In its second season in the Big West, the Hawaii men’s basketball team sits in first place entering conference play with a record of 11-3, and is one of the front-runners to take the top seed in the Big West Tournament after placing fifth last year.
Hawaii rode a five-game winning streak through the end of November and early December, following it up with a 2-1 record in the Hawaiian Airlines Diamond Head Classic. Hawaii has won its last four contests, including clutch wins against Saint Mary’s (76-74) and Oregon State (79-73).
If Hawaii keeps a hold on the Big West and wins the conference tournament this year, it will be their first appearance in the NCAA tournament since 2002. The Rainbow Warriors have never gotten out of the first round in Nationals.
This season, the Rainbow Warriors return star forward Christian Standhardinger. The 6’ 8” senior from Munich, Germany transferred to Hawaii two years ago and has been their leading scorer ever since. So far in 2013-2014, Stanhardinger has averaged 17.8 points per game, good for second in the Big West behind only Alan Williams of Santa Barbara.
In addition to his scoring prowess, he makes an impact on the defensive end with over a block and a steal every game to go with his 7.4 rebound average. Stanhardinger was First Team All-Conference last season and was also named to the preseason All-Conference team this season.
Hawaii is not a one man show however, as they also bring two more scorers in the Big West’s top-12. Garrett Nevels, a 6’2” junior guard, is averaging 13.6 points per game to go with a 2.3 assist to turnover ratio, good for seventh in conference. Nevels can score in a variety of ways, but is a long-distance specialist with the second-best three point shooting percentage in the conference at 50.9 percent.
After a great freshman season, 6’8” sophomore forward Isaac Fotu also returns to the Warriors. This season, he has averaged 13.5 points per game on 58.5 percent shooting, good for sixth in conference.
Fotu is also seventh in the Big West in blocks, securing his status as a dominant defensive force in the paint. Last season, Fotu was named Big West Co-Freshman of the Year.
Brandon Spearman rounds out Hawaii’s big four. The 6’3” senior guard averaged 14.3 points per game in Hawaii’s big wins against Oregon State and Saint Mary’s, and put up 17 in a tough one-point loss to Boise State.
Spearman can score from anywhere on the floor and is averaging 11.0 points per game, even after a shaky start to the season. He was named to the All-Tournament team in the Diamond Head Classic for which he also garnered Big West Player of the Week.
If Hawaii can get all four of their stars rolling at any time, it will be tough for the rest of the Big West to dethrone them from the top spot in the standings.
Hawaii begins Big West play tomorrow when the Warriors travel to San Luis Obispo to take on the Cal Poly Mustangs.
A version of this article appeared in page 9 of January 8, 2013’s print edition of The Daily Nexus.