WHILE we write mostly about the NCAA, we do touch upon all things hoops. That’s what happens when you’ve been closely involved in local basketball for 30 years, longer if you count the time I was a mere fan who digested every morsel I could get out of our local publications from the time I was about six or seven years old.
This week we lead with the UAAP and the aftermath of NU’s big win over FEU last Sunday. The obvious big gainer of that were the Bulldogs, who have made the Final Four for the first time since the Froilan Baguion-Jeff Napa years (Lordy Tugade had been mentioned in some stories but I don’t recall him being on that Final Four team).
After winning over the Tamaraws, NU finished in a three-way tie for third at 9-5 with FEU and De La Salle, which was certainly hoping for a Bulldog loss so they could go back to the Final Four. But it was not meant to be as NU wound up with the superior tiebreak and relegated the Green Archers and Tamaraws to a knockout match.
La Salle had just beaten FEU on the last playing day of the second round of the elims to put itself in a prime position to set up a showdown with Ateneo for a finals berth. But to reach the championship phase, the Archers have to beat the Tamaraws for the second time in a week and then beat their archrival Blue Eagles twice as well. Quite a tall order for Gee Abanilla’s charges, but the team seems to be peaking at the right time.
The other big gainer from NU’s comeback was the UST Growling Tigers, who finally have a twice-to-beat advantage in the Final Four for the first time since the 90s. Now they get to play the same Bulldogs, whose confidence must be soaring even though they have not beaten the Tigers this season.
Pido Jarencio’s miracle bunch has a one-game cushion in a virtual best-of-three but the troika of Ray Parks, Emmanuel Mbe and Gelo Alolino have really developed into a solid 1-2-3 punch late in the season and that gives them a chance. Cinderella might be packing a bite this season.
If the UAAP board had any sense prior and not messed with a matter it was perhaps ill-equipped to judge properly and allowed FEU’s original second-round win to stand, Ateneo would be playing La Salle with a twice-to-beat edge while FEU and UST will square off in a best-of-three for the other finals slot. And NU would’ve been stuck on the outside looking in once more.
Now everyone must be waiting how this all pans out over the next two-and-a-half weeks, and see if the form charts would still hold after all these off-the-court machinations. And we’re not even talking about how the sudden pullout of Manny Pangilinan and his considerable resources from Ateneo’s academic and sports programs would affect this year’s Final Four.
Of course, everyone at Loyola is saying all the right things, that they remain focused on winning a record fifth straight title despite their number one patron’s abrupt abandonment, and maybe MVP won’t pull the plug until after the Drive for Five has been completed because his people are still involved in the whole enterprise. Nevertheless, all these outside factors have contributed to what has been a very fascinating 75th UAAP season that had been all but “Unbreakable” but definitely not unwatchable.
Now we go back to the NCAA and what do you know? Letran beats JRU and San Sebastian and are suddenly in third place. Catching the Stags, whom the Knights have swept in the season series, for second place and forcing a best-of-three may be a bit remote but at least coach Louie Alas’ squad will almost assuredly be in the Final Four.
San Beda has alternated from being awesome to looking a little vulnerable like in its recent bout with Arellano but are unbeaten in the second round and sailing towards what seems like a fifth title in six years. Whoever they play in the Final Four between the Altas and Heavy Bombers, who have both been shellacked in the latter part of the season and had psyches that are perhaps beyond repair, should be easy pickings.
Mapua, Arellano and EAC have been left battling for the No. 6 spot and the final Philippine Collegiate Champions League slot in the final weeks of the season. Well, better than having no postseason at all is what I say.