The Snapple/HHSAA Girls Basketball State Championships are underway, and with another day until D-II tips off, and two more days until D-I resumes, this pupule has something in mind.
I rarely would prefer a combined tournament, but this year is an exception. Why? The D-II state tourney is in Hilo this season, completely out of sight and range for those of us glued to the D-I tourney. So, there is enough depth from Tsuchiya Road to Waianuenue Avenue for a proper pupule field, a Sweet 16 of roundball dreams.
My 16-team field in D-I states would have been this:
1. ‘Iolani, 2. Konawaena, 3. Kahuku, 4. Lahainaluna (league champions).
5. Waiakea, 6. Maryknoll, 7. Kamehameha, 8. Punahou, 9. Hilo, 10. King Kekaulike, 11. Maui, 12. Mililani, 13. Moanalua, 14. Kalani, 15. Radford, 16. Kaiser.
There are a bunch of D-II teams I would squeeze in if this was an old-school, single classification tournament: Seabury Hall, Mid-Pacific, Waimea, Hanalani. (Kauai would be deserving, too.) I would bump these four ahead of Mililani. Possibly HBA, too. Maybe a play-in round, and I’d add a play-in for the 12th spot just because. It would be something like this.
For 12th spot
Seabury Hall (19-2, 10-0 MIL D-II) vs. Mililani (14-8, 8-1 OIA West)
> Spartans are 1-2 vs. Top 10, including a 49-42 loss to Punahou on Oahu. Trojans were 0-6 against Top 10.
> Common opponent: Radford. Seabury Hall def. Radford 43-42 (on Oahu). Mililani split with Radford, losing 42-40 and winning 41-40, both games at Mililani.
> Pupule pick: Spartans 38, Trojans 34. Seabury Hall has proven it can win anywhere.
For 13th spot
Mid-Pacific (20-3, 0-1 ILH D-II) vs. Moanalua (13-7, 8-3 OIA East)
> Owls are 0-2 against Top 10. Also split with Mililani, winning 44-34 at Mililani, losing 33-32 (neutral site). Moanalua is 0-3 against Top 10 teams.
> Common opponent: Radford. MPI won 42-36 at James Alegre Gymnasium. Moanalua lost at home to Radford 57-54 in preseason, but beat Radford 42-37 in the OIA semifinals. At Radford.
> Pupule pick: Owls 41, Na Menehune 37. The Owls are one of the few D-II teams that would be able to deal with Moanalua’s fullcourt press.
For 14th spot
Waimea (10-2, 10-2 KIF) vs. Kalani (11-10, 7-4 OIA East)
> The Menehunes didn’t play off island in preseason, no Top 10 competition, though Kauai provided a true threat. Kalani was 0-5 against ranked teams. The speedy Menehunes would push the ball relentlessly and test the Falcon bigs. Kaye Serapio against Kalani’s man coverage, hmm…
> Common opponent: none.
> Pupule pick: Menehunes 55, Falcons 50. Waimea is more experienced in the backcourt and gets the edge this year. Next year will be a different story.
For 15th spot
Hanalani (11-2, 8-1 ILH D-II) vs. Radford (15-11, 10-0 OIA West)
> This is where my see-saw rocks. Comparing ILH D-II and OIA West in girls basketball can be fun. (Not so with softball, where OIA West still has the edge on ILH D-I.)
> Common opponents: The Royals didn’t play Radford in preseason, but they did beat Nanakuli (56-30) and Kapolei (33-24).The Rams got past Nanakuli (44-37) and routed Kapolei (45-25). Another common opponent: Mid-Pacific. Hanalani lost at home to the Owls, 45-42. Radford lost at home to MPI 42-36.
> Pupule pick: Royals were more consistent and steady than expected this season. This would have been superb, Lishae Scanlan of Hanalani against Angel Asaah of Radford. Royals 39, Rams 38.
