MOST league coaches feel the UAAP Finals is too close to call. That should augur well for University of Santo Tomas' title hopes.
Unlike in past years when four-time champion Ateneo was considered the overwhelming favorite going into the best-of- three championship series, this time most league coaches polled by Spin.ph give the Tigers a chance at ending the Eagles' four-year reign.
“I wouldn’t say that any team has the advantage,” said University of the Philippines coach Ricky Dandan. “Meron talaga silang advantages at meron silang strengths.”
His view was echoed by National University's Eric Altamirano, who said whatever edge Ateneo has in terms of experience and firepower is not enough to rule out a Tigers victory.
“I’m sure Ateneo will be the favorites, but UST has the materials and the experience,” said Altamirano, whose Bulldogs lost to the Tigers in their first Final Four appearance since 2001.
Among all the teams this season, the coaches feel it is the Tigers who have the material and the talent to match up well with the Eagles' powerhouse lineup led by Greg Slaughter and Kiefer Ravena.
“UST can match up against them, but Ateneo has a lot of experience especially being in the finals for a number of years," said Abanilla, who came one win short of leading the Archers to the finals.
“UST has a good match-up because they have good players in all positions,” Abanilla added.
Far Eastern University coach Bert Flores feels the loss of back-up center JP Erram to an ACL injury leaves the Eagles' frontline no longer as intimidating as it was in the early stages of the campaign.
“Malaking bagay si Erram kasi kapag twin tower sila, talagang mabigat,” said Flores. “Ngayon, si Justin Chua na lang. Lumiit sila noong nawala si Erram.”
But for the Tigers to have a chance, Altamirano said it's a must that the Tigers hit their outside shots.
“Ang Ateneo kasi, ang key if you really want to beat them is that you have to shoot well from the outside," Altamirano said. "They have a very good interior defense, so against a team that shoots well, they (Eagles) always have a hard time.”
In the end, Dandan feels coaches Pido Jarencio and Norman Black will have as much say on the result of the finals.
“Ateneo is in its fifth finals appearance and coming off a four straight championship, so automatically strength na ‘yan. On the other hand, UST has the best import in the UAAP (Karim Abdul). They have this reputation of being a strong fourth-quarter team," he said.
“It’s going to be really fun watching both coaches, see how they will try to negate each other’s strength.”