Welcome to Humblebola’s premature UAAP Season 81 first round recap!

Before we start, some questions we’ll address:

Why premature?

By the time we post this, the first round isn’t finished yet. Only six games would have been played by all teams.

So why even make a recap now? It’s too early!

It’s a little tricky, as you can see. Because of two cancelled game dates having to be rescheduled, the UAAP schedule got jumbled up. It wasn’t only friendly to the players, but even us writers. Think of it this way: the first round ends on Saturday, October 13. Then the second round starts THE DAY AFTER, October 14. 

How are we so sure about the validity of your recap considering the limited sample size?

That’s the thing, we’re swinging for the fences here. Anything could happen from Wednesday and Saturday such us, I don’t know, Ateneo losing to FEU or La Salle beating Adamson, but we’re sticking to our guns. Either way, we believe six games is a large enough sample size to answer some questions.

Pero mga mamaru lang naman kayo eh!

We know. We are proud mamarus. But we will mamaru responsibly.

With that, Humblebola’s premature first round recap:

The UE Red Warriors are stuck in a tough spot: Trusting the Process and trying to get their young guys to develop, and trying to win some games (as any basketball team), by going to Alvin Pasaol. How do they go about this?

Colin Salao: Well, they have been doing exactly that for about two and half seasons, and all they have to show for it are 7 wins and Pasaol’s 49-point UAAP record performance (which came in a loss).

But the decision to shift their focus to developing their young guns isn’t necessarily appealing either because no one has really jumped off the page as a potential UAAP star. While someone like Jojo Antiporda has looked good in spurts, they are far from finding a CJ Cansino or Dave Ildefonso type of talent.

It’s for that reason that I think the Red Warriors need to maximize what they have in a guy like Alvin Pasaol, who still has a couple of eligible years left after this year. With Pasaol at the helm, UE can at least create some excitement amongst the fans and still have a shot against any team on any given night.

Recruiting better talent to pair with Air Sambo by as early as next season is going to have to be the biggest priority for UE, else Pasaol decides to bolt early for a shot in the pros.

Eriko Dela Cruz: The UE Red Warriors have a new coach, a new system, and a slew of new players. The best thing to do for them right now is to develop the system and their players moving forward. Of course getting wins is nice, but Coach Joe Silva needs to establish his system. After all, if you are running efficiently, the wins will follow. Playing Alvin Pasaol off the bench is a bold move, but a step in the right direction. After all, they won against a powerhouse in FEU by doing that.

Ged Austria: The UE Red Warriors are stuck at the bottom but the good news is, there no other way to go but up. Realistically speaking, they are out of the playoff contention for this season but there can find bright spots to it. Alvin Pasaol is one of them but this can turn into negative because they really can’t just rely on him. You expect him to deliver and that’s given. I think what they should do is to focus on the small details. Focus on the small steps into improving everyone individually BUT also as a whole unit. They have young talent but they can develop, no doubt. Only way you cn improve is if you learn, and I think that must be their focus for the remaining games. Right the wrongs and let this be their “pre-season” for the next season. Small constant improvements will be key.

Karlo Lovenia: UE’s in a tough spot, and ideally they’ll have to find some balance between the two. In reality, they’re likely to point to one way, only to go the opposite way the next. It’s the sickness of a young team. So by sheer youth and inconsistency, they’ll have to trust the process.

Michael Severino: They have to trust the process simply because they haven’t been winning games with Pasaol’s scoring prowess alone. This isn’t a knock on him as he’s been a phenomenal player for the Red Warriors but they haven’t really budged from the bottom.They’re still struggling to find consistent production from his teammates. Even guys like Philip Manalang and Jason Varilla have been up and down. Which is why Joe Silva has the right idea of introducing and emphasizing more movement in their halfcourt offense. It hasn’t translated well yet (2nd-worst offensive team) but that’s why they need to be patient in devising ways to get everyone involved. They flashed that potential in their rout of FEU. But that doesn’t mean having Pasaol just standing around or having him take every shot in every possession. They’re going to have to find that balance and play off the gravity he provides. Luckily, they have a couple more seasons with Air Sambokojin to figure it out.

Neal Tieng: UE is one Mbala away from contention.  Meaning if they get a good import, this team can contend for a F4 slot.  But there is none.  They have Bartolome and Varilla, but they aren’t enough. Going Pasaol-centric is no longer a choice but a must-do.  Pasaol is the only consistent scorer from all fronts, and it has doomed the Red Warriors.