For 16th spot
Hawaii Baptist (15-8, 7-2 ILH D-II vs. Kaiser (11-10, 6-4 OIA East)
> The Eagles have losses to Hanalani and MPI in league play. The L’s to Seabury Hall, ‘Iolani and Lahainaluna give them an 0-3 mark against Top 10 foes. But the one-point loss at MPI is strong evidence of where they are right now. Kaiser is a true on-the-cusp team, competitive but unable to get past Moanalua. Again.
> Common opponents: Moanalua, McKinley, Kalani. HBA was 2-1 against these three, losing to Kalani. Kaiser was 2-3, losing to Moanalua twice, splitting with Kalani.
> Pupule pick: Eagles 47, Cougars 41. HBA beat Radford 60-47 in a mid-season tournament. That’s the tiebreaker for me.
A 16-team field lends itself, of course, to tradition. As in NCAA Tournament-style 1-versus-16. Another way to go is to reward the league champions and have the lower 12 compete play-in style again. But no.
1 vs. 16
‘Iolani (22-2, 11-1 ILH) vs. Hawaii Baptist
> The Eagles are savvy and skilled enough to keep this close for 3.5 quarters. Which is equal to 7/8ths of a game, or 28 minutes. The Raiders have looked a bit vulnerable at times recently.
> Pupule pick: The long break gives Iolani a chance to rest and recover. The legs are back, and so are the long-range missiles from the arc. Raiders 52, Eagles 38.
2 vs. 15
Konawaena (21-3, 10-0 BIIF) vs. Hanalani
> Hanalani with Scanlan could be a lot like Konawaena back when Mana Hopkins and Hina Kimitete were carried the load.
> Pupule pick: Wildcats 57, Royals 32.
3 vs. 14
Kahuku (17-7) vs. Waimea
> Kahuku’s patience against fullcourt and halfcourt pressure is impressive. Waimea would have no answer for versatile Leiah Naeata. But this would still be closer than most would expect. Waimea has the kind of speed that few teams can match.
> Pupule pick: Lady Raiders 49, Menehunes 42.
4 vs. 13
Lahainaluna (11-6, 9-2 MIL) vs. Mid-Pacific
> Injuries have been the Lady Lunas’ bugaboo all season, and now it’s slasher Abigail Akamine who is out. The Owls don’t have a ton of depth and size, and Lahainaluna’s fullcourt press is a big issue. But this is the scenario for a classic upset.
> Owls 41, Lunas 40. MPI would have to keep a close eye on the Lunas’ breakout player, Taylor Eldredge, but shifty Madi Sagawa of MPI has the experience edge. Only a big upset in the seedings. The Top 10 rankings have these two teams much closer: Lahainaluna is No. 9 and MPI is No. 10.
5 vs. 12
Waiakea (17-2, 9-1 BIIF) vs. Seabury Hall
> Few coaches design for prime time like Alika Smith, Waiakea’s first-year coach. Low-risk, high-percentage basketball. That’s what the Warriors did against Hilo in the playoffs, but it also would allow Seabury Hall to luxuriate in the slower tempo. The Spartans would be able to keep their starters on the court longer, depend less on the inexperienced bench.
> Pupule pick: Warriors 49, Spartans 41. Free throws make the difference down the stretch.
6 vs. 11
Maryknoll (16-7, 7-5 ILH) vs. Maui
> The Sabers were one of the wow teams in the MIL, upsetting Lahainaluna before falling to King Kekaulike in the playoffs. The Spartans get the edge here, though, with more shooting, athleticism, defense and experience.
> Pupule pick: Spartans 51, Sabers 33.
7 vs. 10
Kamehameha (13-12, 4-8 ILH) vs. King Kekaulike
> This matchup pops off the page. The Warriors are out of the post-season after losing to Maryknoll in the ILH playoffs, but are still ranked No. 5 in the Top 10. King Kekaulike overcame some late-season struggles to earn the MIL’s second state berth. In this format, it’s a rough quarterfinal matchup for teams 9 through 12, and in this case, team 7. Na Alii are streaky-hot from downtown, and this Kamehameha squad got lit up for 13 treys by Maryknoll in the playoffs.
