This season of OIA boys basketball was the superhero with a big question mark on his chest.
Who? What? Really?
The OIA playoff brackets were released on Friday morning and here’s a look at what was, what is and what could be.
East boss Kalaheo is in the same sub-bracket with West 2 Mililani, which lost to Leilehua 50-49 in a Thursday thriller to end the regular season. Also in the sub-bracket: Kapolei, Kailua, Moanalua and Campbell.
Between these six teams, Kalaheo was closest to being a kingslayer, going 3-3 against ILH D-I teams in preseason (beating Saint Louis, ‘Iolani, Punahou) before storming through the East. Meanwhile, defending champion Moanalua has regained some mojo while winning its last six games in a row.
Steady and sure, Kalaheo has truly endured every adversity, every bump on the road. Back in preseason, Anthony Caswell, Luke Pardini and Kanoa Smith were on the road when another car suddenly darted in their path. The players walked away unharmed, but the car was totaled.
“The whole front was accordioned. Thank God, everybody is OK,” Kalaheo coach Rob Pardini said.
The Mustangs have won two of the last four OIA championships (2016, ’18), both under Pardini. In fact, Pardini and Kahuku’s Brandyn Akana (’17 champion) are the only OIA championship coaches of the past decade who are still active in the league in boys basketball.
“Every year’s a little different. This year, for us, our D-I games were scheduled all at the beginning, all six games. Then our five remaining were D-II games, and Roosevelt, McKinley were good. I think we were fortunate,” Pardini said. “We feel good about 10-1. If we’d lost to Kahuku or had a different loss, it doesn’t matter. Getting ready for the playoffs is always difficult, every matchup. The 1 seed gets the 3 and the 5 from the East and the 2 gets the 4 and the 6. And you got the West and the only team we saw or played was Leilehua.”
Mililani came within a hair of upsetting Leilehua last week.
“Mililani and Radford and Kapolei, I don’t know much about them, but Leilehua is very good. They’re strong and we’ve got the East, which probably has a stronger top five than the West,” Pardini added.
Kailua (19-6, 9-3 East 5) at Kapolei (11-7, 6-4 West 4)
The Surfriders spent much of the season in the Star-Advertiser Top 10. In the year after Everett Torres-Kahapea and Isaiah Hopson graduated, they’ve done the expected. Kailua is 19-0 against unranked teams, and 0-6 against ranked competition, including a 56-47 homecourt loss to Moanalua on Thursday.
Kapolei has followed a fairly similar path, two years removed from Zoar Nedd and one year from Ja’Shon Carter. The ‘Canes are 11-3 against unranked foes and 0-4 against the Top 10. In fact, Kapolei has lost those four matchups with Top 10 opponents by 25 (Kamehameha), 16 (Maryknoll), 25 (Maryknoll) and 23 points (Leilehua).
Kalaheo (19-8, 10-1 East 2) has not played Kapolei, but went to Kailua on Jan. 4 and won 60-47. The Mustangs are 8-3 at home and 6-0 at opponent’s gyms, but those three home losses were against elite teams like Trinity International. They meet the Kapolei-Kailua winner on Wednesday.
Campbell (9-13, 5-5 West 6) at Moanalua (14-9, 9-2 East 3)
The Sabers are not in a prime condition kind of season. There’s no stellar scorer like Mike Makinano. The days of baby Barkleys like Amosa Amosa are long gone. Yet, Campbell has spunk.
They gave eventual West runner-up Mililani a major score before falling 47-41 on Tuesday. Campbell is 9-9 against unranked teams and 0-4 against the Top 10. On paper, they are middle of the road. In reality, dangerous enough to give any sleepwalking team a tough time.
Since losing at Kalaheo 37-33 on Jan. 11 (and dropping out of the Top 10), Moanalua has won six games in a row. That includes a 30-point win over normally tough McKinley, a 14-point win at Kaiser, and a 56-47 win at Kailua on Thursday.
It’s safe to say Moanalua is playing its best basketball of the season. After going 0-9 against Top 10 teams, Na Menehune have won their last two (Kaiser, Kailua). They are also 8-3 on their home court, including 5-0 in OIA play.
This will be Michael Johnson’s first leap into the OIA playoffs as a head coach.
Mililani (14-8, 9-1 West 2) will be awaiting the winner. The Trojans lost to Moanalua 62-52 at the ‘Iolani Classic. Coach Garrett Gabriel’s team has come around a bit. In their 50-49 loss to Leilehua on Thursday, they rallied to take a one-point lead in the final quarter despite 23 turnovers.
Kalani (8-14, 4-7 East 6) at Radford (11-9, 7-3 West 3)
The path in the East was rocky riding for Kalani, from a four-point home loss to Kailua to a home loss to Farrington in the regular-season finale. The Falcons are on a four-game skid — which makes them perhaps the most dangerous of all underdogs in this playoff tournament.
If any matchup in the OIA playoffs can tell us about the scales of talent in the West and East, this might be it. Like Kalani, Radford is a mid-sized school that had early success with a win over ‘Iolani, and early losses to McKinley and Farrington. The Rams lost to the West’s best, Leilehua and Mililani, by 15 points each time.
Kahuku’s explosion to the top of the East, a nine-game win streak, came to a halt on Thursday with a 41-40 loss at Kaiser. Kahuku (14-5, 9-2 East 2) slipped to second place with the loss, allowing Kalaheo to move into the top slot.
The Red Raiders routed Kalani 66-47 on Tuesday and have not played Radford yet.
“I don’t know much about Radford, but Kalani is one of those teams that runs a balanced attack,” Kahuku’s Akana said. “They have good guards and a very good big man. Every game is important from here on out. We’re excited for the OIA playoffs.”
Pearl City (12-9, 5-5 West 5) at Kaiser (17-7, 8-3 East 4)
Malosi Viena of Pearl City made plenty of waves recently when a video of his crossover 3 went viral, plugged by Bleacher Report and ESPN social media. Viena’s impeccable footwork and shooting stroke are enhanced by the fact that he is a lefty. He is one of two key players on two teams — Brandon Chung of Kalani is the other — who happens to be hearing impaired.
Kaiser showed in the win over Kahuku that it can counter a team with perimeter scoring and a tough inside game. The Chargers will be severely tested on both ends.
Kaiser had been unbeaten against unranked teams until losing on the road at Roosevelt on Tuesday. The Cougars are the very team that could beat any opponent. They are the very team that could lose to very focused opponent.
Leilehua (16-5, 10-0 West 1) has all the elements of a championship team and had some flashes of success in preseason with wins over Mid-Pacific and Saint Louis. Shot blockers. Multiple scorers off the motion offense. An effective pick-and-roll game. The Mules have not played Kaiser yet. They routed Pearl City 58-32 on Jan. 2.
By Wednesday night, the final four will be set, but the OIA semifinals aren’t until the following Monday — Feb. 10. After seeing the ILH whiz through with as many as seven games in two weeks for some teams, playing every other night, what the OIA has in this schedule feels like luxury.