Maryland takes on 13th seed Hawaii March 20 at 7:10 p.m. in a second-round NCAA tournament matchup in Spokane, Wash. To gain more insight into the Rainbow Warriors, we spoke to WarriorSportsNetwork.com publisher Jackson Moore. Our question-and-answer session with Moore is below:
Terrapin Times: Jackson, I know Hawaii entered the tournament as a 13 seed, but they matched up well against California. But, even so, were folks a little surprised that the Rainbow Warriors pulled off the upset [March 19]?
Jackson Moore: Hawaii fans are pretty dedicated. A lot of fan bases are like that, but I think Hawaii especially, their fans are all in. They had a strong showing up in Spokane, and most of them believed Hawaii was going to win that game and pull off the upset. They’re a confident group.
And things started to unravel for Cal during the week, making things iffy for them. They had an assistant coach fired before the game, and Tyrone Wallace broke his hand and was out. I think people saw that 13-4 matchup on paper, but the difference between the two squads just got less and less as the week progressed, and actually started looking pretty good for Hawaii by game time.
TT: Is this a team that’s hitting its peak right now? I know they lost the last regular season game, but they won three straight to take the Big West title and just knocked off a four-seed.
JM: Oh, definitely, I think so. They had some troubles with Long Beach State, but they came through in the conference championship to put all doubts aside. I think the one thing with Hawaii, especially, is the home-road games are so much more one-sided I guess you could say. The home-court advantage is a lot better at Hawaii because of teams having to travel in, and vice versa it’s more difficult for Hawaii when they go on the road because of the time difference. But for Hawaii to go up to Anaheim and win three games in three days to take the Big West championship, that tells you all you need to know about the grit of this team.
TT: Does it help Hawaii that they’re in Spokane though and not on the East Coast or the Midwest?
JM: Well, it certainly could have been worse (laughs). It helps them. It was 11 a.m. Pacific time when Hawaii played Cal in Spokane, and that was 8 a.m. local time here [in Hawaii]. And I think the Maryland game is going to tip at 9 a.m. local time in Hawaii. So it’s still early and not terrible, but Hawaii has played many games at that time all year long.
TT: Stefan Jankovic is sort of the X-factor for this team. What does he do well and how does he help Hawaii tick?
JM: Well, he does a little bit of everything. He does it all. He’s 6-11, 235 and he’s athletic. He can knock it down from 3, he gets to the free-throw line consistently, and he hits the boards. He fills up the state sheet pretty much any way you can imagine.
TT: Beyond Jankovic, who else should Terps fans watch out for in this game? Who are the difference makers?
JM: [Guard] Aaron Valdez and [guard] Roderick Bobbitt are the two main guys after Jankovic. Jankovic gets all the press, but Valdez and Bobbitt are averaging 13 and 14 points per game and also crash the boards well. They really carry the load, along with Jankovic.
Quincy Smith had a big game with 19 points against Cal, but I’d be surprised if he did that again against Maryland.
TT: How deep does Hawaii go?
JM: They go about nine deep. They have another 6-11 guy with almost the same as Jankovic coming off the bench, Stefan Jovanovic. That can get kind of confusing (laughs). Beyond him, they have a couple other guys who don’t necessarily have major strengths, but they’ll give Hawaii 12 solid minutes or so.
TT: I know Hawaii is known for its defense, but is there a particular area defensively they excel in?
JM: I’d say Jankovic inside does a lot for them. He’s a pretty good presence down there, and he’s athletic so he can do different things defensively. They also have pretty good size coming off the bench with Jovanovic. As long as they can keep opponents in check on the perimeter, there’s not really a weakness here (although they're not particularly tall). They really get after it defensively, crashing the boards, getting steals, protecting the rim and just playing tough.
TT: If Hawaii is going to pull off this victory against Maryland, what has to go right? What are the Rainbow Warriors’ strengths?
JM: Honestly, Hawaii’s pretty solid all-around. There aren’t many weaknesses. One thing when I watch Hawaii is they don’t have any one major thing that stands out, but they also don’t have major weaknesses either.
They’re sound and they’re resilient -- they had an impact player leave the team a couple weeks ago, but they just rolled along. And I think with some of these mid-major schools, they’re playing well and they catch that one run and they just take off. I think that can happen with Hawaii. You’re going to have to play a 40-minute game to beat them.
TT: What is Hawaii’s MO so to speak? Are they a transition team? Gritty defensive team? Sharp-shooting team?
JM: They’re definitely gritty. Their schedule has been kind of tough, because they didn’t play a ton of great teams, so it was hard to get a gauge for them. But no one really expected this out of a Hawaii team, going 28-5 and 13-3 in the conference. They went to Texas Tech and lost, but they beat Auburn at home and almost knocked off Oklahoma at home. So they’re been really resilient and scary tough throughout the whole season, and I expect that to continue [March 20].
TT: How do teams knock Hawaii off? When Hawaii loses, what breaks down?
JM: Well, they did have some trouble against Long Beach State. That was their only bad matchup all year, when Nick Faust went off for 30 points. I think if teams do have one dominant player who can catch fire and carry them, that can give Hawaii trouble. But if it’s a five-on-five game, Hawaii can hold its own with anyone pretty well.
TT: Last question. Hawaii’s first-year coach, Eran Ganot, has turned that program around almost immediately. Hawaii hasn’t been to the Dance in forever, and he’s got them there and with 28 wins. How are folks viewing him down there and what’s his philosophy?
JM: It didn’t take people too long to buy in (laughs). They got off to a hot start, and it’s carried them all season. I think he was a good hire, especially coming from St. Mary’s, which he built into a very good program. That’s a program that went into Australia and pulled players successfully from, and though Hawaii doesn’t go there a lot, I think they can have success too with [Australians]. [Ganot] gets after it recruiting and he’s done a great job identifying talent so far.
As of now, Hawaii is going to be held out of the postseason next year, so that might throw things for a loop over the offseason. They could possibly lose some players, and it might hurt Ganot recruiting since he won’t be able to make that postseason pitch unless the appeal comes through. But he was definitely a good hire, and we’ll see how his recruiting plays out.