Although the Warriors’ 74-70 victory over Pittsburgh on Friday was not the biggest upset of the weekend – that distinction went elsewhere – it was certainly among the most surprising, even if virtually no one could watch it. Few programs have had the rug pulled out from under it quite like Hawaii has to start 2014-15, with an ongoing NCAA investigation leading to the firing of its head coach and the departure of its best player, each within three weeks of the team’s season opener. To make matters worse, would-be contributor Sammis Reyes – a Chilean freshman who initially left the program amid coach Gib Arnold’s firing – was forced to redshirt after breaking his hand last Tuesday. And yet, despite all the attrition and adversity and general weirdness, interim head man Benjy Taylor and his guard-heavy lineup managed to gash the Panthers for 1.3 points per possession on Friday night and topple an ACC opponent for the first time since 2012. Could it be the prelude to a season-long rally? Maybe, maybe not. But either way, considering everything Hawaii has been through over the past month, it is one impressive victory.
On October 23, Hawaii was picked fifth in the Big West preseason poll and forward Isaac Fotu (14.9 PPG and 6.1 RPG in 2013-14) was made an All-Conference selection; five days later, the university announced that Arnold and assistant coach Brandyn Akana had been relieved of their coaching duties. Expectations were not necessarily high coming into the season – top scorer Christian Standhardinger had graduated and point guard Keith Shamburger had transferred to Missouri – but the Warriors were supposed to at least be competitive in the nine-team conference. Without their head coach, though, the outlook became more suspect – especially considering the timing. According to the Honolulu Star-Advertiser, Hawaii has been under NCAA investigation since March stemming from a self-reported incident in which “a men’s basketball coach submitted an altered document that was essential for admissions purposes.” The abrupt nature of the firing – just as the team was set to embark on its 2014-15 campaign – came as a surprise to many, including Arnold himself, who gave an emotional press conference from his home a few days after the fact: