WHEN I am asked by friends and family who I feel will win the UAAP and NCAA titles this season since they think I know a lot about basketball, I have standard replies – Ateneo for the UAAP and San Beda for the NCAA. And why not? They’re safe choices.
The Blue Eagles have won four championships in a row and finished the UAAP elims a good two games ahead of No. 2 UST this year, although they had to escape the Growling Tigers on the last day of the elims to avoid a tie. San Beda, winner of four of the last five NCAA diadems, has already clinched the no. 1 spot with more than two weeks left in the regular season. What’s not to like about these two powerhouses?
The hunt for Final Four places, recently concluded in the UAAP and still ongoing in the NCAA, has been quite dramatic. However, all it had done was somehow reveal flaws in every single hopeful. Flaws which a smart and determined rival could exploit, especially with the short series employed in college battles.
Let’s take a look at Ateneo for one. The Blue Eagles may look like the most complete team with loads of experience both at winning and playing together. A late season loss to also-ran UE and a solid escape against UST in which the team lost a sizable lead shows the boys in blue could be beaten.
Add to that the turmoil brought about by the sudden withdrawal of support from the school in general by Manny V. Pangilinan and suddenly, Ateneo seems vulnerable. The fact that coach Norman Black, who is in the employ of MVP, offered to resign in support and sympathy for his boss on the cusp of the Final Four does not bode well for team morale.
Norman has been a friend for a long time and I’m just calling a spade a spade here, but even thinking of leaving your team in the middle of a campaign, much less towards the end of a long battle, somehow sends the wrong message to the kids. The fact that their coach can leave them at this late stage, well, we did say flawed right?
Nevertheless, Greg Slaughter, Nico Salva and Kiefer Ravena, whose Mythical Five snub just might light fuel his fire in the playoffs, are three good reasons why Ateneo’s Drive for Five will find completion.
Now let’s go to second-seed UST, who has the twice-to-beat edge versus Final Four gatecrasher NU. The mark of coach Pido Jarencio’s team this season has been their many come-from-behind wins. And while being able to pull rabbits out of your hat and snatching victory from the jaws of defeat stirs the basketball-loving masses, it is no doubt a dangerous way to exist.
What if the last-second shot doesn’t fall? What if the opponent is able to execute their inbounds and make their free throws? In basketball, as in most things athletic and not, it is always better to be out front and dictating how things go, rather than rallying from behind all the time. Other than that, the Tigers look solid.
They have Karim Abdul in the middle and Jeric Teng providing scoring, with veteran Jeric Fortuna at the controls. UST fans just better hope they don’t live or die by the mercurial and inconsistent Aljon Mariano.
And then there are the Bulldogs, who are practically the reverse of their F4 foes. They can’t seem to hold on to leads, relaxing when they’ve taken an advantage, and somehow their foes sneak up on them. Their overtime fightback in the replayed game versus FEU was quite atypical, but maybe a sign that things are now headed their way.
Ray Parks showed why he is the MVP for the second year in a row, but the late season rise of Gino Alolino along with the steady play of Emmanuel Mbe makes Eric Altamirano’s charges dangerous.
La Salle was the last team to make it and have won its last three, perhaps peaking at the most opportune time. Still, the Archers do have some flaws. Sometimes their offense just dies on them for certain stretches. Fortunately for them, their defense has carried them for those problematic times and they do have some great size and good clutch players.
The Archers may actually be the least flawed of the Final Four teams in the UAAP, but as long as they haven’t been burned out by that killer back-to-back must-win duels versus FEU, they could be upset specials. Norbert Torres, Yutien Andrada and AVO are formidable in the paint and the duo of Jeron Teng and Almond Vosotros takes care of the clutch point-making.
Flawed, all of them, and that’s what makes them fun to watch.