By Lance Tominaga, ESPN Honolulu Web Editor.
Unfortunately, the first two games of the University of Hawaii men’s basketball team’s conference schedule have been wiped away by COVID-19, and all activities within the Rainbow Warrior program are on “pause.” When the season resumes, however, the team will need to make improvements in several areas to compete for the Big West Conference crown. Here are five keys to the Big West season for Hawaii:
- GET HEALTHY: We start with the obvious. Even without COVID issues, the Rainbow Warriors were struggling to field a team. Two projected starters, forward Samuta Avea and guard Juan Munoz, we’re declared out for the year before the season even started. Starting center Bernardo Da Silva has missed six of the team’s nine games with a hand injury. Leading scorer Noel Coleman missed two games and most of a third. Backup center Mate Colina was placed under COVID protocol. And starting forward Kamaka Hepa was dealing with injuries during the DHC as well. Right now, the UH coaching staff is trying to complete a puzzle that is always missing pieces.
- DEVELOP A POINT: After a four-game stretch where he averaged 9.3 points, 7 assists and 2 turnovers, starting point guard JoVon McClanahan had a disastrous Hawaiian Airlines Diamond Head Classic. In the two tournament games, McClanahan went scoreless while handing out 5 assists and committing 6 turnovers. Hawaii needs McClanahan to be the floor leader and distributor he can be, while also providing an additional scoring threat. If he can’t, newcomer Justus Jackson may be pressed into action sooner than intended.
- GET TOUGH INSIDE: Granted, Hawaii was without Da Silva and Colina, but UH was dominated inside during the DHC. Vanderbilt and South Florida both out-rebounded the Rainbow Warriors; USF, in fact, grabbed 15 offensive boards against Hawaii. Just as concerning, Hawaii’s interior defense was sorely lacking at times. That needs to be fixed ASAP, as the Big West has several skilled post players.
- FIND CONSISTENCY: While Coleman has been a revelation of late – he’s scored 76 points in the last three games and shot 15-22 from beyond the arc – it’s impossible to expect him to stay that hot for the rest of the season. Hepa, McClanahan, Junior Madut and Jerome Desrosiers are all capable of scoring. But so far they haven’t been able to do it consistently. Hepa might have 6 points in one game and 15 the next, for example.
- SOLIDIFY THE ROTATION: Head coach Eran Ganot has been playing “mix and match” throughout this season, trying to find his most effective lineups and to form a reliable playing rotation. Colina is an asset whether he’s starting or coming off the bunch, and both Beon Riley and Amoro Lado have shown flashes of potential. Then there’s Jackson, who just joined the team the day before the DHC started. Without Avea and Munoz, Hawaii hoops fans will always wonder, “What could have been…?” But if the rest of the roster gets healthy, there is still enough talent to compete in the Big West. As usual, the challenge will be to develop the team as the season progresses and hope it peaks by the start of the conference tournament in March.