(Note: This post was written before the state championships and is a venture into what the best teams in the state, Divisions I and II, could have done in another hoopworld universe. It does not reflect the results of the actual state tournaments, nor the key turning points, such as injuries.)
One woman, one man can make a difference.
Kahuku learned this. Kalaheo, yes. Damien, for sure. The question is, who can adapt? Who will survive and advance? The ecosystem of boys basketball this season has been quite the laboratory to test belief, faith and limitations.
Kahuku took a giant leap forward when Robbie Sauvao landed on the North Shore, returning home in time for the team’s early-regular season win over Moanalua. Fast-forward five weeks, and it’s Moanalua over Kahuku for the OIA championship. Moanalua enjoyed the services of center DiAeris McRaven on title night. Kahuku couldn’t get a consistent flow offensively against tough man defense in the 56-48 Moanalua victory on Wednesday.
Now, OIA 2 Kahuku draws OIA 5 Kaiser, the team that knocked Kahuku off late in the regular season. The only plus for Big Red in this opening round is that it will play at home. Here’s a look at Kahuku’s game-location splits.
Surprisingly, there are only a few teams that are (or were) unbeaten at home.
Seabury Hall: 8-0
Note: Hanalani was 6-0 at home, but forfeited a win over University due to use of an ineligible player. The game was played on Jan. 14. The forfeit ruling was made last week.
As mentioned last week about the girls basketball Division I field, the same holds true in D-I. There is plenty of talent across the board and the time for a 16-team field in boys hoops is here. There is sentiment, of course, for giving a league champion a first-round bye. It isn’t written in stone, however, and back in the eight-team format era, there was no sentiment for it. It’s just a matter of numbers.
The D-II brackets are not out yet. University hosts Hawaii Baptist this afternoon for the ILH’s second and final state berth. But here’s a look at what a 16-team D-I state bracket would look like in the pupule parallel universe.
1. Kamehameha, 2. Moanalua, 3. Kamehameha-Hawaii, 4. Baldwin.
This is so wacky. ILH champ Kamehameha is clearly the dominant team, pulling off what many felt was impossible: an unbeaten run through the ILH regular season and playoffs. Moanalua? They’re playing fantastic basketball right now. Maybe not the second-best team in the state, but this pupule format will adhere to seeded berths for league winners.
KS-Hawaii and Baldwin present a roadblock of sorts. KS-Hawaii gets the edge because it traveled across the Big Island twice to beat Hilo and Konawaena in the playoffs. Baldwin came through with playoff wins over KS-Maui and Lahainaluna.
KS-Hawaii played one Top 10 team, losing to Waiakea (61-51) to open BIIF play. The Warriors also lost to ‘Iolani, 45-32, at the Afook Chinen Hilo Civic Auditorium. They also have losses to Hilo (53-45), Thunder Mountain (Alaska) (57-44), Hawaii Baptist (77-75), Kohala (55-53) and Hawaii Prep (51-50).
Baldwin played Top 10 teams Kamehameha and Kailua. The Bears lost to Kamehameha (90-67) and Kailua twice (65-40, 55-50). They also have losses to Kohala (58-56), Konawaena (51-32), Maui (51-50) and Lahainaluna (regular season, 70-63).
It’s a poh-tay-toe, poh-tah-toe dilemma. Common opponent: KS-Hawaii beat Maui 45-32. Baldwin, previously mentioned, lost to Maui. Edge to KS-Hawaii.
5. Maryknoll, 6. Damien, 7. Mid-Pacific, 8. Kahuku, 9. Leilehua, 10. Kalaheo, 11. Punahou, 12. Kaiser, 13. Waiakea, 14. Lahainaluna, 15. Saint Louis, 16. Hawaii Prep.
And in this universe, some of the best remaining teams, D-I and D-II, participate.
19. Seabury Hall
22. Kauai. def. HBA 61-54
Say what? Twenty-six teams? Crazy. OK. Here we go.