Pio Garcia: UE can go forward by ditching Manalang and playing Cullar, Antiporda, and Bartolome together with Pasaol and Varilla. Manalang and Filipino Boban can just lead the second unit. I think it’s quite bigger for Manalang since he’ll have all the shots he can take. The thing is, with Cullar and Antiporda bringing the second unit, they don’t have a proven scorer with them, which is either Pasaol and Varilla. Give the kids the start, give them that intangible of a confidence booster, and let a shot-happy, turnover-prone PG play other teams’ second units.

Toby Pavon: Focus on development. They just have to stay the course and not worry about the win count, instead look at the stats and see if they’re improving. Like most stars, UE has to know who they are without Pasaol, and then have Pasaol come in and take them to the next level.

Vinz Alcid: I think they can do a little bit of both. Trust the process by trying to win some games. Have Pasaol embrace the leadership role and continue to anchor the Red Warriors while developing their young core by injecting some winninng mentality unto them. When a team is currently at the bottom of the standings, it’ll be a different feeling especially for young energetic players when they start to win games as their level of play will surely change.

Raw pieces, abundant talent. Can the UST Growling Tigers and NU Bulldogs find a way to make it to the Final Four?

CS: Until very recently, I was bullish on the UST Growling Tigers putting themselves within a puncher’s chance at a Final Four spot. I’ve been intrigued by their young talent, and liked what I saw in them in games against top teams like FEU and La Salle. However, with this discouraging news about Steve Akomo looming over the Growling Tigers, I feel they eventually settle in at solo sixth place, capping out at about 5 wins.

As for NU, I see a team that is too limited offensively to vie for a Final Four spot. I think this team in theory should be a lot better, but their lack of a consistent identity offensively, as well as pure reliance on a rookie to lead the team is concerning. I see them finished a lot closer to 8th than I do to the Final Four.

EDC: Simply put, no. The NU Bulldogs and the UST Growling Tigers are both talented teams, and no doubt very hungry. They both have found their cornerstones to build their team around (CJ Cansino for UST, Dave Ildefonso for NU), they have coaches who are proven winners, but the Final Four is not on the cards this season. They may be able to take down some contenders in the second round, maybe even compete for qualification, but they are not yet primed for the postseason.

GA: The only way these 2 teams can make it to the final 4 would be to expect them to upset the top seeded teams by the 2nd round. I can say they can “find” a way but the chances are slim. Only way that could happen is if both teams magically improve by the 2nd round and they literally have very little room for errors if they want to make upsets. The 2 “super” rookies of each respective team are delivering, and it’s a joy to watch. But the reat of the team has to step up collectively as a group. They may have to wish that everyone’s offense would be clicking and be on lockdown defense at all times if they want a chance of an upset.

JM: This year, no. I think they can pull off a few upsets in the second round but finishing in the top 4 is far-fetched.

KL: UST’s a definite wildcard, but their erratic offense and Steve Akomo’s (get well soon Steve!) absence are painful. NU’s offense continues to be up and down. You need some form of consistency to make it to the Final Four. Both teams don’t have it yet. They’ll get there though, just not this year.

MS: I don’t think they’ll be able to do enough to get in. Simply put, both teams are just too young. Two-thirds of UST’s roster is comprised of rookies, they have a new coach in Aldin Ayo AND are still dealing with Steve Akomo out due to injury. That’s a lot to overcome to make it to the Final 4. NU finds itself in the same boat with an influx of talented but inexperienced players and still figuring out Jamike Jarin’s system. They’re also dealing with a thin PG rotation. Both teams have definitely shown flashes of brilliance but they might be a couple of seasons away to make an impact. I could definitely see them playing that “spoiler” role in the second round, especially UST.

NT: The Tigers who growl some games and meow the next.  Over reliance of 3s will doom UST.  They have only three gunners and they’re not exactly deadly by UAAP standards.  The volume of shots they take take is just insane.   Mayhem takes a lot of gambles.

NU’s problem is that Issa Gaye is no Alfred Aroga.  Less dominant and less of an offensive threat.  Plus the line up is not built to contend.  There is no go-to scorer after the Ildefonsos.

