University of Hawaii basketball finally gets a schedule upgrade

What do you mean no more Arkansas-Pine Bluff?

And just one opponent from the Division II ranks?

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Your first impression of the University of Hawaii men’s basketball schedule for 2019-20 announced Friday is that it doesn’t look like what we’ve come to recognize and annually bemoan as a typical UH men’s basketball schedule.

And that’s a good thing.

After too many years of playing a nonconference schedule that resembled cream-filled Twinkies and practically guaranteed winning records before they hit the Stan Sheriff Center court, what the Rainbow Warriors have come up with for this season represents a significant improvement. Just in time for the school’s 100th basketball campaign.

For the most part, the nonconference portion should provide some competitive games, the kind that aren’t already decided the day the contracts are signed, while helping to prepare the ‘Bows for the Big West Conference, where their postseason hopes will be decided.

For one thing the announcement of the schedule was the earliest in five years. That suggests there was more thought and organized effort invested in the scheduling process than some of the 11th-hour scrambling that has taken its toll in the past.

The strength of last year’s schedule marked at least a 10-year low, ranking 292nd among 353 Division I schools for toughness by the NCAA. Sadly, it was more the norm than an aberration for a program that had ranked 230 — or worse — six of the previous nine seasons.

That inspired UH fans to speak loud and clear by their growing absence at the box office. Apparently the athletic department was listening because gone are the Southwestern Athletic Conference and Mid-Eastern Conference rent-a-foes that regularly populated too many of the schedules in recent years.

For only the second time in seven years, UH will play just a single D-II team (Hawaii Pacific) instead of doubling up.

This year, for the first time since 1987-88, UH will play two Power Five Conference opponents on the road — Oregon, a Sweet 16 team last season, and Illinois.

You’d like for UH to bring some opponents like that into the Stan Sheriff Center (North Carolina is on tap for the 2020-21 season).

Still, the Oregon and Illinois games are a far cry from 2016-17, when the 9.6-mile bus ride to Pearl Harbor was UH’s closest thing to “road” games until the Big West Conference season.

Along with some stiff challenges heading into the Diamond Head Classic, the Oregon and Illinois games will combine to be effectively worth approximately $190,000-$200,000 before expenses, when you add it all up, UH officials said.

The season-opening Nov. 8-11 Rainbow Classic (Florida A&M, South Dakota and Pacific) could still use some upgrading, but at least it is an all-Division I field, which wasn’t the case last year.

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UH doesn’t need to play a Murderer’s Row of opponents the way some of its more cash-starved Big West peers do. It isn’t required to criss-cross the country to find decent opposition. But it does owe its players and fans a competitive schedule. One where, if you are fortunate enough to win 20 games, it actually means something.

The 2019-20 slate represents a significant and overdue step in that direction. In that Arkansas-Pine Bluff’s disappearance represents UH’s gain.

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