A Bit Of Madness Is A Good Thing

UH leading scorer Christian Standhardinger | UH Athletics photo

UH leading scorer Christian Standhardinger | UH Athletics photo

Ohmygosh, ohmygosh, ohmygosh, ohmygosh, ohmygosh, ohmygosh, ohmyg …”

What you’ve just read is a small portion of my brain’s inner monologue throughout the entire month of March. Every year. Without exception. A hoops junkie like myself can barely function in society during March because the NCAA Tournament is so completely intoxicating. I really shouldn’t be operating any heavy machinery until mid-April.

With Selection Sunday only days away, head coach Gib Arnold and the UH Warriors won’t be sitting in suspense as CBS reveals which teams have made the cut. They’ll know whether they are in or out depending upon their own performance in the coming days.

UH has a very real chance to make the tournament for the first time in 11 years. The Warriors/’Bows have made the NCAA bracket four times, the most recent a pair of back-to-back appearances in 2001 and 2002. They put a scare into Xavier the last time they made the field of (then) 64, holding a seven-point lead at halftime before the Musketeers took over in the second half en route to a 70-58 final.

Hawaii still hasn’t won an NCAA Tournament game, sitting at 0-4 all-time. For that stat to have any hope of changing this month, they will need to win the Big West conference tournament this weekend in Anaheim.

And, honestly, there’s really no reason they can’t do just that. UH has had a strong conference season and a successful year overall as it entered its final regular season contest with a 17-12 record, 10-7 in the Big West. Depending on the final game results for every team, UH will be seeded anywhere from No. 2 to No. 6 at the conference tourney.

Long Beach State (17-11, 13-3) already has locked up the top seed, but it’s by no means a juggernaut. UH came away with a decisive 94-73 win when the two last played Feb. 8 at Stan Sheriff Center. LBSU won the first meeting 76-72 Jan. 12 in California. It wouldn’t be considered much of an upset for the ‘Bows to top the top seed if the two meet up a third time.

The Big West has been competitive from top to bottom all season, so there are no clear favorites and no teams to be taken lightly. The seventh and eighth seeds are likely to be Cal State Fullerton and UC Santa Barbara. Sure, UH went a combined 4-0 against the two, but the four victories were by a total of 13 points. Parity is abound, and every team will feel it has a chance at that coveted automatic bid a conference tournament championship would provide.

Nebraska transfer Christian Standhardinger, in his first season on the floor for UH, leads the team in minutes, points, steals, and is second to center Vander Joaquim in rebounds. Standhardinger has had a storied past, but he has elevated the Warriors this season after a flurry of talented players exited from last year’s group. The same can be said for freshman forward Isaac Fotu, third on the team in both points and rebounds. Senior point guard and Utah transfer Jace Tavita leads the conference in assists as he continues to get Standhardinger, Joaquim, Fotu and the supporting cast good looks.

Reaching 20 wins would be a great accomplishment, but it won’t mean much to the NCAA selection committee, thanks to an RPI rating currently around 200. The only way for UH to punch a ticket to the big dance is to simply win out.

After starting 3-4 in conference play, the Warriors ran off five straight wins that began with three victories in California in one week. If this veteran team can duplicate that effort this weekend, well, then March will become even that much more intoxicating.