PG: NU has an outside shot of making the Final Four but they’ll be playing unconventional lineups, which in a way, totally bad for them at the moment. When you play your best player at the point and all he is looking to do is attack, then that’s a problem, no offense on Dave. They still have one of the enviable big man rotations with Rike, Gaye, and Aquino, but none of them has made quite the impact I am looking for with all their length (Aquino), motor (Gaye), or skill (Rike).

UST is tough man. You lose Akomo for a long stretch and he’s your only big. While Cansino can surely carry a team, it’s a tough task for a rookie to also carry the defense. Germy Mahinay stepping up is a must but even I doubt that as I say it. I don’t know. On paper, they look good running Ayo’s offense back in Letran. But the Brick Bros man, it’s tough.

TP: It’s up to them, really. UST notching a win over a Final Four team helps their cause, but they’ll need to beat their rivals for that last spot to do it. Both are extremely erratic and inconsistent, one game they look like contenders for Final Four, the next they look like they belong in the cellar. If they can shock an opponent or two, they stand a chance.

VA: Both UST and NU are full of young talent. They have great building blocks and future centerpieces (Cansino for UST and the demolition brothers for NU) but this season is going to be rough for both teams and I can’t see them making a push for the Final Four, yet.

Have the UP Fighting Maroons convinced you that they can make the Final Four?

CS: I’ll say this: I think UP deserves to make the Final Four this year. There are so many things to still critique about UP: Poor bench production, putrid free throw percentage, mediocre defense. But UP did beat La Salle, should have probably beaten Adamson, and put up a decent fight against Ateneo. The Fighting Maroons still may not make the Final Four this year, but at this point, I’ll still say it’s a toss up between them and La Salle.

EDC: Just as they have convinced me that they are ready, they convince me that maybe it isn’t their year. The UP Fighting Maroons have had an erratic season so far. They demolished UE in their opener, but looked completely lost against Ateneo. They kept in step against the Adamson Falcons (sorry to those who have just erased that from their memories), but almost dropped a game against DLSU. Their game against the NU Bulldogs is a metaphor for their season. Just as they have built a semblance of momentum, it comes crumbling down. But just like the game against the NU Bulldogs, I think the UP fighting Maroons will enter the Final Four.

GA: Convinced? Not yet. But their last few games would make you believe a little that they can. I think It’s both Adamson and Ateneo at the top 2 spots (It’s a toss up on who will be #1 and #2) but the spots for 3-5 is really hard to predict. FEU, La Salle, and UP are that close in the standings and you could tell by the games that all 3 is within reach of the spot. UP have real pieces and talent that can both dominate or expose mismatches against numerous teams. Looking at their roster on paper alone, GDL brothers and Bright with steady role players would actually make you think that they are a playoff team. And also can I say that most of their loses came when they “choked” in the dying minutes of the game. Those were 50/50 games that could’ve gone either way. So, no. I am not convinced, YET. But you would want to believe that they can.

JM: Yes, I think they can battle it out for the fourth spot. Juan Gomez De Liaño’s stint with the Gilas Cadet has certainly helped his growth as a player.

KL: I’ll take the showbiz route and say I’m 50-50. Their offense has been surprisingly steady, but I can’t say the same for their defense. I won’t be surprised though if they at least make it to the Final Four as the fourth seed.

MS: Out of the four teams in the bottom of the standings, they definitely have the best chance of sneaking in especially with the recent troubles of DLSU and FEU. But have they done enough to convince me that they can overtake those two teams? I don’t think so. They’ve been exciting and fun to watch but it feels like they’re still a season away from really making a deep run. For this season, I think a lot hinges on whether the heavy load of their starters will be enough to carry them or will it be too much. An increase in their bench production might spell the difference.

PG: No. I’m sorry, Juan, Bright. But your supporting cast is either dumpster fire or hidden treasure gold. Desiderio still shoots a ton, which is within the flow of the offense mind you, but it ends up in a brick I don’t know why.

I am also perplexed why you try to play Manzo or Dario as point and slide Juan to the two spot. It just doesn’t make sense. Juan needs the ball on the inbounds, top of the key, corners, downhill attacks, the team bus for crying out loud. Juan is a point guard, and this is basketball crime if you are not using him the way Mike D’Antoni squeezed the best out of James Harden.

