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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Tuesday, March 19, 2002

It's time Rainbows toughen schedule

By Ferd Lewis
Advertiser Staff Columnist

The University of Hawai'i men's basketball program raised the bar with its on-court success and now it is time to reflect it with an upgraded schedule.

That doesn't have to mean a suicidal plunge into a meat grinder. But with four starters returning from a 27-6 team, it does point to the need for a schedule whose strength can get the Rainbow Warriors to the NCAA Tournament if they don't win the Western Athletic Conference Tournament.

For as thrilling as the Rainbows' run of WAC Tournament titles has been, having to count on winning it each year in Tulsa or Fresno to get into the NCAA Tournament would be foolhardy. In the 19-year history of the conference tournament, nobody has managed a three-peat.

One of these days, the Rainbows will have to go the at-large route for the first time since 1972. And that means unless they can win 25 or more games every year, strength of schedule — a major component of the Ratings Percentage Index the selection committee considers — becomes paramount.

Ideally, WAC teams would upgrade their scheduling and help lift themselves and the conference to the point of easing at-large entries. But that doesn't appear likely to happen anytime soon in a conference where only UH and Rice did not play an opponent below Division I this season.

It is amusing each year to hear WAC coaches express shock and outrage at having just one or two teams in the NCAA Tournament yet watch them go out and fatten their schedules with twinkies again.

Does San Jose State really think it is helping anybody's cause with three games (Notre Dame de Namur, Vanguard and Nebraska-Omaha) against non-Division I teams and three more against competition ranked No. 317 or lower in Division I (Mount St. Mary's, Farleigh Dickinson and Sacramento State)? What good does Louisiana Tech do playing non-DI foes Harding and Arkansas-Monticello?

So, the Rainbows — along with Vince Goo and the Rainbow Wahine — will have to look out for themselves. Which means a schedule that can stand on its own and stand tall.

Just as football needs to wean its schedule of Eastern Illinois, Sacramento State, etc., with somebody along the lines of an Alabama or Colorado, the time is here for basketball to jettison a Mercer or Norfolk State in favor of a Kansas or Oregon.

Yes, it is getting tougher to schedule name opponents. And, as the Rainbows continue to win, marquee teams that used to come here without a return engagement will want home-and-home deals.

But when you have the kind of team the Rainbows are capable of these next few years, the situation demands a proactive approach to scheduling.