Tying a bow on UH season as March Madness approaches finale

This entire college basketball season was about unpredictability and parity. Those tenets spilled into March as 10 double-digit seeds won their first-round games and 10th-seeded Syracuse remains alive in the Final Four. Only one top seed (North Carolina) made it out of its region, but UNC, Oklahoma and Villanova all tasted the No. 1 ranking at some point this year, so these survivors aren’t a complete shock or contradiction to what we witnessed in the regular season.

Hawaii was one of those 10 double-digit seeds to pick up a win in round one. Topping Cal provided the ‘Bows with their first ever tournament victory and was a proper reward for all the players who fought threw the difficulties these past few seasons provided.

Despite that victory and holding a second-half lead against Maryland in round two, Hawaii didn’t play its best ball in either game. Some of that has to do with facing tougher competition, but the ‘Bows struggled to get into their offense for much of the game against the Terps and again saw foul trouble limit their optimal lineups. They saw a realistic chance to advance to the second week slip away, but there should be no disappointment for what Hawaii was able to do.

This team will likely look very different next season. The starting backcourt of Quincy Smith and Roderick Bobbitt will be graduating, as will sixth-man Sai Tummala. The NCAA sanctions that will keep Hawaii out of the postseason next year may also be enough for Stefan Jankovic to decide to turn professional after his just completed junior season. But Jankovic doesn’t seem to be on the NBA’s radar, so he could conceivably choose to return and lead UH, rather than head overseas.

If Janks does skip town, Aaron Valdes and Mike Thomas would be the lone starters returning, with Stefan Jovanovic and Sheriff Drammeh the only bench players who received meaningful minutes this year. Let’s also not forget that sophomore Isaac Fleming, who would have had a much bigger role on the team, decided to leave the program in February.

Head coach Eran Ganot did a spectacular job navigating this talented team to 28 wins and he was certainly deserving of the Big West Coach of the Year honor he received. Without Bobbitt, without Smith, potentially without Jankovic, next season will be a much taller task. If he can even sniff this season’s success, he’ll have done an even greater job in his sophomore campaign.

The 2015-16 Hawaii Rainbow Warriors will be remembered just as much for their tenacity and togetherness, as for their breakthrough in March. Beating Cal will always live in the record books, but the way this collection of teammates held this program together is their true achievement.

Bobbitt and Smith harassing guards in the backcourt, Jankovic displaying an array of moves on the block and the perimeter, Valdes skying for an inbounds alley-oop, Tummala draining the straightaway three, Thomas corralling an offensive board and Drammeh dabbing after taking a charge; these are the images this team created which will outlive their tenures.

One final congrats and thank you to the ‘Bows for keeping Hawaii hoops afloat.

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David Simon can be reached at dsimon@thegardenisland.com.

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