Play-in to the play-in to the play-in (a.k.a. Piggly-Wiggly Piggly-Piggly play-in)
‘Iolani (4-21, 26th seed) at Mililani (14-10, 23rd seed)
Skinny: Strange? Not really. The Raiders didn’t have that x-factor phenomenon this season. No 6-9 center (Hugh Hogland). No 6-3 trailer-3 shooter (Kawika Lee). They got by on scrappy, relentless defense. This might be the best play-in matchup. Mililani lost to ‘Iolani 41-39 during the ‘Iolani Classic.
The Trojans were runners-up in the OIA West (9-1), losing to Leilehua 50-49 on a last-second miss. Then came playoff losses to Moanalua and Kapolei. Never made the Top 10, but definitely one of the top 25 (or 26).
It didn’t matter if games were home or away, the Raiders lost close games in every possible way. Usually trailing and fighting through a deficit in the fourth quarter. Of their 12 losses in ILH play, four were by single digits, not including the playoff loss to Mid-Pacific (39-33). They lost to Moanalua by two. Lost to Kalaheo by three. Lost to Hilo by one. Lost to Leilehua by one. It goes on and on. Lost to Kamehameha by three and by six. Ten of their 21 losses were by five points or less. And yet, their gym was packed on senior night. The perfect underdog.
Mililani? A good team that had some trouble closing close games. Didn’t finish strong, but given one more opportunity, maybe the Trojans put it all together at home, where they have one of the zaniest, loudest fan bases in the OIA.
X-factor: Like Leilehua did in its win at Mililani, ‘Iolani would travel well, probably bring the band along. This would feel like a neutral court.
Pupule pick: Raiders 68, Trojans 67, 2 OT. In a game featuring 71 personal fouls and six player disqualifications, freshman Akila Indalecio hits two free throws with :00 left for the win.
Roosevelt (11-7, 25th seed) at Hilo (22-7, 24th seed)
Skinny: Inter-island travel is a tough deal, even with the pleasant weather and ease of convenience. There are TSA lines. Delays on the tarmac. Waiting for van rentals. That’s why the home team in an inter-island matchup gets significant advantage. Still, flying to the Big Island is still less tiring that driving across the island, then playing a game.
These teams are similar. Hilo has Kaukahi Alameda. Roosevelt has Drake Watanabe. Each is an explosive playmaker with 3-point range and no fear. Roosevelt is a D-II team that played D-I opponents all season, beating Kaiser two weeks ago (63-53).
X-factor: Hilo is 4-1 on its homecourt, including a 78-69 win over then-No. 10 Waiakea. The Vikings also gave up 75 points in a playoff loss to KS-Hawaii, and they lost at home to Hawaii Prep (54-44). X-factor 2: Roosevelt’s youth — most of the starting lineup are sophomores and freshmen — continues to show. Can they play steady enough to stick with a veteran Hilo squad? Until the win over Kaiser, the closest Roosevelt got to beating a ranked team was a 63-62 loss to Waiakea in December.
Pupule pick: Vikings 54, Rough Riders 51, OT. Tight officiating is a hallmark of BIIF basketball, and being familiar with it works in favor of the home team.
We have whittled down to 24 teams.
Hilo at Kailua (19-7, 17th seed)
Skinny: A major key is whether Hilo plays this game 24 hours after the first game. In this pupule format, yes. Days 1 and 2 are on Monday and Tuesday. (I’m open to spacing the games out to Monday and Wednesday.)
X-factor: Kailua’s athleticism presents a problem for Hilo’s offense.
Pupule pick: Surfriders 71, Vikings 61. The back-to-back demands and traveling to Oahu are tough on the Viks.
‘Iolani at Kohala (15-3, 18th seed)
Skinny: Technically, Hisaoka Gymnasium at Kamehameha Park is a county facility. Realistically, the place would be filled to the gills for this matchup. The Cowboys are, as noted earlier, undefeated on this home court. ‘Iolani would have to beat Mililani on the road, and a day later board a plane, land in Kona, bus it one-hour plus (48 miles) to the gym.
Then they’d need someone with energy to cover Kohala scorer O’shea Cazimero. Tough task, tough ask.
X-factor: ‘Iolani is one of the teams that has the overall team speed to keep pace with Kohala.
