Rainbows a team of contrasts


POSTED: Friday, January 02, 2009

The Hawaii men's basketball team has two resolutions entering the next phase of the 2008-09 season: emphasize its strengths and disguise its weaknesses.

A physical Rainbow Warriors squad (8-4) enters Western Athletic Conference play tomorrow against defending champion Boise State (9-3) with intimidating numbers in some areas but worrisome stats in others.

As the UH coaches surmised in the preseason, the Rainbows are loaded in the frontcourt. That's manifested itself with a solid rebounding margin of plus-8.1 per game. Since being outdone on the boards by San Francisco in their season-opening loss, the 'Bows have out-rebounded their opponents in every game.

They've also generated 32 percent of their offense at the free-throw line, compared to 20.1 percent last year.

Only one team in NCAA Division I (Wyoming) has knocked down more free throws than Hawaii. The Rainbows have made 267 out of 360 attempts—a WAC-best 74.2 percent clip.

Junior college transfer forward Roderick Flemings has been exactly what the Rainbows needed after losing four starters and nearly 80 percent of their scoring from last year. He's been the biggest reason for the up-tick in free throws (8.2 attempts per game) and for UH's top WAC position in offensive rebounding—he averages 3.25 of the team's 13.75 per contest.

On the flip side, UH has made only 39 3-pointers at a 27 percent rate, and opponents have often sat back in zone defenses, daring the Rainbows to shoot. Hawaii's 17.6 turnovers per game is also the worst in the WAC.

Coach Bob Nash realizes where his team's strengths lie, and will continue to press the issue inside.

“;We want to get the ball close to the basket where we can get some and-1s, get the opponent in a bit of foul difficulty,”; he said. “;I think that helped us in the last couple of games, because we got to the free-throw line early.”;

“;No misses in '09!”; video coordinator and former 'Bows guard Tes Whitlock repeatedly reminded the team during layup drills at practice yesterday.

Nearing that goal will be important as UH faces dangerous teams in BSU, Nevada (which has won at least a share of five straight regular-season titles) and Utah State.

USU leads the nation in field-goal percentage at just over 52 percent, a feat the Aggies achieved twice in the last four years under coach Stew Morrill.

“;We know each other a lot better in conference, how to guard each other and know personnel better,”; Nash said. “;Maybe we'll beat up on each other in conference a little bit better.”;

Even the lowest tier of the conference seems to have played up this year.

San Jose State is much improved, with all five starters returning, and last year's bottom-feeders, Louisiana Tech and Idaho, are competitive, both at 6-7. Winning in Moscow, Idaho, and Ruston, La., could be tougher than ever, as the two are a combined 9-1 at home.

A look at the WAC teams:

  Boise State (9-3)
Coach: Greg Graham (seventh year)

2007-08 finish: 12-4 ( tied for first), lost in first round of NCAA to Louisville 79-61

Names to know: Mark Sanchez (6-7, senior), Paul Noonan (6-7, sophomore)

Scouting the Broncos: BSU comes off its first WAC championship, a school record in wins (25) and first NCAA Tournament appearance since 1994. ... Broncos lost top two players, forwards Reggie Larry (19.4 ppg) and Matt Nelson (15.7), but are still among top WAC offensive teams behind Sanchez (15.7 ppg), who averaged just three points as a reserve last year. ... F Kurt Cunningham leads all Division I players in FG percentage at 78.7.

  Fresno State (7-7)
Coach: Steve Cleveland (fourth year)

2007-08 finish: 5-11, ( tied for sixth)

Names to know: Paul George (6-7, freshman), Dwight O'Neil (6-3, senior)

Scouting the Bulldogs: George is among conference leaders with 34 minutes per game and is the main reason Fresno is on pace to lead the WAC in 3-pointers made for the third straight year, making 30 of 60 long-range attempts. ... Bulldogs lead the WAC in blocks per game (4.79) behind Sylvester Seay's 22. ... O'Neil, the lone returning starter, is second in the WAC in total assists (74).

  Hawaii (8-4)
Coach: Bob Nash (second year)

2007-08 finish: 7-9 (fifth)

Names to know: Roderick Flemings (6-7, junior), Petras Balocka (6-8, junior), Bill Amis (6-9, junior)

Scouting the Rainbow Warriors: Flemings had an 11-game streak of double-figure scoring contests snapped with three points in the consolation championship of the Rainbow Classic, but still leads the WAC in scoring at 17.9 ppg. ... Flemings and Amis are only two players to start every game, with nine starting at least once. ... Rainbows have played just one road game, a 68-58 loss at Illinois. ... After losing first two games, UH has won eight of 10. ... Plus-8.1 rebounding margin is second-best in WAC, but 39 3-pointers made is last in WAC and near bottom of all D-I teams.

