Preview: Division I state tourney, boys hoops

The assumptions are there.

How could they not be there when the top three teams from the Interscholastic League of Honolulu spent most of the season occupying the top three spots in the Star-Bulletin Boys Basketball Top 10.

But there’s more to this year’s Hawaiian Airlines/HHSAA Boys Basketball State Championships than dominant teams and leagues. There’s style.

For the first time in recent memory, two of the Division I tournament’s four seeded champions are run-and-gun outfits: No. 2 seed Moanalua and No. 4 seed Hilo.

Entertainment value aside, Moanalua is senior-heavy, but has a mix of key underclassmen at the point and front court.

Moanalua’s ability to run the floor and adjust to any tempo when necessary is a potential danger to every team in the tourney. The most similar team to Na Menehune, interestingly, may be No. 1 seed ‘Iolani, another team without a dominant center.

Here’s a look at tonight’s opening-round matchups and the tourney’s seeded squads.

Waiakea vs. Kahuku, Radford/Jim Alegre Gymnasium, 5 p.m.

On paper: Kahuku finished second to Moanalua in the Oahu Interscholastic Association. Waiakea (16-9, 10-4) took second place in the Big Island Interscholastic Federation.

Coach Hiram Akina led Kahuku to the OIA title last season. The Red Raiders (15-11, 10-6 OIA) are No. 5 in the Star-Bulletin Top 10.

The skinny: Waiakea was highly competitive at the Moanalua Holiday Classic in December despite a lack of overall height. The Warriors are loaded with seniors and experience — key factors in their postseason success. Clayton Morante is just 5-foot-11, but battles on the boards regularly against centers 6 inches taller.

Kahuku is imposing in the post with a pack of 6-4 and 6-3 players. The key, though, is guard Nehoa Akina, arguably the state’s best 3-point shooter. He’s cat-quick on drives to the basket and is a clutch performer.

X factor: Shairone Thompson is savvy around the basket and knows how to get his shot off against anyone. Add reserve Mason Golden (6-7) and Jackson Kaka (6-2) to the mix, and Kahuku is a rugged rebounding unit.

Farrington vs. Mililani, Radford/Jim Alegre Gymnasium, 7 p.m.

On paper: The Governors were kept in Division II and won the state title in 2008, but have proven this season that they belong in D-I. Farrington claimed the sixth and final state berth out of the Oahu Interscholastic Association. Farrington was 5-11 in OIA Red play, notching key playoff wins over Kaimuki and Leilehua to qualify for the state tourney.

During the regular season, Mililani (18-7, 12-4 OIA) was the top team in the Red West, but wound up third in the league behind Moanalua and Kahuku. The Trojans are No. 6 in the Star-Bulletin Top 10.

The skinny: It’s quite a contrast in styles. Farrington has run in years past, but the presence of center Lancelot Williams is a major factor in its halfcourt tempo.

The Trojans love to run and found success more often than not with their platooning, uptempo game. Not many teams slowed them down this year.

X factor: Trent McKinney and Hassan Richardson are a quarterback-receiver duo on the gridiron. On the hardwood, the two are athletic, physical rebounders who might give Williams game-long trouble.

Kamehameha-Maui vs. Punahou, McKinley Student Council Gym, 5 p.m.

On paper: Kamehameha-Maui is the runner-up from the Maui Interscholastic League (9-5). Punahou (21-4, 11-3 ILH), has been idle since edging Kamehameha on Feb. 22 to secure second place in its league. Punahou is No. 3 in the Star-Bulletin Top 10. The Buffanblu have spent a good portion of the season at No. 1.

The skinny: The Buffanblu have thrived under first-year coach Alika Smith’s flexible system of fullcourt and halfcourt defensive pressure, fastbreaks and inside-out attacks. Punahou, which last won the state championship in 2008, suffered a blow when guard Taylor Crabb went down with an ankle injury late in the regular season, but Punahou’s depth at guard has filled the void. Henry Cassiday, James Duncan, Sean McFadden, Matthew Feldman and James Dowsett are steadying influences. For the most part, the backcourt mates are interchangeable — a luxury for Smith.

The visiting Warriors will have to contend with Punahou’s sophomore force of Malik Johnson (6-5) and DeForest Buckner (6-7). Johnson has matured and developed a reliable pull-up jumper from 15 feet in, an uncommon sight for someone that tall, quick and young.

Buckner is capable of monster rebounding performances; he has a single-game high of 23. His most valuable asset, though, is defending the rim. Like Johnson, he’s developed a reliable scoring touch inside.

After losing close to league champ Lahainaluna, the Warriors eked into the tourney on grit and clutch play. Coach Chad Kalehuawehe doesn’t have a dependence on one scorer; Terani Richmond, Tyler Hilsabeck and Kawika Kong are among the contributors. Instead, the Warriors have counted on good team defense.

X factor: Against a Punahou squad that has been inconsistent from the perimeter, KS-Maui has a shot for an upset win.

Campbell vs. Kamehameha, McKinley Student Council Gym, 7 p.m.

On paper: These teams met way back on Dec. 8 in the first round of the Jim Alegre Invitational, a 77-57 win by Kamehameha.

Eighth-ranked Campbell (18-10, 10-5 OIA) has come a long way since then under first-year coach Wyatt Tau, who previously coached at Aiea.

