Palawan, the final four casts is set for this season’s Universities Athletic Association of the Philippines (UAAP) Men’s Basketball tournament. One team sets itself apart from the 8 school field. As most enthusiasts predicted, Tab Baldwin’s Ateneo Blue Eagles dominated with a 14-0 sweep of the eliminations with relative ease backed by fluid ball movement, spacing, a dominant big man in 7’0 Angelo Kouame and a coaching staff that has great scouting and in-game adjustments that teams could not predict.
The variability of how Ateneo runs their offense and defense against different opponents is what other schools need to break. Hard to predict what Ateneo sees but I am certain all other UAAP teams have been predictable to Tab Baldwin’s coaching genius.
You name it. The Blue Eagles can pressure the ball carrier, adjust man to man to different zone defenses with the slight movement or hand gesture from the coaching staff, and can play the post or set up high for the 3 point shooters to bomb away. Even Kouame and back up center Isaac Go (6’6) have decent three-point shots you can’t leave open. The system coach Tab put in place plays to the strengths of the players he recruits. Ateneo, by far has the best basketball system in collegiate sports today farming players from their junior ranks to ensure continued success at the seniors level.
What would the other 3 final four teams do to break the Ateneo wall?
Let’s start off with predictions on the step ladder eliminations.
FEU vs UST: this is matchup heaven, man for man. Both teams practically run the same run and gun system. The UST Tigers may edge the FEU Tamaraws in 3 point attempts per game but the Tams are peaking at the right moment with the speedy backcourt troika of LJ Gonzales, Wendell Comboy, and Royce Alforque. These 3 players clicking late in the season can match UST’s backcourt combo of Mark Nonoy, Renzo Subido and CJ Cansino so I believe the backcourt cancels out.
The big men may also cancel out as Solemaine Chabi Yo (UST) and Patrick Tchuente (FEU) are both solid down low. The former measures only 6’6 but has better post skills than the 6’9 Tchuente. The latter’s height advantage will equalize the playing field at the center spot.
It now boils down to how deep the wings are for both teams and to me, this is where UST can pull it off. Freshmen Rhenz Abando and Sherwin Concepcion and third-year player Brent Paraiso can get the better of Ken Tuffin and Alec Stockton. You may say Barkley Ebona can balance out the matchup for FEU but Sherwin Concepcion is equally up to the challenge there at the 4th spot.
Personally, I feel it is UST advancing to meet UP at the next step. If this happens, UP has the advantage of a twice to beat in their matchup. UP has better and deeper bigs than UST with the combination of Bright Akhuetie (6’6), Kobe Paras (6’6), Javi Gomez De Liano (6’4) and Jerson Prado (6’5). UST, however, is deeper at the guard and wing positions. They are 6 man deep in those positions against UP’s Jun Manzo, Ricci Rivero, and Juan Gomez De Liano.
Eventually, the twice to beat advantage will take its toll on the Tigers and I believe the Fighting Maroons have the upper hand to meet Ateneo for a rematch of last year’s finale.
Alas, UP has to beat a Ateneo 3 times to win the crown. This is almost impossible to do against a team that has not been rocked this season.
If there is inspiration UP should draw from to make a miracle happen, it is to reward graduating players Bright and Manzo a happy farewell gift and Diliman’s first crown after the 1986 Joe Lipa mentored squad that won it all over 3 decades ago. Should they make it all the way, it would be a first of sorts that a player surnamed Paras led UP to the promised land. Kobe’s PBA legend father, Benjie, was the Maroons tower of power in that 1986 squad.
If you want to put things into the perspective of the Maroons, I would say, focus on the fact that Ateneo needs to win twice to grab the crown so all is not lost for the UP cause … but they do have to bag game 1 to get a chance of winning it all. The odds are in favour of Ateneo taking the crown in the end.
It is again an exciting finale, Palawan. Who knows what’s gonna happen. My predictions could be wrong and maybe FEU or UST can pull the rug under UP with the way teams are playing right now. Expect some flashes of coaching brilliance, outstanding athleticism, and teamwork as season 82 of the Men’s Basketball event of the UAAP winds down to a thrilling finish.
Not to be outdone, another MVP (Manny V. Pangilinan) sponsored team is dominating the National Collegiate Athletic Association. The San Beda Red Lions taking the oldest collegiate varsity league by storm this year is not a surprise either. Lyceum (rank 2), Letran (rank 3) and San Sebastián (rank 4) will have to go through the step ladder eliminations to get to the Red Lions of Mendiola in the finals.
I believe of the 3 who will challenge to topple San Beda, it’s going to be a toss-up between the Lyceum Pirates and the Letran Knights. I understand that Lyceum has the twice to beat advantage on the second step but the Knights are my dark horse of making it to the finale simply because of veterans Larry Muyang (6’5), Jeo Ambohot (6’6), Mark Javillonar (6’5) and Jerrick Balanza (6’2).
Alas, the waiting Lions of coach Boyet Fernandez might be too dominating for any title contender in the NCAA today so I expect the crown to end up in Mendiola yet again.
Next year might be a different story for the NCAA since, by 2020, the league starts to go importless which will make for a more balanced playing field this side of college varsity hoops.
Enjoy the games!
(The writer is a senior leader in the Business Process Outsourcing industry managing Philippine countryside operations)