If anything, the post-season has always been an occasion for hoop mystics to draw up their respective Final Four predictions by listing the As and Es of each team’s offensive and defensive schemes anchored on the make-or-break feats of its take-charge personnel.
Now, the questions beg: Will the twice-to-beat Ateneo and FEU quickly dispatch UST and FEU to forge its much-anticipated Finals date? Or will UST and UE extend the series to a winner-take-all and possibly essay a scintillating upset? For the benefit of healthy comparison, let’s gauge.
ATENEO (13-1) vs. UST (6-8)
EAGLES’ strengths: Ateneo’s greatest advantage going into its Final Four tussle with a rag-tag UST quintet is its vaunted championship experience. That the defending champion Eagles are reinforced by a battle-tested crew whose majority have figured twice in the UAAP’s last three Finals showdown is an open secret that has baffled teams no end all season long.
Rabeh Al-Hussaini, Eric Salamat, Emman Monfort, and Jai Reyes, who now man Ateneo’s offensive line, watched in horror from the bench after an underrated UST of Jervy Cruz and Jojo Duncil fame pulled a 74-72 overtime shocker against the heavily favored Eagles in their Season 69 title clash.
Save for Monfort, the heartbreak kids of Season 69 - with team skipper Chris Tiu - led a recharged Ateneo squad to the Promised Land last year, getting valuable contributions from Season 72 Finals MVP Nonoy Baclao, Kirk Long, Bacon Austria, rookies Ryan Buenafe and Nico Salva.
Given its veteran-laced roster, Ateneo enjoys the luxury of a deep bench which allows Coach Norman Black to field any combination on the floor without sacrificing the quality of play from both ends. Its deliberate halfcourt set is the most fluid in the league today with everyone capable of punishing the opposition’s defense. Name the mode of attack and Ateneo always has someone to take care of the offensive grind: inside feeds, Al-Hussaini, Baclao, Salva; open court, Salamat, Long; penetration drives, Buenafe; outside shooting, Reyes, Monfort…and so on.