> Pupule pick: Warriors 44, Na Alii 40. The physicality of the state tourney is in Kamehameha’s favor here. Referees often let more contact go, and that can be trouble for neighbor island teams that aren’t used to postseason play on Oahu.
8 vs. 9
Punahou (12-11, 2-10 ILH) vs. Hilo
> Best game of the second day? The Buffanblu have come a long way since last year, but the Vikings are so hungry. A huge game for Keirstyn Agonias, Hilo’s tough wing.
> Pupule pick: Vikings 35, Buffanblu 31. A defensive struggle, which is what Hilo is comfortable with.
DAY THREE, quarterfinals
‘Iolani vs. Hilo
> After a rough, physical battle with Punahou, the Vikings are on fumes. They still put up a fight against the top seed.
> Pupule pick: Raiders 49, Vikings 38. ‘Iolani’s relentless fastbreak and tight defense wears Hilo down.
Konawaena vs. Kamehameha
> This is what the Warriors want after splitting with the Wildcats in preseason. Konawaena has improved, as always, however.
> Pupule pick: Wildcats 47, Warriors 39. The ‘Cats tickle the twine down the stretch, hitting clutch free throws. Meanwhile, Kamehameha’s kryptonite, free-throw shooting, is their bugaboo again.
Kahuku vs. Maryknoll
> The teams met on the North Shore in preseason, but Naeata was on a family trip. This time, it’s no rout. It’s a war. Maryknoll’s mix of zone defenses tests Kahuku’s patience, but it comes down to the trenches, where Spartan warriors Lilly Koki and Serenity Moananu battle Naeata for every rebound. Can Maryknoll overcome the cold bug afflicting sisters Aloha and Mahalo Akaka? Can Kahuku’s Maya Claytor find the gaps in Maryknoll’s zone and get to the free-throw line when Maryknoll takes away her long-range game?
> Pupule pick: Spartans 51, Red Raiders 50. The seedings don’t matter here. Maryknoll comes through despite a heroic effort by Naeata, who double-doubles.
Waiakea vs. Mid-Pacific
> Two potential queen slayers square off. The Warriors have the physicality and athleticism, plus the brains and heart, to keep Sagawa under wraps. By game’s end, she can’t get more than a handful of clean looks.
> Pupule pick: Warriors 56, Owls 37. The Cinderella ride comes to an end for MPI against a veteran squad.
DAY FOUR, semifinals
‘Iolani vs. Waiakea
> For the first time since ILH play, the Raiders face a team that is as athletic and skilled from 1 through 10 as they are. The question is, who really can slow down the transition speed of Lily Wahinekapu, Kyra Tanabe, Jovi Lefotu and Alexis Huntimer. The Warriors keep this extremely close, but the more disciplined team prevails.
> Pupule pick: Raiders 46, Warriors 42. Waiakea is smart, but stopping Wahinekapu consistently is impossible.
Konawaena vs. Maryknoll
> Two games into the tourney, Konawaena’s depth is tested. So is its endurance. However, Coach Bobbie Awa has invested heavily in her reserves, and they prove to be invaluable when Caiyle Kaupu gets into foul trouble.
> Pupule pick: Wildcats 48, Spartans 42. Maryknoll’s zone throws Konawaena off rhythm for awhile, but the Wildcats eventually heat up from deep with big 3s from Salazar-Harrell, Hing and Kauhi.
DAY FIVE, finals
‘Iolani vs. Konawaena
> The Raiders routed the Wildcats by nearly 30 points in preseason. Their man defense marks speedy guard Kiana Salazar-Harrell, who is considerably depleted after three games. Kaupu faces constant pressure, the occasional double team, and the weight of hitting open shots falls on Gracie Hing and freshman Braelyn Kauhi.
> Pupule prediction: Raiders 55, Wildcats 54, OT. The Wildcats play well, but Kaupu gets into foul trouble as ‘Iolani revs up the transition machine and increases the possession count. Wahinekapu’s constant crashing on the offensive glass makes the biggest difference as ‘Iolani repeats.