THE UAAP Season 80 is finally upon us with the promise of another year of exciting college basketball action.
After La Salle’s dominant run to the title last season, the Green Archers are pegged as the title favorite this year, with at least five more teams looking to turn heads and claim the throne.
With the season kicking off, SPIN.ph breaks down the hottest questions surrounding Season 80 with key points covered by our college beat writers Reuben Terrado and Christian Jacinto.
Will La Salle be as dominant as last year or will there be a new threat to take the throne?
Reuben Terrado: La Salle is still the team-to-beat in Season 80, but the Green Archers are faced with adversities even during their build-up, and the graduation of Jeron Teng isn't the only thing they will have to overcome.
The Green Archers showed signs that they are not invincible when they lost to NCAA powerhouse San Beda during the FilOil preseason. After winning a tournament in Taipei, La Salle was once again embroiled in a controversy when it got involved in a melee in Davao.
La Salle will also be without Mbala for the first few games due to a call-up with the Cameroonian national team. How La Salle will handle adversity will be key for the Green Archers if they hope to win back-to-back UAAP crowns.
Christian Jacinto: Here comes a new challenger? Despite losing several key players from last season’s title run including King Archer Jeron Teng, La Salle is still the team to beat this season with Ben Mbala still around and ‘Mayhem’ still in full effect in Taft.
Perhaps the biggest storyline this season is finding the perfect challenger for the Green Archers.
The Ateneo Blue Eagles, behind the brilliance of coach Tab Baldwin on the sidelines, tried to take a crack at La Salle last year but ultimately yielded in two games. With basically an intact lineup and that valuable finals experience in their pocket, the men from Katipunan could be a strong candidate to be this year’s top challengers.
But not to be dismissed is the emergence of Adamson, which isn’t only coming in with many holdovers, but will be entering with plenty more added firepower led by the highly athletic Tyrus Hill.
Far Eastern University, given its history with La Salle in the preseason, will definitely come in with the most motivation to spoil La Salle’s repeat bid, while National University – despite its relative youth – is also an interesting challenger considering coach Jamike Jarin’s familiarity with the system of his old rival in Ayo.
These teams have the tools to dethrone La Salle, but it’s all a matter of finding whose system, and personnel, will have a better shot at the defending champions.
Who will join Ben Mbala and Papi Sarr in the MVP race?
Terrado: Paul Desiderio made tremendous strides during the offseason in which he showed improvement in his outside shooting to add to his slashing game. UP is eyeing to make its Final Four dream a reality this year after earning respectability last season, and Desiderio will be vital in reaching that goal. The UP star should end up as one of the top MVP candidates this season before he joins PBA or Gilas.
Jacinto: University of the Philippines will be coming in with a better lineup and with higher expectations and it’s mostly because of the emergence of Paul Desiderio.
The Cebuano combo guard surprised the league by making it into the Mythical Team last season and if his progress over the past few years is any indication, then great things are in store for the Maroons.
He won’t be heavily favored to win the MVP plum considering the likes of Ben Mbala and Papi Sarr are still playing in the league – but he’ll certainly be in the conversation.
Among the teams that missed the Final Four last year, which school is the likeliest to make it back to the semifinals?
Terrado: NU missed the Final Four last year despite having a core that is capable of moving to the next phase of the tournament, and I don't see any reason why the Bulldogs can’t make another run at a playoff spot again this season. J-Jay Alejandro will definitely be out to finish his collegiate career with a bang, and Issa Gaye is capable of matching up against the likes of Ben Mbala and Papi Sarr.
Jacinto: There’s a lot of hope for UP this year and for good reason, but the safe bet is for National University.
The Bulldogs will be coming in under the radar this year, and with a new system in play with Jamike Jarin’s arrival, it really wound’t be that surprising if NU makes a return to the Final Four this year.
Jarin’s fast-paced system would definitely favor J-Jay Alejandro’s style of play which would make the graduating guard deadlier than ever.
Size also won’t be a question with the likes of Issa Gaye, Matthew Aquino and Tzaddy Rangel while Rev Diputado is one player that’s expected to make his breakthrough this season.
Which team is best equipped to challenge La Salle for the crown?
Terrado: NU and Adamson could be the teams that can pose a challenge against La Salle because, for starters, they possess the players who are capable of at least putting a body on Mbala. Aside from having the manpower, the main thing that can put them in contention for a title shot is the championship experience of their coaches in NU’s Jamike Jarin and Adamson’s Franz Pumaren.
Jacinto: Ateneo’s chances of spoiling La Salle hinge on whether Thirdy Ravena will finally make the leap this season as their top guy, and the continuous development of the likes of Isaac Go, Matt and Mike Nieto and Aaron Black.
They’re gonna struggle against other Final Four bound teams, but if there’s one squad that could pose the biggest challenge to La Salle, it’s Ateneo.
Is the Final Four cast in stone or will we see a wide open race to the semifinals?
Terrado: While I see La Salle, NU, and Adamson (in no particular order) as sure Final Four teams, the last slot in the semifinals could be the interesting race this season. Ateneo, FEU, and UP could be in that race when the elimination round winds down.
Jacinto: I see La Salle and probably Adamson as two teams who are sure to make the Final Four, I see a wild race for the last two slots between Ateneo, National University, Far Eastern University and University of the Philippines.