Happy New Year, all.
The Hawaii basketball team closed 2017 on a strong note, besting Howard by 25 points. It was about as much of a feel-good UH could have asked for, with scoring from multiple sources — most notably a Jack Purchase breakout game — and the kind of overall shooting effort that has been rare this season.
But you can always resolve to do better. In that spirit, here are a few things the Rainbow Warriors can aspire to in the new year.
>> For starters, they can win at Long Beach State, the opening game of this conference season on Thursday. That’s the only place in the Big West UH hasn’t won as a conference member. UH is 1-9 at The Beach all-time, including 0-5 in BWC games. Its only win to date at The Pyramid is a 93-78 BracketBusters win in February of 2007. However, there have been some close ones, some games UH arguably should have won: 84-75 L, 2017; 74-72 L, 2016; 63-61 L, 2014; 76-72 L, 2013.
>> Free throws. Free throws. Free throws. The conversions from 15 feet have waxed and waned in dramatic fashion this season, with a couple of the poorer efforts (9-for-20 vs. Princeton, 15-for-27 vs. Howard) coming in the last two games. Overall, UH is shooting 65.2 percent from the stripe, compared to 68.5 for opponents. That’s the worst mark of Big West teams and is compounded by the fact that UH has taken the most (336) in the league (in the second-fewest number of games, no less). First and foremost, it’s up to Gibson Johnson (66.7) and Mike Thomas (66.2) to move it in a positive direction, as they’ve consistently attempted the most.
>> The 3-point record. UH has sat on 14 3s in a game as the program mark for quite some time; it was first set against SMU in the WAC of 2002 and was tied twice since, including once more in that 2001-02 season at Fresno State and against UC Irvine in 2015-16. Thirteen has been hit five times, including last season at Cal Poly, and most recently in the last game against Howard. Now, this UH team has struggled overall with the 3-ball (30.7 percent), but at least the shooting percentage is now above 30.0 after lagging severely in the 20s for most of nonconference. But, if a combination of Purchase, Sheriff Drammeh, Brocke Stepteau, Leland Green and Brandon Thomas get hot hands, that record of 14 is ripe to get plucked. UH’s four-out offense will give the team plenty of opportunities; of the nine highest tallies for 3-pointers attempted in a game, seven have come in the last two seasons under Eran Ganot.
>> Build the bench back up. UH counted on the bench quite a bit through the nonconference season, but only Stepteau was a consistent performer off of it. With Stepteau shifted to the starting lineup because of his steady play, joining Drew Buggs in the opening backcourt, it falls on Green and Purchase to provide the initial bench lift. Samuta Avea hasn’t had a whole heck of a lot of opportunities to show what he can do of late, attempting just seven shots in the last five games. Ido Flaisher’s minutes have also been spotty, and Brandon Thomas took his first DNP against Princeton after playing 1, 1 and 2 minutes the previous three games. If you didn’t know better, you’d say Zigmars Raimo is a missing person. UH will need these guys at some point.
>> Beef up the schedule. This one is really more for the coming offseason. But much has been said about UH’s weak nonconference slate when you take out the ESPN-organized Diamond Head Classic field. Word is a more appealing schedule is coming in 2018-19. The announcement of UH’s participation in the Wooden Legacy tournament is a good start, as is another solid field announced for the 2018 DHC. Less reliance on the SWAC and MEAC in between those — and more face time with Mountain West or WCC opponents — would be a positive and could turn around faltering turnstile attendance.
>> As for me, I resolve to do more blog entries. (No promises.)
Per Ganot, fall signee Mate Colina is arriving in the coming days, while the rest of the team is on the road. He will be a practice player redshirting the remainder of the season, then begin as a freshman in the fall.