The University of Hawaii men’s basketball team is the newest member of the Big West Conference and is taking no time to establish itself as a contender.
The newcomers were picked to finish fourth by the preseason media poll in October with Long Beach State atop the list. To this point, the Rainbow Warriors are 9-5 and boast a 3-0 Big West record, which ties them for first place.
“We have been pretty fortunate. Our first two games we have done some things really well and have not done some things well,” Associate Coach Benjy Taylor said. “We just have to keep improving. We are pretty young in some positions so we just need to keep rebounding the ball well.”
Last year, Hawaii finished 16-16 and 6-8 in the Western Athletic Conference under the guidance of Head Coach Gib Arnold. On the court, senior center Vander Joaquim guided the team with his outstanding play. The 6’10” transfer from Eastern Utah earned all-WAC first team and defensive team honors in his second season with Hawaii. Now entering his final season, Joaquim is coming off an MCL injury and continues his superb output.
“Ever since he came back from his injury he has been playing well,” Taylor said. “He is receiving a lot of attention and double teams. Teams continue to be very physical against him and he will have to continue to keep patient and pick his spots to be aggressive. He has a chance to be very productive in this conference.”
In the early goings of the year, Joaquim averages 14.6 points per game, good for tenth in the Big West, and is third in rebounding, averaging 8.6 boards per game. Standing out along with Joaquim is junior forward Christian Standhardinger. The 6’8” German native is seventh in the conference in scoring (15.6 points per game), fifth in rebounds (7.8 per game) and tenth in steals (1.3 per game).
Hawaii is also one of the younger teams in the conference, as the squad fields seven freshmen. However, the young players are playing well. Freshman forward Isaac Fotu tops the Big West with a .648 field goal percentage and a 7.4 rebound average per game, good for sixth.
“Fotu and Standhardinger have been playing very well for us. They are putting up big numbers and are having big seasons for us,” Taylor said. “We are looking forward to them to continue to do that and continue to improve. As you well know, this conference has been a tight race. We have played two games that have gone down to the wire so we need all hands on deck and our freshmen have started playing a lot better and that is really going to help us.”
After a meager start to the preseason, Hawaii has really picked it up in conference play. The Rainbow Warriors have now won three straight home conference games to remain tied with Cal Poly as the only undefeated teams in the conference. However, Hawaii has had a fortunate schedule so far, as they have played 12 of their 14 games at home.
Tonight at 8 p.m., Hawaii will take on UC Irvine for their first road conference game on national television.
A version of this article appeared on page 8 of January 9th, 2013’s print edition of the Nexus.