Pupule pick: Cowboys 55, Raiders 50. ‘Iolani with the size advantage, but lacking a go-to post scorer hurts.
Kauai (12-2, 22nd seed) at Seabury Hall (12-2, 19th seed)
Skinny: The Red Raiders beat Aiea (53-37) and HBA (61-54) in the Garden Island preseason tourney on Kauai. They also lost at Hawaii Prep (47-38).
The Spartans lost in preseason to Kailua (49-45) and Kohala (65-53) and have won 11 in a row since. On paper, they haven’t finished their MIL D-II season yet. Lanai has pushed them hard in two- and eight-point Seabury Hall homecourt wins.
X-factor: An exclusive D-II schedule didn’t help Seabury Hall’s girls basketball team. This is a little different. The Spartan boys have been pushed by Lanai and Molokai.
Pupule pick: Red Raiders 63, Spartans 57.
Kapolei (13-9) at Hanalani (11-6)
Skinny: This is what ILH D-II champion Hanalani hasn’t seen all season long, a tall, athletic team that can play with fury and in flurries. In the real world, Kapolei fell one win short of qualifying for the state tourney. In pupule world, they get a shot here.
Hanalani was 9-0 in ILH D-II play, then came the forfeit loss, and they’re actually 8-1 in the books now. The Royals did not play a Top 10 team, but did lose five times to local teams and South Medford (Ore.). The other losses: Waialua, Kalani, Hilo, KS-Hawaii and the forfeit loss to ULS.
Unlike the Royals girls basketball team, which had a deep schedule in the state’s toughest D-II league, the boys played the regular season against just three foes: HBA, University and Le Jardin. Against nonconference competition, HBA (5-8), University (6-6) and Le Jardin (2-11) were a collective 13-25.
X-factor: Kapolei is 5-4 on the road, including a playoff win over Mililani.
Pupule pick: Hurricanes 39, Royals 32.
The first two rounds were on Monday and Tuesday. This round is on a Friday, giving travel teams a rest.
Kauai at Waiakea (14-5, 13th seed)
Skinny: Another day, another island for the Red Raiders. Does fatigue take a toll here? Maybe in the second half. For awhile, they have the energy and stay close.
X-factor: The Warriors are 4-1 on their home court, but the last time they were at Warriors Gym, they lost by nine to Hilo.
Pupule pick: Warriors 39, Red Raiders 37.
Kapolei at Lahainaluna (12-5, 14th seed)
Skinny: Since losing at home to Baldwin, the Lunas won seven games in a row before falling, again, to Baldwin in the MIL final.
X-factor: Both teams lost to Kaiser, which routed Lahainaluna 56-33. Kaiser beat Kapolei 39-33 in the OIA playoffs.
Pupule pick: Lunas 51, Hurricanes 47. Lahainaluna is 5-1 at home, and Kapolei’s lack of consistent perimeter shooting catches up.
Kohala at Saint Louis (5-14, 15th seed)
Skinny: The Crusaders were 4-4 at McCabe Gym in the brutal ILH. If this game is at Kohala, the tables turn, but it’s at home for Saint Louis, which is also well rested.
X factor: The post scoring of Saint Louis takes a toll on the quick, but smaller Cowboys. However, Kohala rallies like a pack of marathon runners and keeps the fullcourt pressure on. This is probably the most entertaining matchup of the first two rounds.
Pupule pick: Cowboys 83, Crusaders 80.
Kailua at Hawaii Prep (14-2, 16th seed)
Skinny: Ka Makani have played a bunch of close games with ranked and on-the-cusp teams, beating Hilo on the road and KS-Hawaii on the road. Again, the travel factor is key. Ka Makani was 10-1 in regular season play, beating everyone D-I and D-II except for Waiakea — at HPA.
X-factor: KJ Walker, Michael Hughes and Tre Walker have been a Big 3 for HPA. Kailua’s Nainoa Peters and Lydell Romero have been solid. Edge to HPA.
Pupule pick: Ka Makani 53, Surfriders 48.
Summary of days one through three: The “play-in tournament” resulted one one team outside the original 16 qualifying: Kohala. But it would be an amazing tourney to play in, track and follow.
