Halfway through this excellent season the Hawaii Rainbow Warriors were building, they received word they would be banned from the postseason for the 2016-17 season. For Hawaii upperclassmen, it was a seismic shift. For many, this would be their last chance to play in the NCAA tournament and lacking the résumé for an at-large selection, they knew they would need to win the Big West Conference tournament to get in. The Rainbow Warriors did just that, topping Long Beach State for the conference's automatic bid. Can they turn the Big Dance into a hula and ride a wave deep into March?
ESPN Insider has your answers, as Joe Lunardi has enlisted a team of Bracketologists to compile advanced metrics, key scouting intel and best- and worst-case tournament scenarios for all 68 teams to help you make smart picks in your bracket.
Best wins: Nevada, Northern Iowa, Auburn, at UC Irvine
Worst loss: UC Riverside
Regular season conference finish: 1st, Big West
Polls and metrics: Hawaii sits at 80 in RPI, due in part to their odd circumstances. RPI favors road wins over home, but because of their location, Hawaii only left the islands once in nonconference play. They rank higher in other metrics -- 61 in KenPom and 68 in BPI.
All-time tourney record: 0-4 (four appearances)
Coach (tourney record): Eran Ganot (0-0)
(Note: Player statistics are through games of March 6.)
F Stefan Jankovic (15.7 PPG, 6.6 RPG)
F Mike Thomas (7.5 PPG, 5.3 RPG)
G Aaron Valdes (14.7 PPG, 5.5 RPG, 2.5 APG)
G Quincy Smith (7.7 PPG, 3.2 RPG, 1.7 SPG)
G Roderick Bobbitt (13.3 PPG, 5.5 RPG, 2.2 SPG)
Key bench players
Biggest strength: Hawaii loves to knife into the lane, getting easy buckets or earning their way to the foul line. Hawaii's guards are excellent at finding gaps in opposing defenses and using pick-and-roll or pick-and-pop action to create scoring opportunities for the 'Bows.
Biggest weakness: The Rainbow Warriors take a lot of 3-pointers, but don't shoot a high percentage. Hawaii shot only 32.8 percent from beyond the arc, but attempted a Big West-leading 41.2 percent of their field goals from outside. Hawaii has issues when they settle for jump shots, rather than sticking with their game and looking to score inside.
Best player: Jankovic was named Big West Player of the Year, and for good reason. He is a stretch-4 capable of scoring from outside and on the block. He scores from all over the floor, finishing third in the Big West in effective field goal and true shooting percentages. Just don't confuse him with backup center Jovanovic, who is merely a role player.
X factor: Bobbitt is a lightning-quick point guard who gives defenses headaches in the pick-and-roll game. Hawaii loves to screen for Bobbitt or get him the ball off of a handoff, getting him into the lane to make plays for himself and for teammates. He scored more than 30 points three times this season (including against Oklahoma), while also posting the second-best assist rate in the Big West.
Offensive approach: The 'Bows run everything through a pick-and-roll, pick-and-pop, or dribble-handoff. This frees up the Hawaii guards to attack holes in defenses and finish at the rim or dish to open teammates. It allows the Hawaii frontline, like Jankovic, to find separation and knock down open looks or get to the basket for an easy one.
Defensive approach: Hawaii plays man-to-man for the most part, with its quick backcourt able to cause some havoc. Smith and Bobbitt finished second and third, respectively, in the Big West in steal percentage. Valdes is a lockdown defender with the athletic ability to be able to cover three different positions.
How they beat you: When Hawaii's offense is working properly, it can be a beautiful thing to watch. Two-man games between Bobbitt, Valdes, or Smith and Jankovic push defenses into difficult decisions. Cutting off the guard from the paint leaves defenses susceptible to a Jankovic popout or post touch. The more in rhythm the Warriors offense gets, the more they find open shots and put defenses on their heels.
How you beat them: When Hawaii has the ball, it is crucial to make them settle for jump shots on the perimeter. With so much of their offense pointed at getting into the paint and finding points from penetration, cutting off that penetration hampers the Rainbow Warriors. Defensive communication and game planning can force Hawaii into taking shots it is less equipped to make.
WHAT THE NUMBERS SAY
(Note: All statistics in this section are courtesy of kenpom.com and are accurate through games of March 6.)
Offensive efficiency, 110th (106.8)
Defensive efficiency, 61st (97.8)
3-point percentage, 271st (32.4)
3-point percentage D, 61st (32.3)
Free throw rate, 8th (46.2)
Free throw rate D, 256th (40.4)
TO percentage, 192nd (18.4)
TO percentage D, 63rd (20.1)
Good stat: 46.2 free throw rate
All the penetration and slashing Hawaii looks to set up leads to a ton of free throws. Hawaii's aggressiveness with the ball gets it into the bonus early in each half and has it shooting more and more free throws. Not only does this mean Hawaii lives at the line, but it puts its opponents into foul trouble.
Bad stat: 32.4 percent 3-point shooting
Outside shooting could hold Hawaii back from being a truly dangerous tournament team. No Rainbow Warrior made more than 55 shots from outside the arc this season, with Jankovic being the only starter above 35 percent from outside. Hawaii's ability to get into the paint becomes much more potent when defenders have to respect the outside shot, but they haven't had to much this year.
HOW FAR WILL THEY GO?
Best-case scenario: A second flight back to the mainland for the Sweet 16
The Rainbow Warriors' only shot at a top team this year came in December, when Oklahoma visited the islands. Hawaii stayed close, leading in the second half, and only losing by three. Now they'll get another chance, and knowing the postseason ban is coming next season, could take advantage and win more than once this March.
Worst-case scenario: A quick loss sends Hawaii home
Hawaii's inability to shoot the outside shot puts it behind the eight ball in trying to pull off an upset. If the Rainbow Warriors fall behind early, they lack the offensive pop to make a run. This leaves them relying on aggressive defense from Bobbitt and Smith, which could backfire and leave them in an even deeper hole.