Hawaii men’s basketball: 100th Season Best-Team Bracket Final Four underway

The Final Four of the Best-Team Bracket is set.

Four teams. Four different decades. Two spots available for the finals of the Hawaii basketball 100th Season Best-Team Bracket.

Our little experiment is drawing to a close. Only two days of competition remain — today and Monday — just like how the NCAA Tournament would’ve been played.

The top four seeds — 2015-16, 1971-72, 1997-98, and 2001-02 — each represent a totally different makeup of players and styles, not to mention rules of the game at the time. It’s up to you to consider the player matchups and eras.

Not surprisingly, they were the top four seeds in the original 16-team field. Each lays claim to some unique program history. The No. 1-seeded 2015-16 team, “The IncrediBows,” owns the program record for wins (28) and was the first and only team to win an NCAA Tournament game. No. 2 1971-72 was the program’s first NCAA Tournament team and highest-ranked squad ever and lives on in lore as the “Fabulous Five.” No. 3 2001-02, “The Internationals,” set the program record wins at the time and might’ve been the deepest. And No. 4 1997-98, featuring the “Dynamic Duo,” authored the biggest upset in program history and churned out UH’s longest-tenured NBA player.

Voting begins at 9 a.m. below or directly on our Twitter page. (You need a Twitter account to vote.)

On with the matchups.

>> No. 1 2015-16 (28-6, NCAA second round)

Hawaii forward Michael Thomas, left, Stefan Jankovic, center, and Stefan Jovanovic (15) celebrated the Big West title-clinching 67-65 win at UC Davis on March 3, 2016. / Star-Advertiser file photo by Tony Avelar

Aaron Valdes jammed home a dunk against Cal in the NCAA Tournament on March 18, 2016, as Roderick Bobbitt looked on in the foreground. / Star-Advertiser file photo by Erik Smith

Coach Eran Ganot’s first team achieved what no UH basketball squad had previously or has since: It won a game in the NCAA Tournament, Hawaii’s first in five tries. The 13-seeded Rainbow Warriors — who’d dealt with adversity all season in being tagged with future NCAA sanctions (mostly later rescinded) from Gib Arnold’s past coaching regime — turned the tables and beat reeling California, a No. 4 seed, 77-66. Against the Bears from Berkeley, UH’s East Bay backcourt mates, Quincy Smith and Roderick Bobbitt, stood out. Smith led UH with 19 points and career steals leader Bobbitt scored 17 with seven rebounds. UH held its own against No. 5 Maryland in the round of 32 in Spokane, Wash., before falling 73-60 two days later. … Front-courters Stefan Jankovic and Aaron Valdes were dynamic, versatile and explosive, and Jankovic, a Missouri transfer, earned Big West Player of the Year honors. Mike Thomas, Stefan Jovanovic, Sai Tummala and Sheriff Drammeh were among the team’s reliable role players. Mercurial Isaac Fleming was a sparkplug before leaving the team late in the season. And the “Hawaii 5-0” bench mob kept things lively all year as this group went on to win its first (and only to date) Big West regular-season and tournament championships, and set the program single-season wins record. Ganot became the first UH coach not named Riley Wallace to pick up a conference coach of the year award. The ‘Bows had winning streaks of four, four, eight, six, two, and four games in not losing back-to-back contests all season. Highlights, besides the postseason run, included a memorable Diamond Head Classic — UH beat a good Northern Iowa team, nearly knocked off No. 3 Oklahoma (later a Final Four team), and topped Bruce Pearl’s Auburn team in the third-place game. The Rainbows swept Big West nemesis UC Irvine in the regular season and came within some tough calls at Long Beach State of sweeping their conference road schedule for the first time in program history. UH shared the regular-season title with the Anteaters.
Roster: Bobbitt, Zach Buscher, Jakob Cornelissen, Drammeh, Dyrbe Enos, Niko Filipovich, Fleming, Jankovic, Jovanovic, Smith, Brocke Stepteau, Thomas, Tummala, Valdes.


