The Games That Play Us: Finally, Four

Ravena vs Teng and Teng vs Parks.
Welcome to the UAAP Season 75 Final Four!
(composite image by Enzo Flojo/Hoop Nut)

After 56 elimination round games, one re-play, one playoff, a couple of protests, and several player suspensions, we have, finally, a Final Four.

The race now, of course, is not to just to survive the elims, but to win the Season 75 plum.

So let’s take a close look at our protagonists. Let’s look at how they got here, and what their chances are.

Fourth Seed: De La Salle Green Archers
Elimination Round record: 9 wins, 5 losses (triple tie with NU and FEU; NU had a superior quotient, which meant DLSU and FEU figured in a playoff for fourth place; DLSU won)
Outlook: The Archers lost both games against Ateneo in the elims, but they weren’t exactly blown out of the water in either one (despite the final spread for both games showing DLSU lost by 10). The exciting thing for La Salle is that Norbert Torres just played one of his best games of the season in their playoff versus FEU. Is this a sign he’s ready to become a big time player for Coach Gee Abanilla? He’ll be hard-pressed to produce the same numbers (21 points, 13 rebounds, 7-of-9 fro the field and 7-of-8 from the line) against Greg Slaughter, but that doesn’t mean anyone can overlook the “bear.” Another exciting thing for the Greenies is Jeron Teng’s seemingly improved free throw shooting. Teng normed under 57% in his first 14 games, but he missed just one of his 6 freebies against FEU in the playoff. If the young gun can keep that up, then Ateneo might be in for a long Saturday afternoon.

Third Seed: NU Bulldogs
Elimination Round record: 9 wins, 5 losses (triple tie with DLSU and FEU; NU’s superior quotient carried them straight through to third spot behind UST)
Outlook: If Ray Parks and Emmanuel Mbe can come close to producing 52 points and 22 rebounds like they did against FEU, then UST might be in hot water. Despite their struggles early and in the middle of the season, it seems the Bulldogs may have finally rediscovered the form that helped them sweep the 2012 Filoil Summer League. The Bulldogs lost to the Tigers by 6 in the first round and lost to them again by one in the second round. They might be due for a win, but the Bulldogs will need their top guys (Parks & Mbe) to be in top form. An interesting sidelight is the close race for MVP between Parks and UST’s Karim Abdul. Whoever outperforms the other here (a win wouldn’t hurt, of course) should be a shoo-in for MVP.

Gelo Alolino (L) will square off against another one of the
league's top PGs in Jeric Fortuna (R).

Second Seed: UST Growling Tigers
Elimination Round record: 10 wins, 4 losses (they earned a twice-to-beat advantage)
Outlook: Despite many of their wins being comeback victories, one cannot deny that, every time the dust clears, the Tigers are usually the ones left standing. One of the biggest reasons for this is the progression of Karim Abdul. The Cameroonian developed from an on-again, off-again bruiser last season into the man who might just be MVP this year. Statistically, no big man is better than Karim. He does everything. He’s top four in scoring, top two in both steals and blocks, and the best overall in rebounding. And, yeah, he’s also added a nifty mid-range J to his game. He’ll be a tough match-up for anybody on NU’s frontline, but, unfortunately for Coach Eric Altamirano, Abdul is not the only Tiger to whom the Dogs have to pay attention. Against the league’s worst defense (UE), Jeric Teng, Aljon Mariano, and Clark Bautista all scored in twin digits, and if they continue to click versus the top four defense of NU then their Final Four series might not go beyond one game.

First Seed: Ateneo de Manila Blue Eagles
Elimination Round record: 12 wins, 2 losses (the Eagles earned the top spot, and a twice-to-beat edge)
Outlook: Though Ateneo has been reasonably dominant against most of the opposition this season, especially in the second half of games, the Eagles have also been plagued by two things that no other Final Four squad has had to go through – losing to the UE Red Warriors, and seeing their biggest patron cut them loose (in a manner of speaking). Was the UE loss a big deal? For me it is because it showed that even a team as well oiled as Ateneo can be blindsided by even the most unheralded of foes. I’m sure the Eagles will prepare well for La Salle, but with the Archers coming off two big wins, I wouldn’t put it past the basketball gods to make this match-up go down-the-wire. So how about the MVP issue? How does it factor in? Simply put, it’s a BIG distraction. Coach Norman Black is an expert at teaching his boys to tune out off-court drama, but this is so pivotal it probably rocked not a few of the defending champs to the core. The thing is this is the first time this generation will play knowing one of the biggest contributors to the program’s success and stability will no longer be there in the same way he was before. In terms of depth, no team out there is deeper than this squad (even sans JP Erram), but can the Eagles pull out one final championship run to complete their date with destiny?

Can Juami Tiongson (L) help lead Ateneo to three more
wins, starting against Mac Tallo and the Green Archers?

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