Nothing epitomizes spirited hardwood action more than college hoops.
The drama, excitement, and intensity manifesting through the players as they lay it all on the line for school pride make collegiate basketball one of the best avenues to enjoy the game. Starting on September 9, we'll have the chance to witness it all again as UAAP Season 80 men's basketball tips off.
To properly get into the thick of things, here's a preview of the eight participating teams, ranking each based on their strengths, performance, and ability to achieve UAAP gold.
Despite losing Jeron Teng, Jason Perkins, Julian Sargent, and Tomas Torres, you can still bank on DLSU to tear up the tournament once again. They've already showed what they're capable of, blasting their way to the top of Taipei's BLIA Cup. However, we're not going to see La Salle's full power early on with Ben Mbala fulfilling his FIBA Afrobasket duties and Kib Montalbo nursing an injury he suffered from the Davao melee with FEU. But La Salle's dominance is inevitable. Just wait till they get back to normal programming.
Once he returns, Mbala will do Herculean stuff on the court side-by-side with crafty forward Prince Rivero. The perimeter and ball-handling duties will be taken care of by reliable players Montalbo, Season 79 ROY Aljun Melecio, Andrei Caracut, and Jollo Go. High-flying sophomore Ricci Rivero might also come into his own this year. Coached by Aldin Ayo, the defending champs should remain a defense-oriented and scrappy bunch. Season 80 is still the Green Archers' to lose.
ADMU's core is pretty much intact. The returning players basically have the scoring, rebounding, and playmaking departments covered. The Katipunan-based squad is more equipped in every aspect of the game going into the tournament. The experience they've gained from their great run last year, wherein they made it all the way to the last dance, is invaluable.
We're expecting better offensive production from Aaron Black and Thirdy Ravena. And definitely, Isaac Go will continue to stake his claim as one of the best bigs in the amateurs. When it comes to the newcomers, Ateneo's got Grade A recruits in NCAA Juniors MVP Troy Mallillin and Batang Gilas members Gian Mamuyac, and ace point guard Tyler Tio. With Tab Baldwin mentoring a stellar collection of talent, this team probably has the most realistic shot at upsetting DLSU.
Last season, they made it to the Final Four as dark horses. Now, they're undoubtedly among the teams considered as locks to reach the contest's penultimate stage. It shouldn't even be a surprise if the Falcons are able to soar all the way to the finale. Bolstering their bid this season are Fil-Am rookies Tyrus Hill (6'5") at forward and SG Alex Noble (6'2"). Hill, a high-wire act, along with 6'4" Sean Manganti, will be asked by coach Franz Pumaren to provide high activity on both ends with their athleticism.
Adamson's version of the Bounce Brothers could be a nightmarish match for most of their counterparts. Noble, on the other hand, will work with shooters Robbie Manalang and Jerrick Ahanmisi for a major firepower boost. If Coach Franz gets this right, and the much-hyped Jerie Pingoy finally has his breakout season, the Falcons could certainly overtake the Blue Eagles to become the UAAP's second-best team.
Here we go again! On paper, the Tams roster isn't impressive at all. Come game time, however, we're expecting the Morayta ballers to refuse to yield to the competition from the opening tip until the final buzzer, just as they do time and time again. Now coached by Olsen Racela, who's armed with years upon years of experience as star point guard and assistant coach in the pro ranks, FEU should be fine in terms on focusing on what they need to do. Seamlessly incorporating Coach Olsen's triangle offense to the team's old go-to play, the dribble-drive, will be crucial.
Equally important is the Tamaraws' commitment to defense. But with a good tactician, steering what probably is the toughest squad in the tourney, FEU will likely realize their goal of getting into the Final Four. Wendell Comboy and Ken Tuffin, along with serviceable transferees Arvin Tolentino and Hubert Cani, will be mainly looked upon to lead the way this time and we know the new headmaster will help his boys come through. The only thing that mars the Tamaraws' gritty character is when they go overboard like when guard Ron Dennison went hooligan in Davao and practically instigated a bench-clearing brawl with La Salle.
It'll be DLSU vs FEU on opening, by the way. And as millennials say, it's going to be lit AF.
Just outside the Final Four picture looking in are the Maroons. They've got their most talented cast in recent years as UP's roster includes several players who have been part of the national team program, most notably Paul Desiderio and Diego Dario. Those two are the undisputed alphas; wherever they go, the rest of the flock will follow. Easing the load off them should fall on the shoulders of solid forward Javi Gomez De Liaño and dependable two-guard Kyles Lao. Adding to the blessings Maroon basketball has been receiving nowadays is the arrival of volume scorer Jun Manzo from Cebu and Javi's younger brother Juan Gomez.
Earning praises for his performance in the FIBA 3x3 U-18 tourney, Juan is touted as one of the best rookies coming in, along with his Cebuano standout mate. Those two together with Noah Webb should be the ones to give UP the additional spunk and energy needed to conquer. Not being able to lock in and execute for the whole game has been UP's Achilles heel. But now, it looks like coach Bo Perasol already has enough tools to fix the problem. If he does, the Maroons might just enter the tournament's semifinal round.
A lot of new faces are playing for the Bulldogs in Season 80. The team's new head tactician Jamike Jarin, NCAA Season 92's champion coach, certainly has a challenging task at hand. A handful of quality holdovers in co-captains J-Jay Alejandro and Matt Salem, together with Rev Diputado, Med Salim and Joshua Sinclair, will spearhead the Bulldogs.
Among the new guys, two NU rookies are worth watching out for. One is Isaac Gayes, a 6'9" Senegalese who has been playing for the university's Team B prior to Alfred Aroga's departure. Gayes really has some huge shoes to fill. The other freshman who deserves your attention is 6'3" all-around forward and former Gilas cadet, Jonas Tibayan. The Bulldogs will gun for a Final Four appearance, but we see them coming up short due to lack of scoring options.
It's on sophomore stretch big Alvin Pasaol (11 points per game last season) to lead this young team, which includes five rookies, into putting together a respectable season. He will get assistance from hardworking swingman Mark Olayon and UE's new starting point guard Philip Manalang, but still, the daunting mission seems to be too much for them to handle.
The Red Warriors' current predicament can be attributed to the exodus of the veterans and the relocation of coach Derek Pumaren's ex-spark plug Bonbon Batiller to the NCAA, specifically with the Arellano Chiefs. Ultimately, it'll be up to this unheralded squad to go all out every game, maybe every possession just to not end up at the bottom of the standings.
The Growling Tigers had a terrible UAAP offseason, to say the least. Henri Subido and Mark Bonleon, who are both expected to come up big this time, left the team and even voiced their frustrations over their now former coach, Boy Sablan. UST also took a hit last May as team captain Marvin Lee traded punches with DLSU's Ramil Tero in a FilOil Flying V Premier Cup game. It really is gross to see that fistfights in basketball are still a thing these days, so thank you, Marvin Lee.
Hauling in new players didn't go smoothly for the Tigers either. The eligibility of what the coach considers his prized catch, Tony Akomo, is currently up for approval and it's not looking good. The man-child tagged by Sablan as 'The Mbala Stopper,' last played for the University of Visayas. It's a shame that Akomo's decision to take his towering presence to España might not amount to anything at all. With these ominous occurrences pestering the Tigers, you can sense that their Season 80 stint will be ugly.