Tiny Dancers: Hawaii punches ticket to Big Dance after winning Big West

This year’s NCAA Tournament will have a heavy dose of programs who are making their grand returns to the Big Dance after a decade or more away.

Hawaii is in that group.

While you were sleeping and the clocks were jumpin’ ahead an hour overnight, the Rainbow Warriors defeated Long Beach State in the Big West final to move on to their first tournament since 2002.

Hawaii hasn’t been this relevant since LOST was on the air.

The Rainbow Warriors got sweet revenge after being swept in the regular season by LBSU. Hawaii overcame 16 turnovers and 5-of-17 3-point shooting to win 64-60. Congrats to Eran Ganot, who has done a masterful job in his first season with the program. Imagine if Hawaii becomes a power in the Big West. Would be an interesting twist for college hoops. That’s a great job, but a really tough one at the same time.

Player to know: Stefan Jankovic. A 6-foot-11 powerhouse of a forward. He averages 16 points and nearly seven rebounds — and still can get so much better. The junior is capable of scoring 25 or grabbing 15 rebounds. Just depends on the night. Hawaii will need him at his best if this team is going to pull off an upset. And you know what? This team absolutely can. It has one of the best winning percentages this season of any team in the field.

The Vitals:

  • Record: 27-5 overall, 13-3 in the Big West (No. 1 seed)
  • Most recent tournament appearance: 2002 (Lost 70-58 to No. 7 Xavier as a 10 seed in the Round of 64)
  • Jerry Palm predicts: 13 seed
  • RPI: 87
  • KenPom Ranking: 62
  • Sagarin Ranking: 71
  • Best wins: at UC Santa Barbara, at UC Irvine
  • Worst losses: vs. Long Beach State (2x), vs. UC Riverside
  • Notable stat: 5. That’s how many coaches the Hawaii program has had in the past decade. But Eran Ganot can be the guy to get this team to remain at the top of the Big West. Hawaii hasn’t been ranked this high in the metrics since that ’02 tournament run. This was a program set back by NCAA probation and sanctions only a couple of years ago. What a quick return. And this is a good team!

Closing quip: Hawaii should be afforded a day off by the selection committee. Taking into account how the clocks jumped ahead this weekend, and the fact Hawaii will hurry home on Sunday to watch the Selection Show at 12:30 local time, it shouldn’t be put into a pod that will have Thursday games. Give Hawaii a late tip on a Friday and afford those players a break. We’ll see what the committee winds up doing, but this is something it should consider, even though Hawaii is not a protected seed.

This is just the fifth berth in program history. It has yet to win an NCAA Tournament game. If you want a nice sleeper pick, you could do a lot worse than UH. It’s unlikely this team becomes a chic upset choice in the first round, yet it’s got the size, speed and defense to give a lot of No. 4 or No. 5 seeds problems.

This is Stefan Jankovic. He’s going to be a problem in the first round. (USATSI)

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