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In Your Face!

Let's talk balls.

  1. Expectations

    Here is how the UAAP Season 80 landscape looks like after the end of the first round of eliminations last weekend:

    Ateneo De Manila : 7 - 0
    De La Salle : 5 -2
    Adamson : 5 - 2
    Far Eastern : 4 -3
    National : 3 - 4
    State : 3 - 4
    University of the East : 1 - 6
    Santo Tomas : 0 - 7

    Some preseason expectations were met, some were not, and there were surprises all around.

    Expectations: Ateneo De Manila came into Season 80 a year older, wiser, and stronger, after an unexpected runner-up finish last season. They were supposed to be rebuilding last season, yet somehow they made it into the Finals, and became the only team to beat archrival and regining champion La Salle in the eliminations.

    They returned this season intact, and they are playing truly beautiful, team-oriented, system-based basketball. "I always emphasize proper spacing, and movement, and that is what we are trying to do every game," explained head coach Tab Baldwin in one interview.

    With the exception of their cardiac classic of a game to end the first round against the Green Archers, the Blue Eagles have indeed made a good living with Baldwin's spacing and movement, beating the six other teams by double digits. Sure there were some anxious moments, particularly when UST came within 80-81 in the fourth period of their encounter, but for the most part the Blue Eagles have just been a joy to watch for basketball technicians and students of the game.

    Thirdy Ravena, now in his fourth year in college, and his third playing year, is the undisputed leader of the team. While he struggled against La Salle, he has basically done as he pleased against everyone else, and at one point was averaging a double-double. He remains in the Top 10 in the MVP race.

    Surprise: As good as the Ateneo was expected to be, even their most ardent fans probably did not expect them to sweep Round 1. They now have an even larger bulls eye on their collective backs going into Round 2.

    Expectations: La Salle is the reigning champion and as long as the mighty Benoit Mbala is on their roster they remain the prohibitive favorites to win back to back titles.

    Lets face it, Mbala is the best player the UAAP has ever seen. Ever. He is not only big, strong, fast, and athletic, but all of his skills are at very high levels. Heck, the man just came back from the FIBA Afrobasket tournament after emerging as the leader of a veteran Cameroon squad. He led his country to the quarterfinals, quite a feat for a guy who is not even on any NBA radar. Well... he WASN'T on any NBA radar in any event.

    Mbala also enjoys a very good support crew, albeit one whose core players are on the young side and sometimes how their youth at inopportune times, such as that inexplicable meltdown against State U. Aljun Melecio, who up to that point was La Salle's best complement to Mbala, scored only five points, while the La Salle defense allowed UP star Paul Desiderio to light them up for 30, built on six treys.

    Melecio was sorely missed in their other loss, the one to the Blue Eagles, as no one proved capable enough to play off Mbala. Ricci Rivero had 19 points in that loss but it was mostly off his own strong moves to the basket.

    "Mayhem got exposed to System," quipped long-time basketball observer and former varsity coach Alan Taule.

    La Salle was the one who was supposed to sweep Round 1. They may yet turn the trick in Round 2.

    Surprise: That loss to UP. Maybe it was one of those games where all the stars just seemed to align for the Fighting Maroons. For Mbala though, "We have to be more consistent, to play our game, and to play our defense." He was practically screaming to Melecio and Rivero to get him the ball, "I have (the) mismatch!" he screamed practically all game.

    Expectations: Adamson was supposed to be a legitimate contender this season, and with their slow start (Ateneo walloped them, so did La Salle) they looked like they were stuck in second gear.

    They are similar to the Ateneo in that their team returned virtually intact, and their key players are all a year older. Unfortunately it seems as if they did not actually grow wiser, or stronger. That is a yes and a no.

    There are times this Adamson team seems like they didn't really show much improvement, as in how they played last year is still how they play this year, for the most part: Jerick Ahanmisi is still primarily a jump shooter, Philip Manalang is a feisty, crafty point guard who can score in bunches from time to time, Sean Manganti and Simon Camacho are long, tall, athletes who occasionally show flashes of brilliance and exploit mismatches. Import Papi Sarr still does his best work within five feet of the basket and is still iffy from the freethrow line. ...
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