IF UAAP coaches can agree on one thing, it is this: Ateneo is the clear favorite this season, with National University the top threat to the Eagles' five-peat ambition.
“I still believe that Ateneo is still the team to beat while NU is a top contender,” said Adamson coach Leo Austria on Monday during the press launch of the college league's Season 75, echoing a sentiment he shares with the rest of the coaches.
The Eagles' quest for a fifth consecutive crown will be the focal point of a season where the Bulldogs built their case for a long-overdue title after claiming the Filoil Flying V Hanes Preseason Cup over the summer.
“Malakas ang NU, maganda ang naging summer nila. Of course, malakas pa rin ang Ateneo,” said coach Bert Flores of Far Eastern University.
Norman Black, however, is careful not to play up the Eagles' chances, pointing out that a team that thrives on defense has lost three defensive stalwarts in Kirk Long, Emman Monfort and Bacon Austria.
“We know it’s going to be difficult to win five straight titles,” said Black, who is in his farewell season with the Eagles before heading back to the PBA to mentor the Talk ‘N Text Tropang Texters.
“Our perimeter defense will be tested and I expect every game to be tough.”
The Bobby Ray Parks-led NU Bulldogs, meanwhile, are out to prove that the Filoil Cup crown was no fluke.
“We had a good summer tournament,” said NU coach Eric Altamirano. “I just hope that madala namin ‘yung record namin sa UAAP because it’s a different league. Each team has a same amount of chance of winning.”
NU and Ateneo will play on different dates during opening weekend. The Bulldogs open the season on Saturday against University of the East while the Blue Eagles face Adamson the next day.
De La Salle coach Gee Abanilla and UP coach Ricky Dandan expect a wide-open race for the Final Four spots.
“But Ateneo is really strong along with NU,” said Abanilla.
Dandan said: “There is no doubt Ateneo and NU are two of the contenders this season, nobody will disagree on that. But the rest of the field cannot be discounted, too.”
Head coach Pido Jarencio, whose veteran-laden University of Santo Tomas squad is tipped to be the dark horse, prefers to keep his cards close to his chest.
“We have two rookies and four comebacking players. The rest, mga veterans na. Bahala na kayo mag-isip, basta nasa lupa ang Tigers, matapang at deadly,” said Jarencio in his usual banter.
Both University of the East and University of the Philippines just want to be competitive this season.
“We will go out there and have a fighting chance in every game,” said UE coach Jerry Codinera.
Dandan said: “We have modest goals this season but what we can guarantee is playing UP won’t be an automatic ‘W’ this season.”