TP: Only because the other potential teams aren’t. At the moment DLSU looks like their closest rival for that fourth spot, but DLSU is short handed. With luck, UP can keep getting games like the one they had against NU and not completely melt down so they can make the Final Four.

VA: Yes. Before the season began, I had UP as a shoo in for the Final Four and after six games and 3-3 record, I am stil sticking with my prediction. Don’t let their recent struggles of blowing 2nd half leads fool you as the team is actually doing okay to this point. Juan Gomez De Liano is their MVP, Bright Akhuetie is findinng his groove as a constant double-double workhorse, Jun Manzo has been excellent as a stabilizing penetrator and Javi Gomez De Liano has been  supremely underrated. If they can just figure out an effective half court sets outside of JGDL ball screens, then they are on the right track. And oh, Mr. ‘Atin to’ has not found his touch yet. All is well for Diliman, for now.

Will Taane Samuel’s return elevate the DLSU Green Archers from Final Four contender to potential Finals team?

CS: As important a piece as Samuel may be, I doubt he moves the needle significantly enough if La Salle ends up playing a twice-to-beat Ateneo team. Kouame is getting exponentially better by the game, and a rusty Samuel will likely struggle to keep pace.

If the Green Archers draw either FEU or Adamson in the Final Four, Samuel could give them a slightly bigger chance at winning by putting a bigger body on imports Prince Orizu and Papi Sarr. Still, with the amount of talent and continuity on FEU and Adamson, I still wouldn’t put my money on La Salle in any match-up.

EDC: Taane Samuel injuring his left foot in the first game was a big blow to the Green Archers. They lost a mobile big man who can protect the rim and score. Because of his injury, Aljun Melecio and particularly, Justine Baltazar, had to work for lost scoring and defensive coverage. Once he returns, there will be questions about his game shape. Most likely, his return will disrupt the system they are running now. He will take about a month to get back into shape, and even that will not be guaranteed. The coaching staff should not rush Samuel’s recovery.

JM: Yes, alongside Kib Montalbo. Their health is the main concern for the Green Archers right now. Montalbo returned against Ateneo but is still not 100%. His leadership and defensive prowess is crucial for the team to succeed. For Samuel, his height and offensive arsenal (he can hit a three-pointer for time to time) is very unique to the team. He’s a perfect match-up for Angelo Kouame of Ateneo and Papi Sarr of Adamson. Even if they finish below the top 2, I think they have the talent and championship experience to overturn that twice-to-beat disadvantage.

KL: Big men and foot injuries, that’s tough. I love Samuel, but I don’t think he makes a game-changing impact this year. It’s Santi, Balti and Aljun’s team this year. Have to stick to your guns and rely on those three.

MS: It will depend on how close to 100% he’ll be if/when he comes back. A broken foot for a guy his size is no joke, especially with his style of play based on his highlights (perimeter-oriented, relies on quickness). To me, he’ll be a double-edged sword. On one hand, he’s still a huge body you can add to an already dominant frontline in the paint and on the boards. He can also put a wrench in opposing teams’ plans with how little he’s been scouted. On the other hand, that can very well work against DLSU if they’ll have trouble fitting him in. That might affect the chemistry they’ve already built through the elimination round. It’s definitely a gamble for a DLSU team already having issues with a small roster and an injured Kib Montalbo.

NT: Taane Samuel may just come back in time but not sure whether this will be enough to power La Salle to the finals.  Now La Salle is picking who they can beat and who they cannot.  Samuel’s entry will make the rotation deeper and can opt for a tall five on the floor anytime.  Samuel also has a decent mid range game.  But getting past FEU or Adamson may perhaps be a long shot.

PG: Nope. Nah. DLSU lives by Santi and Balti, and die with Melli. Sorry Aljun.  Samuel rejoins quite a crowded frontcourt, and honestly, I haven’t seen anything that stands out to me regarding Samuel. For what’s it worth, Brandon Bates is just a Marko Batricevic who has a motor. And big men with foot problems? No thanks man.

VA: Samuel’s return would definitely boost La Salle’s already talented frontline and bid for a Final Four spot but after getting outran by Ateneo in their last game and with the caliber of other teams such as Adamson and FEU, then I’m not really sure yet if they can make it to the Finals. Should they continue to control the rebounding department, however, and a constant solid showing by the trio of Aljun Melecio, Justine Baltazar and Santi Santillan, then the Archers may have a miracle run in store for them.

