Hawaii men’s basketball: 2015-16, 2001-02 underway for Best-Team Bracket title

The championship matchup of the 100th season bracket has been captured by the top seed, 2015-16. / Graphic by Curtis Murayama

You’ve helped us get this far, and we thank you for that.

Memories were revived. Pride was in play. Arguments were made.

Now you have one important task remaining — to help us settle the fans’ choice for the singular Hawaii men’s basketball best team of all time.

The picks have been made. The stage is set. The teams have taken the floor at the Stan Sheriff Center.

It’s the top-seeded 2015-16 squad, the “ImprobaBows,” against the third-seeded 2001-02 squad, the “Internationals.” Jankovic, Bobbitt and Valdes against English, Savo and Campbell. Two deep supporting casts. And two memorable bench mobs.

They are the two winningest teams in Rainbow Warriors history. But which one is best? The 2015-16 squad knocked off three teams from the 1990s (1989-90, 1993-94, and 1997-98) to get here. The 2001-02 squad? They beat teams from thee different decades, including their own (2002-03, 1996-97, and 1971-72). The last, a win over the “Fabulous Five,” has been the only upset in the tournament.

Vote below via Twitter or directly on Warrior World’s Twitter page. Voting begins at 9 a.m. HST and will last 24 hours.

>> 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Rainbow Warriors — who’d dealt with adversity all season in being tagged with future NCAA sanctions (mostly later rescinded) from Gib Arnold’s past coaching regime — turned the tables and beat reeling California, a No. 4 seed, 77-66.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.


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.

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