HHSAA boys hoops: Pupule ponders

2014 HHSAA Boys Basketball Bracket - Division I

Here’s what any coach could have said about the seedings and pairings for the Hawaiian Airlines/HHSAA Division I Boys Basketball State Championships, which were released today by the HHSAA.

“This is ridiculous!”

“This sucks!”

“What the heck were they thinking?”

This could apply to any coach since the beginning of time or, more accurately, the start of the state tourney in 1957.

But really, a 12-team format will NEVER make everybody happy. Look what the NCAA did as the field grew from couple hundred to more than 300 competing entities in D-I alone: the tourney field went from 32 to 48 to 64.

It’s the middle ground of the number 12 that makes it really tough to create a fair field. If it were just eight teams, much easier. Sixteen teams, much better, my opinion. But we do have a D-II tourney, and there is a valid argument by some old-time administrators that it makes no sense to expand either or both tournaments when the result would be to water the quality of play down.

Anyway, here’s a look at what the HHSAA released today.

1. ‘Iolani, 2. Farrington, 3. Baldwin, 4. Konawaena.

Now before anyone gets combustible, I wonder this: If Maryknoll had beaten ‘Iolani on Friday (ILH tournament final) or Saturday (ILH championship), would the Spartans have been seeded first? Most likely, even though I’ve pointed out a few times that Farrington proved it was the slightly better team back in December by winning 90-83 in overtime. When Farrington is fully loaded (i.e. nobody’s on a football trip), it is extremely tough to match up with the Govs.

But back to the seedings. There’s no strong argument against ‘Iolani as the top seed. In terms of the number of quality wins, the Raiders have many by virtue of playing in the ILH. But let’s not get carried away with what the ILH is. It is a brutally competitive league in athletics and academics, but it turned out to be a very good level of basketball — just not great. There were too many slowdown games, hypermanaged games and really, I don’t know if we saw the best ever basketball in the ILH this season even though I fully anticipated this happening.

BUT … it is still the toughest gauntlet in the state. And for that, I can understand ‘Iolani atop the seedings and, no doubt, atop the Star-Advertiser Top 10 on Tuesday. (Even though I will still vote for Farrington.)

By moving Farrington to No. 2, the Govs are now in the same bracket with Baldwin — a team that beat Farrington at the Punahou Invitational. That Govs team was missing two key post players (Samoa Bowl), and Baldwin was strong that week. The Bears reached the tourney final, had host Punahou on the ropes before losing.

Konawaena at No. 4 has more to do, as usual, with the seeding committee’s obsession with historical content. The Wildcats have one intriguing nonconference win in my eyes: a comeback win at Kalaheo in the final of the Pete Smith Classic. True, Kalaheo is young, thin and absolutely fascinating to watch because most teams are bigger, older and stronger. But it’s still a tremendous talented team, and when Konawaena rallied to take that game, it proved so many things to any doubter. Apparently, there are still doubters on the seeding committee, and just like any other unproven program (in terms of state-tourney success), the Wildcats will have some proving to do, just like the girls program did over the past decade.

This is the crux of it, really. Veteran coaches don’t look so much at seedings as much as matchups. The HHSAA isn’t above creating an exciting quarterfinal (second-round) meeting. Happens in every sport, every state tourney. In the girls’ tourney, Hilo and Roosevelt was a painfully thrilling battle that went down to the wire. It shouldn’t have been such an early-round game, but again, in a 12-team format, that really can’t be avoided.

In the boys pairings, we have:
Lahainaluna vs. Kalaheo, winner against ‘Iolani
The Lunas are always athletic, but I can’t remember if or when they’ve gotten past the quarterfinals. Might have been when the Finau brothers were there (before they transferred to Maui) at least a decade ago. Kalaheo fell in the OIA Red semifinals to Campbell, which was a stunner.

If the Mustangs — last year’s state champions, mind you — had reached the league final, they would probably have been slotted to play Leilehua, with the winner to play the fourth seed (Konawaena). So, in effect, the upset loss to Campbell created quite a world of difference for Kalaheo. But I wouldn’t put anything past Coach Alika Smith. No way.

Campbell vs. Leilehua, winner vs. Konawaena
Nobody really wants to see two OIA teams meet in the tourney this early, but with half the field from that league, it’s unavoidable. In case you’re wondering, Campbell has never won the state title. In fact, the Sabers have reached the semifinal round just once, in 2005.

Leilehua won the whole shebang in 1973 while Richard Townsend was head coach. The Mules also reached the final in 1983 (I remember attending that tournament) before losing to ‘Iolani, which was coached by legendary coach Glenn Young.

Now before anyone plays this game down, be warned that the mighty Mules careth not about the awe-inspiring post-season play of the Campbell Sabers. Never mind the Sabers crazy-good and dramatic win over Kalaheo on Gilbert Dayanan’s buzzer-beating tip-in, or the close loss to OIA champ Farrington. When Campbell and Leilehua met during OIA play, the Sabers won 48-45 and 41-40.

Waiakea vs. Mililani, winner vs. Farrington
The Warriors have a sturdy post scorer in Lucas St. George, who was quite good two years ago as a sophomore while the Warriors played in Moanalua’s preseason tourney. The Warriors play in a very good basketball league known as the BIIF. For you Oahu residents who still use the term “Outer Islands,” the BIIF is the Big Island Interscholastic Federation. Year after year, in boys and especially girls basketball, the BIIF’s top 5 or 6 teams are equal to or better than the OIA’s top 5 or 6.

Mililani? Coach Edward Gonzales lets his Trojans run, run, run. Waiakea has faced all kinds of pace and tempo in the BIIF. I expect a close battle in this one.

Maryknoll vs. Moanalua, winner vs. Baldwin
Talk about a gauntlet! Maryknoll boasts two of the state’s finest 1-on-1 scorers in Kaleb Gilmore and Josh Burnett. I don’t think anyone aside from Farrington’s Isaiahs (Smith and Visoria) come close to staying with Gilmore coast to coast. He probably would win a medal in the state track and field championships if he liked running without a ball.

Burnett, at 6-3, possesses a remarkably smooth pull-up J from NBA range. YES, NBA range. Go see the video if you doubt my words. That being said, Moanalua is possibly the fastest team in the tourney, pound for pound player for player. Antoine Hines and Jamaal Willis run the floor all night long with their compadres. This might be big fun for fans.

Maryknoll’s frenetic pace, the individual stylings of Burnett and Gilmore… I can’t help wondering how the Spartans would match up with Baldwin, if they get to the second round. Baldwin, with that high-post, backdoor-cutting offense and a stable of giants. Losing those two games to ‘Iolani made for a much tougher, even vicious road ahead.

I tend not to do game predictions on the blog here. But I’ll post them on my Facebook page if you’re interested. This is as far as I’ll go: Farrington barely gets by Maryknoll in one semifinal, ‘Iolani’s “smashmouth” style brings a semifinal win, and the Govs play the Raiders for the state tourney title. With the bigs countering each other, it comes down to guard play between explosiveness (Farrington) and consistency (‘Iolani).

Govs get the call here, but the way they’ve been shooting free throws lately, they’d better straighten that out before the Raiders roll them over. ‘Iolani was 32-for-34 at the line in last week’s win over Punahou.

Pre-Big Dance Pupule Awards
Most overachieving team: ‘Iolani
Most composed: Farrington
Most highlights: Maryknoll
Most old school: Baldwin


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