>> No. 4 1997-98 (21-9, NIT quarterfinals)

Erin Galloway jammed on a drive past Indiana’s William Gladness in the 1997-98 season opener on Nov. 28, 1997. / Star-Advertiser file photo by Dennis Oda

Alika Smith and Anthony Carter savored their win over No. 2 Kansas to take the Rainbow Classic on Dec. 30, 1997. / Star-Advertiser file photo by Dennis Oda

When Anthony Carter and Alika Smith came back for their senior year, the secret was out; they were touted as one of the best backcourt tandems in the nation. It didn’t matter, however, that coaching legends Bobby Knight and Roy Williams knew this; the UH guards and their teammates beat Knight’s Indiana Hoosiers 82-65 on opening night and then — in what remains 23 years later the biggest upset in UH’s program history — the Rainbows knocked off Williams’ No. 2-ranked Kansas Jayhawks 76-65 in the Rainbow Classic on the day before New Year’s Eve. That made the ‘Bows 10-1 and earned them the No. 21 spot in the AP poll. But then came conference play, and Hawaii was not much better than a .500 team the rest of the way. It finished the WAC regular season strong with five straight wins, but then lost to UNLV in the first round of the league tournament. After victories over Arizona State and Gonzaga, UH lost to Fresno State in another NIT quarterfinals disappointment. Smith (18.3 points, 67 3s made) and Carter (18.2, 7.3 assists, 2.2 steals) were again excellent throughout the season. Names like Erin Galloway, Eric Ambrozich and Micah Kroeger are just as recognizable with this group, and Mike Robinson was the captain. Carter’s 212 assists is the program’s season record for total dimes and he was just behind all-time leader Reggie Carter (7.4 per game) in assist average (7.3). But Hawaii had just six rebounds, total, more than its opponents over the course of 30 games. A.C. Carter went on to play 13 NBA seasons, while Smith went on to become an assistant coach at UH and at the high school level.
Roster: Ambrozich, Carter, Casey Cartwright, Galloway, Rahula Hall, Chad Hook, Kroeger, Luke Meyers, Greg Miller, Brian Moeller, Dean Penebacker, Mike Robinson, Robbie Robinson, Kelii Silva, Smith, Ales Zivanovic.


3. 2001-02 (27-6, NCAA first round)

Hawaii’s Phil Martin (2), Carl English (23), Tony Akpan and Haim Shimonovich (14) celebrated Hawaii’s 73-59 win over Tulsa in WAC tournament championship on March 9, 2002. / Associated Press file photo

Predrag Savovic sailed past Fresno State’s Shannon Swillis on Feb. 1, 2001. / Star-Advertiser file photo by George F. Lee

The heart of UH’s team that went to the NCAA Tournament the year before made it again, the first back-to-back trip to The Dance for the ‘Bows. And this time it was not just because they got hot for the conference tournament. Coach Riley Wallace added a key piece — true point guard Mark Campbell — to a team already loaded with scorers. UH had a sharp-shooting and deep backcourt of Predrag Savovic (20.6 points per game), Carl English (15.5) and Mike McIntyre (10.0), augmented by a solid frontline of Haim Shimonovich, Phil Martin and Mindaugas Burneika — plus Tony Akpan and Paul Jesinskis. All told, it was the high point of the program’s international flair. McIntyre and Burneika were starting-caliber players who came off the bench to regularly score in double figures. This team beat conference rival Tulsa (29-7) all three times they met — including at the Golden Hurricane’s Reynolds Center for the WAC tournament title for the second straight year — and never lost back-to-back games all season in setting what was then a program record for wins. But UH also never played a ranked team until it ran into No. 22 Xavier in the first round of the NCAA Tournament in Dallas. Hawaii, a 10 seed facing a 7, built a 12-point lead late in the first half, including a rousing chase-down block of David West by the freshman Akpan. But West and Romain Sato took control right before the break — scoring five points in the last 43 seconds of the half — and the Musketeers cruised to a 70-58 win. UH had a new school season record for wins, but was now 0-4 in NCAA Tournament games. Twelfth-seeded Tulsa, incidentally, upset Dwyane Wade and fifth-seeded Marquette 71-69 in the NCAA first round. UH finished the season at No. 25 in the AP poll, its first ranking in March in 30 years. It remains the last time UH was ranked.
Roster: Akpan, Burneika, Campbell, English, Ryne Holliday, Jesinskis, Gabe Lombard, Martin, McIntyre, Dan Pickart, Savovic, Shimonovich, Lance Takaki, Luc-Arthur Vebobe, Milos Zivanovic.


