Two days ago we weren’t even sure Hawaii would make it to the men’s basketball conference tournament. After the stirring overtime win against Nevada on Monday it still hasn’t technically punched its ticket to Las Vegas.
That doesn’t mean we can’t talk postseason possibilities — "we" being everyone other than the players, who are of course under strict orders to take them one at a time and ignore our blather.
But blather on we must, since UH is now 14-10 overall and has won five of its last seven. All five remaining games on the schedule look winnable (especially if Hiram Thompson can be patched together one more time), and the Rainbows will find themselves on the NIT bubble if they enter the WAC tournament with at least 18 victories.
Not bad for a team picked before the season to finish last in the league.
BEFORE THE CONFERENCE home stretch, though, there’s the matter of this silly game at UC Davis on Saturday. All this one’s going to do is hurt Hawaii’s RPI, win or lose, since the Aggies are dwelling in the Big West cellar and are 9-16 overall after last night’s win over Seattle.
It’s part of ESPN’s annual BracketBusters ritual, which supposedly helps midmajors get exposure. What it does in reality for most participants is bust their budgets — not to mention their rhythm — as they fly around the country to play seemingly random opponents for no apparent reason prior to the climax of the conference schedule.
The only upside for Hawaii and UC Davis (which returns the trip here next year) is getting a feel for each other since they’ll be conference foes in the Big West starting in 2013.
UH’S REMAINING WAC games are home against Louisiana Tech and New Mexico State and at San Jose State and Fresno State. New Mexico State is the only team among them with a winning record (league or overall), and that’s a mediocre 14-12. The Aggies are second in the conference and took care of Hawaii in Las Cruces, but things are different now, and they’re different here.
Even if the Rainbows end up with 19 or 20 wins after the WAC tournament, however, the NIT’s not a lock. NIT picking, like at-large choices for the NCAA Tournament, leans heavily toward teams from BCS conferences.
That wouldn’t necessarily leave UH all dressed up with nowhere to go, though. The College Basketball Invitational and the CollegeInsider.com Postseason Tournament (selection committee chaired by Riley Wallace) are 16-team tournaments that are kind of the hoops equivalent of the Little Caesars Bowl.
But, if your athletic director thinks it won’t cost too much, they are opportunities for good teams to keep playing.
Rainbows coach Gib Arnold says it wouldn’t hurt, and AD Jim Donovan says he’s willing to look at it.
"I’m not sure we’re there yet, but I’d play anybody, anytime, anywhere. I really don’t know those (tournaments) very well. But I’m for it," Arnold says. "Why not give these young guys extra time playing together as a team?
"I don’t think we’re in a position to say we’re above anything," the coach adds. "If they want us in a JV tournament in Buffalo, I’m definitely not going to say no."
Donovan might. He isn’t worried about the relative status of these tournaments vis-a-vis the NIT and NCAAs. His concern is finances. If the numbers work, he’s open to it.
"Our goal for every team is postseason competition," Donovan says. "If we have that opportunity, we’ll do everything within reason if it helps our fan base and gets more opportunities for our team, the young players as well as the seniors to continue playing."
THEN THERE’S ANOTHER scenario that leaves no decision-making. Simply win the WAC tournament.
Yes, you’re right. That’s crazy.
But that’s what people said in 2001, when the Rainbows came out of nowhere to beat a solid Tulsa team in the WAC final. Next stop was Dayton, Ohio, for March Madness.