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Friday, December 19, 2014         

FURTHER REVIEW


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VCU, Butler give UH reason to believe

By Dave Reardon

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What’s not to like for isle basketball fans about this Final Four? Three of the teams played in Hawaii last November and December, and the one that didn’t is coached by a fellow named Shaka.

Well, yeah, there is this: The University of Hawaii isn’t in it. And that’s nothing new of course; the Rainbows haven’t even won a first-round game in the NCAA Tournament — ever — and the last time they even got into it was nearly a decade ago. Sorry to remind you about that.

But the foundation coach Gib Arnold built in his first season and the presence of two midmajor teams set to do battle in Houston tomorrow night should give Rainbow Warriors fans some reasons to believe, or at least to dream. Maybe the unthinkable is possible ... someday.

A few weeks ago most of America would've guessed a VCU is something you watch March Madness on, not a team that plays in it. When you think about it, if Virginia Commonwealth can do it, is there any reason UH cannot?

Before beginning its unpredictable run through the tournament, VCU was 23-11 — just two losses fewer than the Rainbows. And, statistically at least, UH is a much better defensive team.

It makes you think that any group that gets hot at the right time and hits a bunch of 3-pointers can run right through the NCAA Tournament.

But before we get too carried away, let’s remember VCU comes from a stronger conference and a better recruiting area; most of its players come from Virginia or neighboring North Carolina. Also, did you know that VCU has had players drafted in the NBA’s first round the past two years? So it’s not like the Rams roster is not a destination for talent.

The presence of VCU, and Butler again, in the Final Four does give every college basketball program hope. But hope is nothing without players.

Arnold is en route to Houston from Europe, where he was out looking for reinforcements to join center Vander Joaquim, shooting guard Zane Johnson and the rest of the young Rainbows team.

Johnson and point guard Miah Ostrowski will probably be the only significant losses after next season — and this was by Arnold’s design, as he wisely staggered the years of eligibility in his first recruiting class. Hopefully no more of the mass roster transfusions UH has had to deal with lie ahead.

Even via a balky Balkans phone connection, Arnold sounded giddy about tomorrow’s David vs. Cinderella semifinal.

“I think it’s great VCU or Butler will play for the championship. I’m pulling for those guys, for sure,” he said. “What VCU’s done has been just so amazing and exciting. And Butler coming back. I thought they were very good (in winning the Diamond Head Classic), but never thought they’d get to the Final Four again. They have some leadership, some older guys. They look really confident.”

Sounds like he’s become buddies with Butler coach Brad Stevens.

“We’ve talked on a number of occasions. He’s an outstanding coach. It starts with good players. They’ve got a system and they’ve got tradition that he’s elevated. He’s got great assistant coaches and they’ve come to something good and made it better,” Arnold said.

“We’re recruiting a guy they’re recruiting, so we run into each other on the road.”

That’s a good sign — going after the same level of player as last year’s national runner-up.

Arnold said he hasn’t met VCU coach Shaka Smart. “I’ve been in the same places for some things with the other two,” he added, referring to Kentucky’s John Calipari and UConn’s Jim Calhoun. “But it’s not like I’ll be hanging out with them at the Final Four.”

The UH coach won’t be rooting for the winner of their semi in Monday’s final.

“I’d like to see a midmajor win it. (Butler) or VCU. It’d be good to see the guys who came out here (Honolulu) win it. Then we can tell everyone that if you win in the Diamond Head Classic you’ll win the national championship.

“I’m going with Butler for the national championship all the way. I’m pulling for Butler to win it with a halfcourt shot.”

That would be fitting, a long shot for a  long shot.

And it would remove “impossible” from “dream” for midmajors everywhere, including UH.

———

Reach Star-Advertiser sports columnist Dave Reardon at dreardon@staradvertiser.com, his “Quick Reads” blog at staradvertiser.com and twitter.com/davereardon.






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