Seeing At Least 20 Wins For UH

Granted, they haven’t played anyone of note beyond a now ranked Illinois, but there is something about this year’s Rainbow Warriors basketball team.

Clearly, much of the optimism for Gib Arnold’s third season comes from the move to a mediocre basketball conference. A year ago, Big West teams went a combined 133-148. This year UH was picked to finish fourth in the conference, even though it entered the season with only two returning players who made any meaningful contribution, center Vander Joaquim and guard Hauns Brereton.

Let’s put it on record: UH will win 20-23 games. I admit the prediction is a bit wishy-washy without a definite number above .500, but UH hasn’t posted a 20-win season since 2003-2004, when it won 21 and played three games in the post-season NIT. All they need to do is fix some major on-court issues and they’ll have a good shot at going dancing, somewhere.

UH will only go as far as Joaquim takes them. That’s not a criticism. His experience with the Angola National Team has paid off, and the 6-10 center has nearly a complete game, though his passing from the post still needs work. The Big West is a guard/forward-dominated league, so teams will be challenged to match Hawaii’s interior size and versatility.

The addition of forwards Christian Standhardinger and freshman Isaac Fotu, who is already one of the team’s best passers and rebounders, adds to the matchup problems for the rest of the league.

Against Illinois and North Dakota, UH showed its weakness against quick guards with shooting range. This could be quite problematic for UH going forward. It is mostly a teaching problem, one that was exacerbated by the influx of so many new players. Brereton is steady but unspectacular, is best coming off screens.

Brandon Spearman is not a worry, though like all UH ball-handlers he needs to cut down on his turnovers. He is the second leading scorer on the team with 15.2 per, and is the team’s best at creating his own shots and getting to the rim against man coverage.

Of the typical starting five, point guard Jace Tavita has the biggest challenge. After five games he has 40 assists – impressive – and 22 turnovers – which is not. Most critical is Tavita’s miserable free-throw shooting (.143), which, even with plenty of work, is not likely to top 40 percent. Expect a lot of pressure on Tavita by conference opponents and for the Utah transfer to see a lot of bench time in the closing minutes of tight ball games. This could speed the development of freshman guard Manroop Clair and more playing time for Garrett Jefferson, as Arnold looks to identify the eight guys he needs to take advantage of his hurry-up offense.

Maybe it is the early season optimism or the tryptophan-dipped turkey that has me hopeful. Or maybe it’s a team in need of polish but with a lot of upside.

Either way, it should be entertaining.

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