DAY FOUR: Sweet 16
This would be the following Monday, second week of the big dance. Now we go 1-versus-16, NCAA style.
Hawaii Prep vs. Kamehameha (26-5, 1st seed)
Skinny: Ka Makani are athletic, seasoned and are arguably the best team in the BIIF, even with the close home loss to Waiakea — a team that later lost to Kohala.
The problem for any team with a short rotation is that Kamehameha will grind opponents to dust with defense. The Warriors bring pressure from the opening tip, not always gambling and trying to force turnovers, but with basic on-ball coverage and traps from the weak side. With the kind of length and quickness the Warriors have top to bottom, it wears everyone down.
X-factor: If Kamehameha was a zone team, HPA would be able to control the pace. It wouldn’t be so in this matchup.
Pupule pick: Warriors 61, Ka Makani 47.
Kohala vs. Moanalua (17-9, 2nd seed)
Skinny: Interesting matchup of two fast teams that play solid defense and run the floor. Moanalua has the edge in depth and experience, but the Cowboys will not yield to any foe.
X-factor: Kohala’s best interior defender is 5-10 junior Molonai Emeliano. He’s a true stopper, but facing McRaven would be a problem. Kohala would probably go with a zone, and Moanalua would need to hit some perimeter shots or smashmouth it in the paint.
Pupule pick: Na Menehune 49, Cowboys 47. Kohala’s precision at the foul line keeps this close. Moanalua’s defense saves the day in a squeaker.
Lahainaluna vs. Kamehameha-Hawaii (14-7, 3rd seed)
Skinny: The Lunas are back, and the Warriors are the world’s most mysterious champion. They win at home. They win after 2-hour drives across the Big Island.
X-factor: Senior Izayah Chartrand-Peters and sophomore Darius Olloway are big reasons why the Warriors have come this far.
Pupule pick: Warriors 62, Lunas 55.
Waiakea vs. Baldwin (13-7, 4th seed)
Skinny: Baldwin ran into roadblocks against Maui and Lahainaluna in MIL play. They also lost to Kohala (58-56) and Konawaena (61-32) in preseason. Waiakea lost at Kohala (44-41) and defeated Konawaena (61-46).
X-factor: Kia‘i Apele, Keegan Scanlan and Elijah Blankenship give the Warriors a solid core.
Pupule pick: Warriors 48, Bears 39.
Kaiser vs. Maryknoll (5th seed)
Skinny: The Cougars have the talent and experience to give any Top 10 team worries. They’re 5-7 against ranked foes, including a late-regular season win over Kahuku. A late-season loss at Roosevelt put a dent in Kaiser’s place in the OIA East standings, which led to a tough quarterfinal matchup on the road at Leilehua — a one-point loss — and even with wins over Radford and Kapolei, Kaiser barely squeezed out of the OIA as the fifth and final state-tourney qualifier.
X-factor: With Kenji Toyama at PG, Kaiser has the capacity to battle an elite, precise and methodical team like Maryknoll.
Pupule pick: Spartans 39, Cougars 31.
Punahou vs. Damien (17-14, 6th seed)
Skinny: The Monarchs lost to Punahou 77-56 early in ILH play, then won at Punahou 49-47. This is a toss-up.
X-factor: PG Hayden Bayudan solidifies the starting unit.
Pupule pick: Monarchs 53, Buffanblu 49.
Kalaheo vs. Mid-Pacific (17-15, 7th seed)
Skinny: These teams met on Dec. 13, a 44-39 win by the Owls at the James Alegre Classic. Kalaheo powered through the OIA regular season, then lost 6-4 Bobby Thompson to a wrist injury in a quarterfinal win over Kapolei. Two losses later, the Mustangs don’t seem like the same team without him.
X-factor: After the losses to Moanalua and Leilehua, has Kalaheo recallibrated? Who steps in and fills the gap left by Thompson?
Pupule pick: Owls 48, Mustangs 44. MPI is 14-11 on neutral or opposing courts.
Leilehua vs. Kahuku (16-6, 8th seed)
Skinny: So evenly-matched. These teams met in the OIA semifinals, when Kahuku scored on a last-second shot for a 59-58 win.
