough as Punahou’s or Farrington’s.

Lahainaluna did go unbeaten in MIL play, and I’m certain there are at least a handful of true, blue (or red) Luna fans clamoring for a No. 1 seed. There’s an argument to be made there, but I’m not going to do it. It just wouldn’t be strong enough.

If the Lunas do get the 3 seed, they should count their blessings. Going through Farrington and ‘Iolani is brutal enough, but having to go through the other bracket (Punahou, Kalaheo, Kahuku) would probably be tougher.

>> When 4 is not a 4
Konawaena is very young compared to last year’s solid team, the one that beat Kalaheo at Kalaheo in preseason. And they’re right in the thick of the BIIF title battle. KS-Hawaii is fairly young, too, a school that competes in several sports at the D-II level. It’s the strong history of the boys program in D-I, particularly in the BIIF, that keeps the Warriors at that classification level. The girls thrive in D-II. So does the football program.

Whether it’s Konawaena or KS-Hawaii that gets the fourth seed, the BIIF champ will likely face a tough opponent in the quarterfinal. Often, it’s a Top 10 opponent from the ILH or OIA. In this case, it’s likely to be Kalaheo or Kahuku.

It’s a bit dizzying and just a tad mystifying, but the format is the format, and not everyone will be happy. That’s the nature of an “odd” numbered bracket. Twelve is never good for any tournament. It’s almost always a necessity that the organizers have to deal with, no more entertaining for the committee than changing an infant’s diaper or cleaning a dorm bathroom after a raging kegger toga party.

But it is what it is, and until the tourney expands to 16 (not likely because of the D-II tourney) or contracts to a field of eight (which some OIA admins wouldn’t mind), 12 it is.

Players are ready for whatever happens. That’s the nature of the game.

“We’re not really going to look at that,” Punahou guard Dayson Watanabe said. “We’ll just ride our hot streak and play together as a team.”

Punahou and Farrington had their battles in preseason, with Farrington winning the first matchup, and Punahou winning the rematch. Tanuvasa doesn’t mind whatever the seeding committee does.

“It doesn’t really matter to me. I know that’s how it was in the past years,” he said. “Seedings, I can’t control that. We’ll just practice hard and play hard. Farrington’s a great team with a bunch of great players who can score, and they’re athletic, too. They proved it this past week.”


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