After the first round of our virtual tournament to celebrate the 100th anniversary of the start of University of Hawaii basketball, our seeding committee can feel pretty good about itself (not that we don’t always in general, or at least most of the time).
Well, that is if we’re judging our efforts based on voting on Twitter.
Now’s a good time for some context, right? Or, in other words, for me to explain what the heck we’re talking about.
A couple of months ago the world seemed a much safer place. Ballparks and basketball courts and supermarket shelves weren’t empty. Corona was not a deadly virus, just something you drank if you couldn’t find Dos Equis. Being within 6 feet of someone else wasn’t considered an invasion of personal space.
And, as I do every year in late January or early February, I started thinking about brackets. Yes, so do a lot of other people … college basketball fans ponder the March Madness to come weeks and months in advance. There’s even a guy who has made nearly a year-round job out of which teams will appear in the NCAA Tournament and on which numbered “line.” … And, of course, how far each team will advance and who will win the championship.
For a long time now I’ve wanted to set up brackets to determine the best in other things: greatest classic rock song, tastiest sandwich, hottest supermodel, funniest comedian, best president; and locally, best all-time UH athletes or Hawaii high school sports team, stuff like that. But until this year there wasn’t really a topic that fit just right at the right time — plus I needed a way to figure out who would win and advance to the following rounds.
With the century of UH basketball being celebrated, we finally had a topic (even though it’d make no sense and wouldn’t be worth the labor to have a full field of 64 teams). And, since the sports world is a ghost town now and fans are hungry for any shred of sports-related stuff, it’s the perfect time for this sort of “content.”
The judging apparatus — and a lot of other assistance — comes from Brian McInnis, who was the Star-Advertiser’s UH basketball beat writer for about 10 years and now runs the Hawaii Warrior World web site. Without him and his expertise, this doesn’t happen.
And, a couple of other guys agreed to help us select the top 16 teams in program history, and match them up in a tournament to coincide with the NCAAs — which we’d be in the middle of now if the tournament hadn’t been canceled due to public health concerns caused by the spread of the coronavirus.
But how to judge which teams win their “games”? We could’ve spent weeks and all of our creative juices (actually we couldn’t, because even with the world at a relative standstill we have lives away from UH hoops, including other work duties) devising a simulation that — with the help of a random result generation device — might be something simulating actual basketball games. But there are a lot of problems with that, like accounting for rule differences of various eras (most notably the 3-point shot and the shot clock).
So we took the practical but less-than-perfect approach: We let the fans (or any one who wants to) vote on Twitter; we didn’t provide a lot of guidelines … basically, which team the voter thinks should advance.
If our seedings are pristine, there were no upsets in the first round … the eight higher seeds all “beat” the eight lower seeds. There were no Cinderella stories.
Here’s links to the stories of all 16 teams and first-round results:
>> Round of 16, Day 1 (No. 1 2015-16 def. No. 16 1988-89, 89.6% – 10.4%; No. 8 1993-94 def. No. 9 1973-74, 55.2% – 44.8%).
>> Round of 16, Day 2 (No. 5 1970-71 def. No. 12 2014-15, 60% – 40%; No. 4. 1997-98 def. 1947-48, 88.9% – 11.1%).
>> Round of 16, Day 3 (No. 3 2001-02 def. No. 14 2002-03, 94.2% – 5.8%; No. 6 1996-97 def. No. 11 2003-04, 75.4% – 24.6%).
>> Round of 16, Day 4 (No. 7 1989-90 def. No. 10 2000-01, 54.3% – 45.7%; No. 2 1971-72 def. No. 15 2013-14, 81.6% – 18.4%).
But, of course, there is controversy. And we wouldn’t want it any other way.
There’s not much uproar over No. 1 (the team that won an NCAA Tournament game in 2016) coming out on top of No. 16, or six of the other seven results.
But seed No. 8 over No. 9? Plenty there.
