The Rainbow Warriors from Hawaii needed just four seasons to win the Big West Championship, and punched the school's first NCAA Tournament appearance since 2002, and fifth in school history. A record of zero victories and four losses to this point is something that Coach Eran Ganot will be looking to change. It may be some Big West bias, as last season, I had UC Irvine upsetting Lousiville, and it nearly occurred, as the Anteaters lost by two to Rick Pitino's side.
For the Cal Golden Bears, this is their first appearance since 2013 when Mike Montgomery was at the helms, and Cuonzo Martin's debut in the Big Dance. The school's 19th appearance in the Big Dance with an all time record of 20-18, the Bears will be looking for their second title, the first coming way back in 1959, and their third appearance as they lost in 1960 to the Ohio State Buckeyes.
Similar to the Irvine-Louisville match-up, this has the feels of a David & Goliath meeting, though, not as many fans will be giving the Rainbow Warriors a chance, at least compared to what the Anteaters received last season. And for good reason.
Cal finished the season ranked #24, went 23-10 and bowed out to the Utes of Utah by four, in overtime, during the Pac-12 semi finals. Though the Bears non-conference schedule left a lot to be desired, as they only faced one ranked opponent (then #5 Virginia, 63-62 OT loss), they stepped it up in conference play, including a 20 point thumping over Oregon, the Pac-12 champs and #1 seed.
Stumbles against San Diego State and Richmond bode well for the Rainbow Warriors, and needing overtime to defeat the Wyoming Cowboys also hurt the Bears, early on in the year.
Talent is one thing not lacking by Cal, Jaylen Brown and Ivan Rabb are both considered to be lottery picks, with Brown mocked as high as the third overall, while Tyrone Wallace is projected to be a late first round selection. The Warriors will need to make things hard for Wallace while boxing out Rabb.
Looking at Hawaii's non-conference slate shows that the Warriors can play with bigger conferences, as they defeated Nevada and Auburn, granted, neither made the Big Dance. They dropped a game against the Texas Tech Red Raiders by 8, and a three point decision against the Oklahoma Sooners.
Led by a pair of Juniors in Stefan Jankovic and Aaron Wallace, while Roderick Bobbit, Senior, handles the rock, Hawaii has all the necessary pieces to pull an upset, they just need to keep the Bears off the glass and hit their open looks.