Commentary: Why I voted Hawai’i No. 1 in this week’s media poll

Photo by Jonathan Bates

Jonathan Bates | Off the Block Associate Editor

[Editor’s note: Jonathan Bates was one of two voters to rank Hawai’i No. 1 on his ballot this week for the Off the Block National Media Poll. The following is a column providing insight into his decision process. The views and opinions of Bates do not necessarily represent those of Off the Block.]

Before I get started on why I selected Hawai’i as my No. 1 team on my ballot in this week’s Off the Block National Media Poll, let’s get one thing clear — we are splitting hairs here in trying to figure who is the No. 1 team in the nation. Let’s also recognize that polls are out there for entertainment, and who wins the championship match on May 4 ultimately matters most. For the record, I would not be surprised if Long Beach State repeated, nor would I be surprised if Hawai’i won it all.

This new national coaches poll came out Monday, and Long Beach State received all 16 first place votes — a feat they have done every week this season.

I would argue that the stigma of Hawai’i’s perceived soft-schedule still exists even after its convincing sweeps at No. 3/3 UC Irvine this weekend. Yes, the Rainbow Warriors have the advantage of playing seven for their first 10 matches at home, and only played a ranked opponent twice in those 10 matches (Stanford).

I will admit I was suspicious of Hawai’i as anyone else, but after seeing them in person on Saturday night, I am (mostly) sold. I say mostly because the Rainbow Warriors have not face a top flight serving team yet. Their biggest test in terms of serve reception will come against Pepperdine on Saturday night as part of the 2019 Outrigger Invitational.

What impressed me most about Hawai’i’s performance this past weekend was their ability to sideout. A sideout percentage north of 75 percent is really impressive. Hawai’i was siding-out at a 79 percent clip before the two UC Irvine matches, but actually improved to 80 percent afterwards. In the two matches, the Rainbow Warriors combined to side-out 72 times out of their 89 opportunities.

If you don’t put a lot of salt in the Rainbow Warriors’ ability to side-out versus UC Irvine, compare the Anteaters’ percentage. Before their match, the Anteaters were attacking at a .332 clip, which would tie for third best in the nation right now. In the two matches versus Hawai’i, UC Irvine attacked at a combined .170 rate. Additionally, the Eaters came into that match averaging 13.27 kills per game (which would be third-best in the nation), and they averaged 10.33 kills per game during the two matches.

If comparing undefeated Long Beach State and Hawai’i by common opponents, the sample size is two at this time — No. 11 USC and Concordia-Irvine.

The major difference between how these two teams defeated those MPSF opponents was that it took four games for Long Beach State to dispose of USC, while Hawai’i swept the Trojans. As for the matches against Concordia-Irvine, the Long Beach State needed overtime to dispose of the Eagles, while the Eagles were only able score 45 points for the match against the Rainbow Warriors. Lastly, Hawai’i was better than Long Beach State in attack percentage and opponent attack percentage against USC and Concordia-Irvine.

Comparing the team stats for the season also favor Hawai’i over Long Beach State.

The one statistic that Long Beach is ahead of Hawai’i is aces per game, where the 49ers are tops in the nation and the Rainbow Warriors are third. The statistics show that Hawai’i is considerably the better defensive team in terms of blocks per game and digs per game. And before you claim that Hawai’i has done their damage against inferior competition, consider the fact that the Rainbow Warriors’ schedule is ranked tougher (versus past opposition) than Long Beach State’s schedule. Hawai’i’s past opponents are a combined 105-75 (.583 winning percentage), while Long Beach’s past opponents are a combined 118-110 (.518 winning percentage).

Statistic Hawai’i Long Beach
Aces Per Game 3 1
Assists Per Game 1 7
Blocks Per Game 1 30
Digs Per Game 7 37
Attack Percentage 1 2
Kills Per Game 1 4
Opponent Attack Percentage 1 2
Strength of Schedule (vs. past opponents) 13 24

Statistics for matches through March 3

Should we just have these two teams play a best-of-seven series right now to decide the national championship? No, but April 12 when Long Beach State and Hawai’i meet on the final weekend of the regular season cannot come quick enough.