Lets start with what we know. They were picked in the preseason to finish 4th in the conference and ended up 5th. So I guess that's a check as a "fail" (though so few games separated #'s 2 through 6 in the conference, that this could easily have been the other way around. You know, had they actually won some of the games they were supposed to.) Overall, they shot 45% from the field, a number that screams "fail" yet again. But then when you look at the teams atop of the conference leaderboard, LBSU (who finished with the best conference record) shot 44.6% and UOP (who won the conference tournament) shot 45.3%, neither a significant margin better (or worse) than Hawaii did. So that's pretty much a wash. So why such a discrepancy in play? Why do I go into every big game with the sinking feeling that a faith-crushing loss is absolutely inevitable?
Digging deeper, you see that Hawaii, despite what their overall record and on-court play might suggest, are actually not statistically all that different from any of the other teams in the conference. Here are some of the more relevant metrics:
UH Turnovers per game: -80 (as against all opponents)
UH Steals per game: - 66 (as against all opponents)
UH Assist to Turnover: 1 – 1. Opponents are 1.2 - 1
UH Shooting Percentage: 45%
Shooting Percentage in games lost this season: Illinois – 40.9%, UNLV (road) – 33.9%, Pepperdine – 33.3%, Miami – 40%, Ole Miss – 39.3%, UCI (road) – 35.6%, LBSU (road) 48.3%, UCD – 43.3%, Cal Poly (road) 40%, UCD (road) 45.5%, Pacific – 44.6%, Cal Poly – 40.4%, CSU Northridge – 45.5%, UCI (Big West Tourney) – 34.9% UH's average shooting percentage in losses? 39%.
While it stands to reason that we would not shoot well in games that we lost, -6% is a fairly significant dip, especially considering that our normal average isn't lights out in the first place. My initial thought when breaking down the numbers was that Defense and turnovers were the primary difference in win differential. But that doesn't appear to be the case:
Total turnovers: UH – 447, LBSU – 472. Furthermore, LBSU shot 34% from three and 65% from the freethrow line, both numbers strikingly similar to UH.
6 of LBSU's 19 wins were by 10 points or more
7 of Hawaii's 17 wins were by 10 points or more.
9 of UOP's 21 wins were by 10points or more
5 of UH's 14 losses were blowouts (UH losing by more than 10) at the half
5 of 14 losses had UH leading at the half
3 of 14 losses were closer than 10 at the half. 2 of those 3 were closer than 5 points at the half.
A lot of this probably speaks to the fairly low quality of the Big West conference overall. No team (or group of teams) is "elite" there the way that Gonzaga and St. Mary's (WCC) and Butler (formerly of the A-10) have become. And yet, UH has become the ultimate "half full or half empty" team. They aren't good enough to get REALLY excited about nor are they bad enough to completely write off. On paper at least, they typically have enough talent to match up with anyone in the conference. They need, however, to get significantly more efficient on offense; right now even when they are scoring, they are working themselves to the bone to do it. That happens when most of your offense is completely reliant on one-on-one isolations. This might work on a team comprised of world-class athletes (like a Kentucky) but Hawaii is not there. You see this in particular with Christian Standhardinger, who is so painfully un-athletic that he can't score on anyone his size (though that doesn't necessarily stop him from trying to do so.) Of everyone on the team, only Fotu and Spearman seem to be capable of creating whenever they want. Everyone else is far better suited to spot up and play smart.
And so we return to our original inquiry. Success? Or not a success? And, despite some of my impulsive misgivings, I think the answer is still fairly clear. This season was a success. Why? Because next year I'm absolutely still going to believe. And as far as I'm concerned, it's only a failure when I don't want to go back.