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Christmas week is Classic week for Warriors

Christmas time means tourney time for the Hawaii basketball team.

The third annual Hawaiian Airlines Diamond Head Classic is set for December 22, 23 and 25 at the Stan Sheriff Center, and the Warriors will serve as the host for the eight-team tournament.

“Seeing all these teams and coaches come through here, it’s a lot of fun,” Hawaii head coach Gib Arnold said. “I think it’s a great tournament.”

The tournament will feature 12 games over three days, and 11 of the 12 games will be televised nationally on ESPN2 or ESPNU.

Hawaii will face Auburn at 8 p.m. on the opening night of the tournament on Thursday. The Warriors are 5-4 and on a modest three-game winning streak.

The Tigers are 7-1, although all seven of those wins have been at home, and six of those wins have come against teams with losing records.

“They’re very quick and athletic, like a lot of SEC teams,” Arnold said. “They’re going to show you all kinds of different defenses … they’re a very good team. They’re 7-1 and playing really well and they’re well-coached. We’re going to have to give an unbelievable effort if we want a chance to beat them.”

The Warriors are coming off a pair of victories on the Neighbor Islands, but Auburn will likely be their toughest test since facing nationally-ranked Gonzaga a month ago in Canada.

Despite being in a recent shooting slump, senior guard Zane Johnson continues to lead the Warriors in scoring with 14.1 points per game. He went 2 for 13 from 3-point range in Hawaii’s last two games, but he has made up for it at the free throw line, where he has not missed in the last four games (21 for 21). He currently ranks seventh in the nation with a .929 free throw percentage.

Freshman point guard Shaquille Stokes scored a total of 40 points in the two wins on the Neighbor Islands, and is averaging 12.3 points per game. Junior center Vander Joaquim was named the WAC Player of the Week on Monday, and is averaging 11.6 points and 9.8 rebounds per game.

There is only one ranked team in this year’s Diamond Head Classic field – Xavier is at No. 14 this week after spending two weeks in the top 10 earlier this season. Kansas State and Long Beach State are also in the field, and have been receiving Top 25 votes throughout the season.

Xavier will face Long Beach State in a first-round game at 6 p.m. on Thursday. Hawaii will play one of those teams on Friday.

“It is a cliché, but you take it one game at a time,” Arnold said. “Right now we’re preparing for Auburn.”

Here is a brief look at the other seven teams in the field:

Auburn (7-1): All seven of the Tigers’ wins have been at home, and their lone loss was on road at Seton Hall. Top players–Frankie Sullivan (6-1, 206, Jr.) 13.1 points and 5.0 rebounds per game; Rob Chubb (6-10, 242, Jr.) 11.4 points and 5.5 rebounds per game; Kenny Gabriel (6-8, 209, Sr.), 10.9 points, 8.8 rebounds and 3.0 blocked shots per game.

Clemson (6-4): The Tigers are one of top defensive teams in the country, allowing 53.6 points per game, while limiting opponents to a .311 field goal percentage. Top players–Andre Young (5-9, 170, Sr) 13.7 points per game; Devin Booker (6-8, 245, Jr.) 9.9 points and 7.0 rebounds per game.

Kansas State (7-1): The Wildcats’ only loss was in double overtime to West Virginia. They are coming off a victory over then-No. 23 Alabama, 71-58. Top players–Thomas Gipson (6-7, 275, Fr.) 12.6 points and 7.6 rebounds per game; Jamar Samuels (6-7, 230, Sr.) 12.2 points and 6.5 rebounds per game; Will Spradling (6-2, 180, So.) 12.0 points per game.

Long Beach State (5-5): The 49ers are ranked No. 1 in the country in strength of schedule, as they have already played road games at Pitt, Louisville, Kansas and North Carolina. They upset Pitt, 86-76, when the Panthers were ranked No. 9. Top players–Casper Ware (5-10, 175, Sr.) 17.5 points per game; Larry Anderson (6-5, 210, Sr.) 15.1 points per game; T.J. Robinson (6-8, 205, Sr.) 13.1 points and 10.6 rebounds per game.

Southern Illinois (3-5): The Salukis started the season 1-5, but have won two straight since two key players returned. Both players (Kendal Brown-Surles and Davante Drinkard) were sitting out for academic reasons. Top players–Mamadou Seck (6-7, 220, Sr.) 13.6 points and 8.5 rebounds per game; Kendal Brown-Surles (5-10, 170, Jr.) 10.5 points per game.

UTEP (4-5): Miners’ head coach Tim Floyd was the head coach at USC when Gib Arnold was an assistant coach there from 2005-09. Top players–Gabriel McCulley (6-7, 225, Sr.) 12.8 points and 5.4 rebounds per game and .658 field goal percentage; Julian Washburn (6-7, 205, Fr.) 11.3 points per game.

Xavier (8-1): The Musketeers have participated in the NCAA Tournament in each of the previous six seasons, including an Elite Eight appearance in 2008, and Sweet 16 appearances in 2009 and 2010. Three starters were suspended recently after a bench-clearing fight following a game against Cincinnati, but two of them will play in the Classic. Top players–Tu Holloway (6-0, 190, Sr.) 17.6 points and 4.9 assists per game, third-team All-America last season; Mark Lyons (6-1, 188, Jr.) 17.4 points per game.

SCHEDULE
Thursday, December 22

9:30 a.m. – UTEP vs. Clemson
11:30 a.m. – Kansas State vs. Southern Illinois
6 p.m. – Long Beach State vs. Xavier
8 p.m. – Auburn vs. Hawaii

Friday, December 23
10 a.m. – UTEP/Clemson loser vs. Kansas State/Southern Illinois loser
Noon – UTEP/Clemson winner vs. Kansas State/Southern Illinois winner
6 p.m. – Long Beach State/Xavier winner vs. Auburn/Hawaii winner
8:30 p.m. – Long Beach State/Xavier loser vs. Auburn/Hawaii loser

Sunday, December 25
9 a.m. – Consolation game
11:30 a.m. – TBA
2:30 p.m. – TBA
4:30 p.m. – Championship game

5 Comments

  1. congrats for the academic final successes.
    now is the physical final time.

    you worked hard on all of those practices,
    let’s go with concentration & control for the performances!?

    you are winners,
    Hawaii are proud of you.

  2. Thanks for the breakdown on the teams in this year’s Classic! Looks like UH has a pretty tough draw. Great field this year.

  3. ripcurrent,

    Thank you for the support. I saw your comment in the previous post. This is about as “in depth” as it will get in terms of a tournament preview on this site. Unfortunately, I don’t have the same time and resources now as I did as a full-time reporter back in the day.

    As for the tournament itself, our coverage will focus on the Hawaii games, although we’ll have brief recaps of the other games either in the comments section or posted in the Insider Forum.

    Thanks again.

  4. Dayton,

    That’s plenty of depth for me, thank you! I know a lot more about the other teams now than I did yesterday.

    I think if Hawaii can win two games in this tournament, that’ll be quite an accomplishment, especially with the bracket they’re in.

    I hope coach Arnold’s got a few tricks up his sleeve to spring on some of these teams. I thought the 1-3-1 trap he busted out against Utah State at home last year took them by surprise and threw them off their game enough for Hawaii to nearly upset them. If Ostrowski had just made that 3 at the end of the 2nd overtime…

    Looking forward to your reports.

  5. There’s some good teams in this tournament. Hawaii’s gonna need they’re A game tomorrow night. Go Warriors!

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