>> No. 2 1971-72 (24-3, NCAA first round)

Crafty “Little General” Jerome Freeman put up a shot against Chris Marlowe of San Diego State in 1972. / Star-Advertiser file

The Fabulous Five returned intact after its electrifying 23-5 debut of 1970-71, and the second edition was just as thrilling — crowds responded with fervor and the 7,500-seat Blaisdell Arena (then called the Honolulu International Center) sold out 19 times in 19 home games. This time 6-foot-8 Bob Nash was the leading scorer (18.2) and rebounder (14.4), swapped from 6-7 big man Al Davis (18.9) the season before. “Little General” Jerome Freeman (5.3 assists per game), at 5-9, was team captain for the second straight year. John Penebacker (13.9 ppg), a 25-year-old Air Force veteran and 6-2 leaping pivotman, and 6-4 speed merchant Dwight Holiday (16.7) remained highly productive. Subs like Todd Huber, Mike Kendall and Artie Wilson contributed. UH’s first NCAA Tournament team went 19-0 at home and 5-2 on the road in the regular season, with the lone losses by 10 points at Loyola Marymount and one point at Westmont. Coach Red Rocha’s squad, even with the quicker pace of play in this era, averaged a ridiculous 91.7 points per game, which easily remains the program record. The ‘Bows bested eventual national runner-up Florida State twice at home, including once by forfeit when Seminoles coach Hugh Durham refused to walk off the court after getting ejected with his team trailing 30-10. FSU was No. 9 and No. 14 for those two matchups; UH was previously 0-23 all-time against Associated Press ranked teams. That helped vault UH into the rankings for the first time in program history, at No. 18. UH remained in the top 20 the rest of the season, cresting at a program all-time best No. 12 on March 7. It built up to UH’s inaugural NCAA meeting with 17-9 Weber State in Pocatello, Idaho, for the right to play Bill Walton and Coach John Wooden’s eventual six-time national champion UCLA team in the second round of the 25-team field. But favored Hawaii was crushed by the Wildcats, 91-64, with Nash held to seven points against a 2-1-2 zone defense and Bob Davis going off for 32 for the Wildcats. … It was far from the end for Nash, though, as he was drafted by the Detroit Pistons with the ninth overall selection of the NBA Draft, and also played with Kansas City in the NBA. He later was an assistant and head coach at UH and his jersey (No. 33) was retired in 2020. Nash’s sublime rebounding average remains the single-season record, and he owns the career average mark as well (13.6). His legendary 30-board game against Arizona State in the 1971 Rainbow Classic championship is another mark that won’t be bested anytime soon — the exclamation point for UH’s first All-American, who also became the first to average a double-double for a season. Davis would leave with a 17.1 scoring average for his two-year Rainbows career, setting the benchmark in the all-college opponent era. He remains fourth all-time in average. The Fabulous Five lived on as a unit, often returning to Hawaii for exhibitions and reunions. UH’s 49-8 record during the “Fabulous Five” era remains the best in winning percentage (.860) for UH over any two-year span.
Roster: Mike Blackshire, Tyrone Bradshaw, Davis, Freeman, Holiday, Huber, Kendall, Nash, Penebacker, Mark Skillicorn, Jim Wienstroer, Charlie Williams, Wilson.

Brian McInnis and Dave Reardon assembled the season summaries. Curtis Murayama designed the 100th season bracket.