(*Edit: Corrects OIA’s third-place team to second-place team.)
Now that the seedings and brackets have been released for the state basketball tourney, some thoughts.
• No, no, please … after you. As it happens often enough, the second-place team* from the OIA has, on the surface, an easier path to the semifinal round than the league’s champion. Kahuku, which lost to Moanalua in last night’s OIA title game, won’t have it easy. Hilo is a dangerous team that ascended quickly during the BIIF season and nearly won the title in a league that is traditionally deep with quality teams. Then Lahainaluna awaits the winner, another team that is a borderline mystery unit. The Lunas have athleticism and talent, but is largely unproven, having stayed on Maui through the holiday tournament season on Oahu.
And yet, neither Hilo nor Lahainaluna has been voted to the Star-Advertiser Top 10 this season.
OIA champ Moanalua, seeded No. 2 (only league champions that draw byes are defined as “seeds”), clearly benefits from an opening-round bye. However, AOP or Roosevelt will be their opponent. AOP has been ranked among the Top 6 in the state for most of the season. Roosevelt has been a Top 10 team for most of the season, as well. The same can’t be said of Hilo or Lahainaluna, which is why Kahuku may have an equally good chance — or better — of reaching the semifinal round.
Of course, if Kahuku reaches the semifinals, No. 1 ‘Iolani — the defending state champion — is favored to be there waiting.
• Gauntlet in Kalihi. The Farrington bracket is intriguing, and not just because five of the six entries are ranked in the Top 10. AOP and Roosevelt met once this season, at Moanalua’s Na Menehune Holiday Classic. AOP won handily, but mainly because Roosevelt split time between its starters and reserves. It was a move that coach Steve Hathaway deemed necessary to save some fuel, so to speak, for his starters in what was a long, weary nonconference journey. So, the two teams have not, really, met yet with their best ammunition on the floor.
The other opening-round game, Kamehameha versus Baldwin, is a tough matchup for the Bears. The MIL runner-up wasn’t quite on par with elite teams during nonconference tournament play on Oahu two months ago, though Gabriel Ross stood out as an aggressive, attacking scoring guard.
If Kamehameha advances past Baldwin, third-seeded Kamehameha-Hawaii awaits. This, to me, is the most difficult of the potential pairings in the quarterfinal round. Both teams have been among the Top 6 statewide most of the season. Kamehameha has spent the year hovering among the Top 3, deservedly so. KS-Hawaii knocked off Punahou in December on Oahu, lost a key reserve (Adam Andrade) to injury in the process, then had some speed bumps back in the BIIF against a rough slate of foes.
The difference between the 2 and 3 seeds (Farrington bracket) is slight at best. Moanalua, which was 6-6 in the OIA before the playoffs, will have to deal with either AOP or Roosevelt. Conversely, AOP or Roosevelt will have to deal with the speedboys of Moanalua. KS-Hawaii will likely face Kamehameha, a state finalist last season that returned almost its entire roster intact, including co-player of the year Micah Christenson.
The one factor that is probably overlooked by fans and/or HHSAA committee members is this: In the BIIF, every bit of contact is whistled for a foul. It’s normal there, tradition in some ways. On Oahu, much more contact is permitted, particularly at midcourt. This is a big reason why KS-Hawaii, with its swarming traps and intense on-ball pressure, was so comfortable during its swing through the St. Francis/Merv Lopes Classic in December. Lanaki Apele and Shaun Kagawa, plus a horde of agile, fast posts, will thrive again with Oahu officiating.
A group of high-pressure defenders that includes long 6-1 to 6-3 athletes is a real threat to any team that struggles with turnovers. There are more than a few teams in this tournament that have fundamental problems even when there is barely any defensive pressure. Since defense is difficult to embrace from an empirical standpoint — teams don’t report steals and deflections and charging fouls taken — it’s understandable how committee members and fans will probably underestimate KS-Hawaii, a team I saw play twice.
Other than that, it’s basically a wash. Sooner or later, every team has to face a really tough, seasoned opponent, whether it’s in the quarterfinal or semifinal round. For some, it will be in the opening round on Wednesday, when questions will begin to be answered.
• History begat respect. The D-II bracket is never dull to examine. Two years ago, the notion of Pahoa being seeded second would have thrilled the Daggers and surprised most of the state. But a year after Pahoa’s rise to the state D-II championship, the Daggers are, indeed, No. 2 in the seedings for this year’s tourney.
What’s also interesting is Island Pacific, a program with very little history in the state tourney, getting the No. 3 seed. Is it warranted? An argument could be made there. IPA won the ILH, nudging past University, a team that gave lots of D-I foes problems in December tournaments.
The No. 4 seed, Kapaa, may be a sleeper, but I can see why the committee has the Warriors behind IPA. Without a stronger schedule, it’s not easy to justify the KIF champion higher than any of the top three seeds.
Of course, in the eight-team D-II tourney, seeding is less of a factor. No byes.
• Misdrawn, misfired? Farrington, to no surprise, got the No. 1 seed. The Governors are ranked No. 4 in the state and have a long list of D-I victims going back to the start of nonconference play. So why are they playing St. Joseph, a team that regularly competes and beats D-I teams both on and off the Big Island?
It’s a tough call. A tight field (eight teams) means gauging St. Joe against other league runner-ups like University (tough when healthy), McKinley (beat Farrington once, nearly beat them again in the OIA playoffs) and MIL champion Seabury Hall. St. Joseph had its share of struggles, but has enough size and talent to emerge in the D-II final. The field is tough and I’d love to see every D-II game.
• No respect? Seabury Hall spent nearly the entire season at No. 10 in the Top 10. Largely untested, but tremendously talented, the Spartans rolled through the MIL behind Dylan King and Phelan Pagano. However, Pagano suffered a knee injury late in the season and the Spartans are not the same team. Should they have merited a higher seed based on performance — 16-4 overall, 8-0 MIL — or a lower seed based on possibly diminished potential?
It appears difficult to measure unless (or until) they meet fourth-seeded Kapaa or fifth-seeded University at some point. From the bracket, it appears Seabury Hall is the sixth seed; Thursday’s opponent is No. 3 Island Pacific. They can prove the committee wrong in full, public viewing.
Paul Honda, Star-Advertiser