Can the FEU Tamaraws figure things out in time to make a Finals run? Why or why not?

CS: Yes. See: UAAP Final Four Season 80 vs Ateneo.

EDC: The UAAP is a short tournament, and teams really need to figure things out quickly if they want to contend for the title. The Tamaraws are slated to be the second best team this season (just behind Ateneo), yet they are in the middle of the pack of the semifinal teams. The main reason for this is that they do not run their offense through Arvin, and Hubert Cani chucks a lot of shots when the game is on the line. Don’t get me wrong, Hubert Cani is good. But run this enough times and teams figure you out. Arvin Tolentino is a marvel just waiting to burst out, and their game against Adamson is prime example of that. He just barbeque chicken-ed Simon Camacho and was having his way agaist Adamson until he channeled his inner JBL and clotheslined Sean Manganti back to San Marcelino. They will make the Final Four, but rest assured that Ateneo or Adamson will try everything to stop them from entering the Finals.

GA:  The FEU Tamaraws definitely CAN figure things out. They have one of the weirdest games and win-loss for the 1st round. Seeing their line-up. They are literally a “Complete Roster.” In tagalog terms, “Walang butaw sa position.” Anyone can fill in for anyone. I called it weird because who the hell would lose to both UE and UST with a convincing margin but then proceed to beat the top seeded Adamson? If they won those games, they could basically be gunning for the Top spot too with Adamsom and Ateneo. And I think that win vs Adamson is a statement win and possibly be a “turning point” for the FEUs season. We would see how they will perform against ADMU, but that win against Adamson would surely boost their morale all the way from coaches to the players which would make them believe that they can make the finals.

JM: Their gritty performance against Adamson and the their convincing win against La Salle in the first round showed that they can compete with the best… but they had a few blips along the way as they lost to the lower-seeded teams. They might make it to the Final Four, but a Finals appearance this year is unlikely.

KL: We’ll see you in the Finals, FEU. This is a sleeping giant that was awoken by a gritty UE team that had a steel chair and shouted “TANGHALI NA!!!!!” repeatedly. They will be fine.

MS: Nothing screams inconsistency more than losing to the winless UST and UE while winning against the undefeated AdU. FEU is no stranger to bouts of inconsistency in the elimination round. They’ve proven that they can put it together just in time for the final four. Offensively, they have enough firepower. It’s the defensive end that’s been a bit problematic. They’re tops in defending the paint but poor in defending the perimeter where it looks like they miss Roy Dennison. Prince Orizu has been fantastic in holding down the shaded lane on both ends but guys like Wendel Comboy and Jasper Parker have to step it up.

NT: FEU can figure things out.  It seems like coach Olsen is still hiding some aces. I think FEU should do well.  They are a flashy team and can dominate if they want to.  The problem is always, which FEU team will show up?

PG: Yes and no. The thing with FEU is they play to the level of their opponents. That’s massive disrespect to whoever they are playing. One game they good as hell and will beat the living crap out of you, the next, you wonder if they have a program who’s as cash-strapped as UE. If the schedule is loaded with the Final Four teams and potential contenders, book it, FEU will get a Final Four seat or Finals ticket. But if you break it by having bad teams in between? Good luck.

TP: Yes. FEU is filled with well built athletes that have the ability to use their physicality to bully opponents, much like they did against Adamson. Fixing their coordination problems puts them in prime contention for the Finals, but they can’t afford to struggle against teams that have competent athletes.

VA: FEU has plenty of time to figure things out. It’s still early in the season and with the load of talent they have, the Tamaraws is still one of the favorites to make it to the Finals and even win it all.

Who’s the best team in the UAAP so far? The Ateneo Blue Eagles or the Adamson Soaring Falcons?

CS: With record no longer favoring Adamson, the answer here has to clearly be Ateneo (unless someone wants to throw FEU into the mix just because they snapped Adamson’s streak). The Blue Eagles have literally outclassed the competition over the last several weeks. As it stands, Ateneo’s Net Rating is a whooping +22.5, while second best Adamson is at +6.

While Adamson’s opening weekend upset is definitely still in everyone’s head, it’s time to be real: Ateneo is still far and away the best team in the UAAP.

