December usually doesn't count in college basketball.
Hawaii teams loving December
By Jerry Campany
But it has this year for Hawaii's Division II schools, who have gone after the predicted regional powers and made a statement about the health of the game here.
With no conference play and schedules loaded with Division I exhibitions, programs often use the final month of the year to tune up for the greater things to come. "It's not how you start, it's how you finish," they always say.
Well, the way Hawaii's teams have started the season meant something to all-important pollsters, who put Brigham Young-Hawaii fourth in the region and Hawaii-Hilo fifth.
Montana State-Billings, ahead of both of them in national polls, is 10th in the region.
The newfound respect came when BYUH coach Ken Wagner took his team on a trip through the California Collegiate Athletic Association to begin the season.
Before last year's split of the PacWest, Hawaii teams were required to go to the West Coast for conference games. Now, they only have to visit Montana and New Mexico.
But two of Hawaii's schools went to the West Coast anyway.
The Seasiders lost to No. 2 Humboldt State and No. 1 Cal State San Bernardino on the trip, but scored wins over UC Davis, Chico State and Metro State. For good measure, they invaded the other conference in the region, taking a pair of games from the Great Northwest's Alaska-Anchorage.
"I give those guys (BYUH) a lot of credit," Hawaii Pacific head coach Tony Sellitto said. "We always go on the road, they went on the road and they won. It always strengthens the conference to get a win in your region."
But it wasn't only BYUH that got the regional committee to notice the string of islands in the Pacific. Hawaii Pacific took a trip to the Great Northwest with a possible top 25 ranking on the line, handing St. Martin's a loss before falling to No. 3 Seattle Pacific.
"There is no secret to it," Sellitto said. "A win at home means nothing to me, you are expected to win at home, but if you win on the road, you are a man."
With all of the traveling done by Hawaii's teams, their conference has benefited most.
It's still early, but going into conference play the PacWest has accumulated a 7-3 record against the other two leagues, and has done it largely against the top teams.
The CCAA is 4-8 against the others while the Great Northwest has proven to be quite average with a 6-6 record.
And the PacWest has been taking care of business outside of the region, going 32-16 outside the conference. Subtract Hawaii's 2-9 record against Division I competition this year, and the Conference is 30-7.
The CCAA is 51-40 outside its conference, while the Great Northwest has struggled to a 37-46 record, but that includes six losses to Division I foes by the two Alaska programs.
"We are very happy with the ranking. It proves that the hard work we've been going through has paid off," Hawaii-Hilo coach Jeff Law said. "But we want to try to be there at the end."
Billings blazing: Montana State-Billings became the first team in the conference to get ranked in the NABC/Division II Bulletin Top 25 rankings.
The Yellowjackets, 7-0 and second in the nation in scoring, are ranked 21st but are behind three teams in the region, No. 6 Cal State San Bernardino, No. 12 Seattle Pacific and No. 14 Humboldt State.