Fourth-ranked Kamehameha (21-6, 10-4 ILH) went to Honokaa on Monday to win a play-in game. Trailing 37-33 at halftime, the Warriors rallied for a 75-60 win. To win the state title for a second year in a row, Kamehameha will have to play five games in six nights.

The skinny: The Sabers have an elite point guard in Kristian Manuel, a third-year starter. Daniel Storment leads a crew of talent that won a lot of close games this season. Stepping up against Top 5 teams has been a tough challenge, though. Campbell is 0-3 against ranked teams, including a 62-61 loss to Kahuku in the OIA playoffs.

Kamehameha has depth at guard, but even the collection of slashers and gunners (Shane Matayoshi, Dyrbe Enos, Frank Ho) will be tested with so many games, not to mention the interisland travel. Then again, few teams have been battle-tested as much or as well as the Warriors.

X factor: If defensive ace Chaz Bajet returns close to full strength this week, it would be a considerable boost. Bajet isn’t just a stopper; he’s a clutch shooter and a highly reliable ballhandler, and his senior leadership is another asset.

‘Iolani, seeded No. 1: The top-ranked Raiders (18-7, 10-2 ILH) have enjoyed time off since Feb. 20, when they got a 3-pointer at the close from Trevyn Tulonghari for a 50-49 win and the league championship.

It’s been a long, difficult road for the resilient squad. Jarrett Arakawa has been the glue with his passing, rebounding and timely 3-point shooting. Andrew Skalman quietly runs the offense, and Tulonghari’s long-range stroke has returned.

In other words, Kainoa Chu hasn’t needed to carry the scoring load so much lately. Chu is a true triple-threat weapon, a pull-up shooter who can finish at the basket or dish to open teammates when the helpside defense arrives.

The development of reserves like Josiah Sukumaran, a 6-3 leaper, and sophomore Jourdan Simmonds, a deadly zonebuster, has been a big plus.

Still, the Raiders are vulnerable on the low post when Kainoa Scheer is not on the court. Scheer has played with a partially torn meniscus. The burly 6-2 junior continues to gut it out for a shot at ‘Iolani’s first state title since 2006.

First-year coach Dean Shimamoto has learned on the job very well, both as a longtime assistant and a new court general.

Moanalua, seeded No. 2: Moanalua won back-to-back state trophies in 1997 and ’98, but hasn’t returned to the final since. This year’s group trumps the teams of the past few years because of sticky, quick defense and excellent court vision.

No team runs the floor as quickly or as wisely as Na Menehune. Marcus Monroe is a 3-point shooting, shot blocking senior who gets as much satisfaction from a backdoor pass to a teammate as he does from throwing down an alley-oop dunk.

Moanalua (23-5, 15-1 OIA), ranked second, has evolved to the point where Monroe doesn’t have to score big at all for his team to get in a flow on both ends of the floor. He had just nine points against Kahuku in a win that sealed the league title, contributing big in several areas. There is still no real matchup solution against Monroe, a 6-4 swingman who hits the open 3.

They don’t have a true low-post, back-to-the-basket scorer, but with the quick transition and exquisite passing of guards Josiah Kauhola, Reece Racoma and freshman Marcus Keene, it’s a headache for slow-thinking, slow-moving defenses.

Moanalua is riding a 12-game win streak, but more impressive is the way coach Greg Tacon trusts this group. He’ll let them run and try an occasional highlight-reel type of play on the fast break as long as they play stellar defense and value the ball. As a player, it’s almost impossible to get a better deal than that: a disciplinarian who allows offensive freedom. That relationship explains a lot about how and why Na Menehune seem to play balls-out defense on every trip back.

Hilo, seeded No. 3: Back in early December, the Vikings seemed to have the best collection of talent in the BIIF, especially with the addition of transfers from Hilo. One of them, Mitchel Shintani has found his niche, joining Scotty Wong and a balanced attack in formidable fashion.

Hilo’s early stumbles were understandable. Chemistry doesn’t occur instantly, but the potential was mouth-watering for Viking fans who haven’t tasted a state crown since Jason Mandaquit and Wes Martinez led the way in 2000. An early nonconference loss to Lahainaluna was followed by a loss to Kealakehe. However, a win over ‘Iolani buoyed confidence, never mind that the Raiders were without four starters that night in Hilo. The Viks continued to pick up wins and develop as a group, even after early BIIF losses to Waiakea and St. Joseph.

A 32-point win over Waiakea for the league title confirmed Hilo’s potential.

Since losing to St. Joe on Jan. 30, Hilo has won six in a row, all by at least 14 points.

Lahainaluna, No. 4: The Lunas (12-2 MIL) won’t run as much as Hilo or Moanalua, but they do focus on defense. Coach Casey Brummel’s team rarely allows more than 45 points in a game.

T.J. Rickard and Sam Kiek (season-high 27 points against Baldwin) benefit from the shot-blocking prowess of Amanaki Vakalahi.

If Brummel, a first-year head coach, can catch lightning in a bottle, the relatively mysterious Lunas could be a surprise in a field that lacks a dominant, clear-cut leader. No MIL team has reached the state final since 1990, and not one has won the boys hoop title ever.

Paul Honda, Star-Bulletin


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