Wait is over for Rainbow Warriors
Hawaii believes it can do enough of the little things to open with a win over Michigan State
In the long term, the Michigan State Spartans are shooting for a repeat trip to the Final Four.
Hawaii vs. No. 4 Michigan State
When: Saturday, 1:05 p.m.
Where: Stan Sheriff Center
TV: KFVE (Ch. 5), live
Radio: KKEA (1420-AM), live
Tickets: $25 (lower-single seats only), $20 (upper level-adult), $5 (upper-students), $3 (upper-UH students), $5 (Super Rooter/Manoa Maniacs)
Promotions: "White-out" game. First 8,000 fans receive a free megaphone
In the shorter view, they're gearing up for a tough week at the EA Sports Maui Invitational.
But MSU coach Tom Izzo is making sure neither of the above distracts his players from today's season opener against Hawaii.
"They're well aware that Hawaii is a good team," Izzo said. "We've seen them on film from last year, we know what they've got coming back and we know a couple of the guys they've added.
"Not a lot of people win out there, because it's a tough place to play and I'm sure the place will be packed. I have great respect for them and our players do, too."
Izzo leads No. 4 Michigan State into the Stan Sheriff Center today to face the Rainbow Warriors at 1:05 p.m. The teams agreed to the early start to accommodate the Spartans' travel plans to Maui.
The Spartans are the highest-ranked team to play UH since the Rainbows defeated No. 2 Kansas in the 1997 Rainbow Classic.
MSU arrived in Honolulu on Thursday, bringing with it high expectations for the new season.
Michigan State has played in four of the last seven Final Fours and is ranked No. 1 by The Sporting News this preseason. The Spartans' backcourt has been rated by some as the best in the country and their center posted four double-doubles in last season's NCAA Tournament.
But just as the Spartans aren't looking past UH, the Rainbows vow not to be awed by MSU's reputation.
"Michigan State is a good team, but we're not intimidated," UH forward Julian Sensley said. "They're human just like we are. They're going to come out aggressive, we just have to match that."
Diving into the season against a highly ranked opponent seems to be a trend in the UH athletic department this fall.
The Warrior football team began its season by taking on defending national champion and top-ranked Southern Cal, and the Rainbow Wahine volleyball team opened with No. 1 Nebraska in Omaha.
For the basketball team to pull off an upset in its opener, the 'Bows will have to contain a Spartans lineup blessed with size and athletic ability.
Guards Maurice Ager (6-foot-5) and Shannon Brown (6-4) lead a group of four returning starters. Ager averaged 14.1 points last year while Brown posted 10.9.
Sophomore point guard Drew Neitzel (6-0) is also back to run MSU's up-tempo attack. Center Paul Davis (6-11) averaged 15.8 points and 12.3 rebounds in NCAA Tournament wins over Vermont, Duke and Kentucky and a loss to eventual national champion North Carolina.
"Because of their size, quickness and athleticism, it'll be a challenge, but we've got different guys we'll throw at them," UH coach Riley Wallace said. "We're not a small bunch ourselves. Now we have to be able to D-up and cover."
Despite the weapons that return, Izzo enters the season concerned over a lack of experienced depth behind the starting lineup.
"We've got a good team, the potential to be a top-10 team. I'm not sure we're there yet just looking at the number of freshmen we're going to have to play some," he said. "That's the area we're working on, trying to make freshmen become sophomores in the next couple weeks."
With the amount of talent Michigan State can put on the court, the Rainbows know their hopes will depend largely on taking care of the details that don't show up on the stat sheet.
"What's going to keep us in the game is how smart we are and how well we play together and how we handle the pressure of playing with athletes like that," said UH guard Matt Gibson, the Rainbows' leading scorer last season.
"If we get down and do all the little things -- dive for loose balls, block out, set hard screens -- then we'll stay close. We just have to find a group of guys to go do the dirty work."
The Rainbows blew out UH-Hilo last week in their lone exhibition game and figure to start a lineup of guards Deonte Tatum and Matt Lojeski and forwards Sensley, Matthew Gipson and Ahmet Gueye.
Gibson and Bobby Nash can give the Rainbows scoring and experience off the bench while center Chris Botez started most of last season.
With the preseason behind them, the Rainbows are anxious to start the season and to face a nationally ranked opponent.
And they aren't counting on catching the Spartans looking ahead.
"(Izzo's) too good a coach to allow that," Wallace said. "He knows Hawaii's reputation at home. He's not the kind of guy who's going to let them let up."