  Idaho (6-7)
Coach: Don Verlin (first year)

2007-08 finish: 5-11 (tied for sixth)

Names to know: Mac Hopson (6-2, junior)

Scouting the Vandals: Idaho is just 7-41 in WAC games over three years, with five of those wins coming last year. ... Vandals' OT win at Hawaii last year was first WAC road victory to date. ... Hopson, a transfer from Washington State, averages 16.3 points, WAC-best 5.9 assists, and shoots 46.2 percent on 3-pointers. ... Vandals are 5-1 at the Cowan Spectrum, 1-6 on the road. ... Verlin is only newcomer among WAC coaches. ... Respectable 43.2 percent shooting allowed is surprisingly last in conference.

  Louisiana Tech (6-7)
Coach: Kerry Rupp (second year)

2007-08 finish: 3-13 (ninth)

Names to know: Kyle Gibson, (6-5, junior), Jamel Guyton (6-3, junior)

Scouting the Bulldogs: Tech is unbeaten at home (4-0) and has four players averaging double figures behind preseason All-WAC pick Gibson (16.1 ppg, 42.9 3-point percentage, 36.0 minutes per game). ... LaTech is last in WAC scoring at 63.6 ppg and lacks ball movement (WAC-worst 10.38 assists per game), but trails only Hawaii in offensive rebounding (12 per game). ... NBA legend Karl Malone, a Bulldogs alum, is an assistant strength and conditioning coach. ... LaTech has two postseason appearances (both NIT) in the last 16 years.

  Nevada (7-6)
Coach: Mark Fox (fifth year)

2007-08 finish: 12-4 (tied for first), CBI, lost to Houston 80-79

Names to know: Luke Babbitt (6-9, freshman), Armon Johnson (6-3, sophomore)

Scouting the Wolf Pack: Behind Nevada native Babbitt, Nevada's recruiting class was rated 26th by He's delivered with 15.5 points and 7.2 rebounds per game. ... Pack have six straight postseason appearances to go along with five straight regular-season WAC titles. ... Tops in WAC turnover margin at more than plus-3 per game. ... Physical forward Dario Hunt has 22 blocked shots and 41 personal fouls. ... Fox's team comes off 84-61 loss to top-ranked North Carolina in Reno.

  New Mexico State (6-7)
Coach: Marvin Menzies (second year)

2007-08 finish: 12-4 (tied for first)

Names to know: Jahmar Young (6-4, sophomore), Jonathan Gibson (6-2, junior)

Scouting the Aggies: Winless on the road in six games, but two losses were at No. 20 USC and defending national champion No. 25 Kansas. ... Young has impacted as a freshman with 17.2 points and 29 3-pointers made. ... Potent Aggies average WAC-best 78.7 points. ... NMSU sizzles on 3-pointers with a team mark of 40.7 percent. ... Tops in WAC steals at 7.62 per game.

  San Jose State (6-4)
Coach: George Nessman (fourth year)

2007-08 finish: 4-12 (eighth)

Names to know: Adrian Oliver (6-4, sophomore), Tim Pierce (6-7, senior)

Scouting the Spartans: Opponents held to WAC-best 39 percent shooting. ... All five starters averaged double figures last year and returned, but Washington transfer Oliver has been the key player since gaining eligibility after the fall 2008 semester. He's averaged 20 points in four games, in which Spartans are 3-1. ... Pierce raised his game from 11.2 points and 3.7 rebounds last year to 17.6 points and 6.9 rebounds this season. ... SJSU hasn't won a WAC opener since the 1998-99 season.

  Utah State (12-1)
Coach: Stew Morrill

2007-08 finish: 12-4 (tied for first), NIT, lost to Illinois State 61-57

Names to know: Gary Wilkinson (6-9, senior), Tai Wesley (6-7, sophomore), Jared Quayle (6-1, junior)

Scouting the Aggies: Departed WAC player of the year Jaycee Carroll left as top scorer in USU history. ... Aggies are on a seven-game winning streak after only loss to BYU, and got a vote in this week's ESPN/USA Today poll, the first WAC team to receive recognition in either that or the AP Top 25 all season. ... USU has gone to the postseason for nine straight seasons, but only win was in 2001 NCAA. ... USU averages WAC-best 1.62 assist-to-turnover ratio, with just 10.7 turnovers per game. ... scoring margin (plus 15.1) and rebounding margin (plus 9.6) are best in conference.