Some quick thoughts on the brackets that were released this afternoon for the Snapple/HHSAA Boys Basketball State Championships.
Not a surprise here. Maryknoll (25-4) has been dynamic against one of the toughest schedules in the state. In addition to winning the ILH championship — taking the regular season with a 9-1 mark, then capturing the league playoff tournament — the Spartans were 13-5 against Top 10 competition. Three of those losses were to mainland teams. Only one team had more wins against ranked teams: Punahou. Maryknoll edged Punahou for the ILH crown on Wednesday night.
Kalaheo (20-11) had some wild swings of momentum this season, mostly injury-related, but it was a blessing in disguise. Young players got valuable minutes during those struggles, and when they got healthy enough as a team, the Mustangs played their best basketball in the playoffs, winning the OIA title. Beating Kapolei and Kahuku in back-to-back games — each team was unbeaten in league play before this week — really threw a wrench into the seeding process. There was a case for MIL champion Lahainaluna to be seeded No. 2 instead of Kalaheo, but it wasn’t strong. Kalaheo has two wins over Top 10 teams. Lahainaluna (17-6) has beaten just one Top 10 team, Moanalua.
Though the HHSAA has relied heavily on historical data for seeding decisions, head-to-head results never hurt. I recall during Punahou’s dynastic years (girls basketball) under Mike Taylor that he and Konawaena coach Bobbie Awa both insisted that they were playing all out to win in their nonconference games before league play. Why? Because each coach believed that the results could sway members of the seeding committee.
Were they right? If I had to put a number on it, perhaps those early-season results had a 10 percent effect on the committee. That’s a small number, but it’s still a factor. Konawaena and Punahou had some fantastic battles in those tournaments.
As for Kalaheo and No. 3 seed Lahainaluna, Kalaheo won their matchup at the James Alegre Invitational 47-38 on Nov. 29. A game that early — the first for both teams — probably carry less weight, but it’s still head to head.
The No. 4 seed, Kamehameha-Hawaii, probably could’ve gotten some consideration as a No. 3. The Warriors have wins over Kailua and South Anchorage (Alaska). Another quality win or two would’ve helped, but it’s a down year in the BIIF thanks to a lot of young rosters. Talent-wise, though, Noa Kahapea, KS-Hawaii’s 6-foot-5 senior, is the kind of versatile, strong go-to scorer who can lift his team to another level.
Now, a look at the pairings.
@ Moanalua bracket
Kapolei @ Kamehameha-Maui
> Winner vs. Maryknoll, Moanalua gym
Kailua @ Kahuku
> Winner vs. Kamehameha-Hawaii, Moanalua gym
@ McKinley bracket
Moanalua @ Konawaena
> Winner vs. Kalaheo, McKinley gym
McKinley @ Punahou
> Winner vs. Lahainaluna, McKInley gym
With Maryknoll as a probable No. 1 seed, that made it very likely (by HHSAA by-laws) that ILH 2 Punahou — a team that was No. 1 in the Star-Advertiser Top 10 for most of the season — would be in the opposite bracket.
If the OIA playoffs had played out according to the regular-season standings, Kahuku and Kapolei would’ve squared off for the league title. Instead, Kalaheo surprised both teams, giving each its first loss in league play.
That little twist means that Kahuku and Kapolei were sent to the opposite bracket of Kalaheo. Those two teams, ranked No. 4 and No. 5, respectively, in the coaches and media rankings, are now in Maryknoll’s sub-bracket. No surprise, Spartan fans are probably less than thrilled about the prospect of going through Kapolei — if the Hurricanes get past Kamehameha-Hawaii — in the quarterfinals.
That’s a dynamite-hot quarterfinal. (As explosive and entertaining as the girls’ ‘Iolani-Lahainaluna quarterfinal was a week ago.) And if Maryknoll advances to the semifinal, as expected, the Spartans may have to face the powerful Red Raiders of Kahuku in the semifinals, but only if Kahuku gets past Kailua and Kamehameha-Hawaii.
Maryknoll coach Kelly Grant had no comment on the way the brackets worked out, which is no surprise. Nobody has an easy route. Nobody. It’s just varying degrees of difficulty. And appeasing the by-laws to split league champions from their runners-up and even third-place teams.
So… Kalaheo will play the Konawaena-Moanalua winner. Konawaena is young, talented, well-coached, the BIIF runner-up. Moanalua barely squeezed into the OIA playoffs and from there qualified for states. Always dangerous offensively, Moanalua could be a sleeper depending on how well they defend the interior. Either way, Kalaheo has the least difficult draw.
Lahainaluna, like the other seeded teams, has an opening-round bye, but has the prospect of facing Punahou, barring a major upset by the sneaky and smart Tigers of McKinley.
If McKinley can sustain its ball-control attack and pull off a huge win over the talented, deep and explosive Buffanblu, then it will be a dangerous contender for the duration of the tournament.
For the record, Punahou is still ranked No. 2 statewide and will be the highest-ranked unseeded team when the big dance tips off on Monday.
The tourney takes a break on Tuesday before resuming with quarterfinal games on Wednesday at the Moanalua and McKinley venues. Thursday’s semifinals and Friday’s finals (and third- and fifth-place games) will be played at the Stan Sheriff Center.
Coming Saturday: A preview of the boys basketball state tournament.