The 1993-94 University of Hawaii basketball team (No. 8) is one of those that got hot at the right time and won its conference tournament to get into the NCAA tourney — where it promptly was ousted by Syracuse in the first round. But the weeks leading up to The Dance were quite a ride for the ‘Bows, with hot-shooting guard Trevor Ruffin going on a 3-point shooting spree, and getting enough help from 7-foot-2 Tony Maroney down low and other players including Kalia McGee, Jarinn Akana and Phil Handy.
Their opponent, the No. 9 seed, came from 20 years prior; these were the post-“Fabulous Five” Rainbows, the first team coached by Bruce O’Neil, who had replaced Red Rocha.
The 1973-74 UH team was led by a player many consider the best guard — if not best player, period, in program history (sorry Bob Nash, but it is debatable). Thomas Henderson had already represented the U.S. in the Olympics and would later win an NBA championship with the Washington Bullets.
He was joined in the Hawaii starting backcourt by Artie Wilson, and up front the ‘Bows were mighty with Mel Werts at center and Rod Aldridge and Boyd Batts at the forward spots.
Now, the problem for this team was that Batts was ineligible when UH got to the postseason, and according to Wilson, that made a huge difference. Back then the NIT was a big deal, and if Batts was still playing, Wilson thinks UH could’ve won it instead finishing the year 19-9.
“We’d beaten Purdue in the regular season with Boyd, and Purdue won the NIT,” Wilson said.
So, these UH teams were on opposite arcs near the end of the season.
I asked Wilson — a longtime successful realtor in Honolulu and a commentator on UH telecasts and host of a weekly hoops radio show called “On Point” — for some outrage. Actually, I demanded it.
He obliged, only half-jokingly.
“First of all, all my respect to Trevor. He was incredible,” Wilson said. “But I still think we would’ve won. We went deeper, I like our first eight against their first eight. And there’s nobody who has done what Tom has done, before or since.”
Wilson said his team would have fared well with the rules of 20 years later. He and Henderson had plenty of range for 3-pointers.
“And don’t forget, no dunking was allowed when we played,” he said. “If Tom and I were allowed to lob to Mel, Harold (Aldridge’s actual first name), and Boyd? Forget about it!”
Exactly how much the fans who gave 55.2 percent of their Twitter votes to the Ruffin ready group knew or thought about any of that is hard to figure … it might have been very little at all. Folks who frequent Twitter are much more likely to remember watching a team from 1994 than from 1974.
“The folks who would’ve voted for us are either dead or in Acadia (retirement home),” Aldridge said with a laugh.
But UH fans on social media know who the Fabulous Five of the early 1970s were … and if they didn’t, maybe they thought they were voting for Michigan’s Chris Weber crew.
“They remember the Fabulous Five teams because of that name,” said Wilson, who was a freshman reserve on one of them.
“But it’s all in good fun. This is what makes it fun, these kind of discussions. We’ll never really know, but we can have our opinions. One thing I know, it would’ve been a dog fight. We had a lot of dogs on our team, and so did those guys in ’94.
And no one messed with Nash, either.
Those Fabulous Five Nash-led teams that turned UH hoops into a state phenomenon, seeded No. 2 and No. 5, easily won their first-round games last week.
Here’s the Elite Eight lineup, with voting starting Thursday through Sunday, one matchup a day, going up at 9 a.m. (HST) each day. Seedings are in parentheses.
>> Thursday: 2015-16 (1) vs. 1993-94 (8)
>> Friday: 1997-98 (4) vs. 1970-71 (5)
>> Saturday: 2001-02 (3) vs. 1996-97 (6)
>> Sunday: 1971-72 (2) vs. 1989-90 (7)
We figure chalk will continue to rule in these quarterfinals, except I think that first Fabulous Five team that did pretty well in the NIT will knock off the ’98 Bows and join the versions of themselves of a year later in the Final Four. And neither will need a senior citizen discount of some young whippersnapper to teach them how to use this newfangled internet thing to advance this week.