X-factor: Who still has their mojo? Confidence is everything in a scenario like this.
Pupule pick: Red Raiders 53, Mules 52.
DAY FIVE: Elite 8
This is Wednesday of week two.
Kamehameha vs. Kahuku
Skinny: Rugged matchup. Moanalua tested Kahuku’s stamina and press breaking skill in the OIA final. Kamehameha will bring more soldiers and more resistance.
X-factor: If 6-9 C Oscar Cheng has a monster game, the Red Raiders have a shot.
Pupule pick: Warriors 44, Red Raiders 41.
Moanalua vs. Mid-Pacific
Skinny: When they met on Dec. 7 in the OIA-ILH Challenge, MPI won 43-32. Things have changed since for both teams. This is a hellacious showdown.
X-factor: Moanalua still lacks a consistent third scoring option, but showed that they can get enough from shooters like Bryant Abalos. The Owls could catch fire and prevail if Lucca Kitashima gets 10 open looks.
Pupule pick: Na Menehune 57, Owls 52. The effect of new coach Michael Johnson has made a key impact.
Kamehameha-Hawaii vs. Damien
Skinny: Containing Jake Holtz and Bryce Forbes on the boards is a major challenge for the Warriors.
X-factor: Tino Atonio. The 6-5 junior can run the point on occasion, hit the 3 and attack the paint off the dribble. Other teams have three scorers. Damien has four, and three of them are 6-3 or taller, and willing to be physical and aggressive.
Pupule pick: Monarchs 71, Warriors 66.
Waiakea vs. Maryknoll
Skinny: This is the only matchup of non-champions in the quarterfinal round. Maryknoll is 17-4 against ranked teams. One loss was to St. Francis (Calif.) and the other three were to Kamehameha. In other words, the Spartans are 17-0 against ranked teams from Hawaii not named Kamehameha. They are 10-0 against unranked teams.
Waiakea is 1-1 against ranked teams, losing to Punahou (74-61) and beating Hawaii Prep (49-46, OT). The Warriors also lost to ‘Iolani (46-36) in preseason.
X-factor: The Warriors would maybe want to speed this game up and take the Spartans out of their comfort zone. Maryknoll can score points, no question, but that pace would risk foul trouble to key scorers Niko Robben, Liko Soares and Sage Tolentino.
Pupule pick: Spartans 47, Warriors 33.
DAY SIX: Final 4
Here we go. The Final Four. Three of the four are from the ILH.
Kamehameha vs. Damien
Skinny: The Monarchs lost to Kamehameha, as did everyone in the ILH, multiple times: 61-56, 59-56. The latter game was played without Bayudan. Can the Monarchs pull off the improbable?
X-factor: The Warriors clamp down on the perimeter, which gives opponents a chance to go 1-on-1 in the paint. The more physical team will prevail in this circumstance as referees swallow their whistles in crunch time.
Pupule pick: Warriors 60, Monarchs 58.
Moanalua vs. Maryknoll
Skinny: The Spartans have the formula for winning a state championship, and their many battles against high-level competition (21 games against ranked teams) has prepared them. Moanalua is playing its best basketball, but hasn’t used this specific recipe for success at the Final Four level often.
X-factor: Tempo is key. Maryknoll wants a slower pace. Moanalua wants to push, push, push.
Pupule pick: Spartans 43, Na Menehune 40.
DAY SEVEN: Championship night
Saturday night spectacular.
Kamehameha vs. Maryknoll
Skinny: Their last matchup was in the ILH final, a 38-29 grind. Kamehameha looks like a team of speed merchants, but what the Warriors really are: relentless ballhawkers. Think underground predators from “Tremors”.
X-factor: Maryknoll’s best shot is to pound the ball into the paint consistently. Easier said than done. The Warriors will be well-prepared to counter Soares and Tolentino. It comes down to Robben’s ability to score in tight pockets of space, and then the younger Spartans’ ability to hit the open shot.
Pupule pick: Warriors 47, Spartans 46. Robben and Soares step up, but Kamehameha takes the throne away. Christmas Togiai and Kordel Ng graduate as state champions.