EDC: Oh boy. How do I answer this without an angry blue mob attacking me? We can look at this through two lenses, a subjective and objective one. First, objectively. If we look at both teams’ points per 100 possessions (where teams are given 100 possessions, regardless of pace), Ateneo tops the league at 101.43 while Adamson is fourth at 94.70. If we look at points allowed per 100 possessions, Ateneo gives up the least amount of points at 78.96 followed by Adamson at 88.73. These metrics suggest that Ateneo is better, but basketball is not played in a vacuum. Adamson has shown a lot of #PUSO in their last six games. This is not to say that Ateneo does not have any, they do not have enough close games to show their heart. Adamson’s resilience and poise down the stretch will serve them well going to the race to the semifinals, just as Ateneo’s discipline and work ethic will always be their trump card.

GA: This one is really tough but since Adamson lost to FEU, I would say that Ateneo is the best team so far.  Adamson may just have had their 1st loss against FEU but you would also see the almost all the wins of Adamson were hard-fought. And some times you could see them struggle. You can’t base it solely on team record and who you’ve defeated. Ateneo on the other hand, is cruising. I felt like the opening loss against Adamson was a slap to their egos (if there were egos) because with the way they performed in pre season and international tournaments got everyone buzzing. People were saying they could easily sweep the entire UAAP tournament and that’s some added pressure. But it was a blessing in disguise. It’s the best thing that happened to ADMU’s season. Believe me. Losing against ADU removed all the pressure and thoughts of the players and possibly coaches. Back to the drawing board. Everyone is “rebooted.” And since then, they’ve been “cruising.” So Im giving the edge to ADMU.

JM: I’d say… the Ateneo Blue Eagles. After experiencing an “upset” against the Soaring Falcons in the opening weekend, they bounced back with lopsided wins, including one against the Green Archers. Kouame has been a revelation and coach Tab Baldwin’s deep rotation is still by far the best in the league.

KL: Adamson has been awesome, but we’re all about holistic performances here. I’ll have to give the nod to the Ateneo Blue Eagles. The scariest part? The Ateneo offense isn’t even in the same fluidity as it was last season. And Ange Kouame is just getting better.

MS: I have to go with the defending champions on this one. Adamson broke that elimination sweep expectation quickly but I think it only served to ground Ateneo that much sooner and make them hungrier. They have similar records but it’s hard to ignore how Ateneo is both the top offensive AND defensive team in the league. And this is despite my belief that their offense isn’t as smooth or as crisp as last season’s. But their defense has really been the game changer as the difference between them and second-best is a full 10 points. It feels like they’ve taken a step back but two steps forward in a way.

NT: Best team is Ateneo.  They are in a league of their own. Ateneo has been playing Jones Cup level lately.  The old reliables continue to play their game but guys like Will Navarro’s game has been great. Kouame is getting better while the Nieto twins, Verano and Asistio are just too consistent.  And Ateneo has plenty on their tank, there is Mamuyac, Tio, Daves, Black. Just too good.

PG: Ateneo. Not because I’m biased or anything, but having to play catch-up to your five wins prior to getting your first L is as bad as going perfect for the season and dropping the trophy (Sorry, UE and LPU).

The Blue Eagles have clearly learned from the opening game loss against the Falcons and have been completely leveling any team they face in clinical fashion. They’d let you stick in the first half (Hi, DLSU!), making it seem like you had a chance with your crash, then bam, curb-stomped in the third quarter.

Adamson on the other hand, again, I emphasize, playing tight games. While it’s good for developing clutch situation plays, it’s going to bite you back in the ass when the time arrives.

TP: Stats say Ateneo but (in my heart) I’d have to say Adamson. Ateneo is like a knight in shining armor right now, totally awesome, absolutely deadly and clean. Meanwhile Adamson has been in the trenches this whole time. 6 action packed games that have tested their character makes Adamson the more well rounded team at this point. They’ve shown they can win wire-to-wire, execute in the clutch, and even come back from the dead. This is not to discredit Ateneo’s monster efficiency, but the only time they were actually challenged, they lost.

VA: This one’s tricky. Adamson has been somewhat of a surprise this season as they have shown that they are legit championship contenders this season. They defend, they are well-coached, and most of all, they play with heart every game. Ateneo, on the other hand, has been, well, the freakin’ Ateneo Blue Eagles that everyone expected to be. If I had to choose between the two though, then I will have to go with the Blue Eagles. Simply because they have just been outclassing their opponents as of late and they have enough championship poise to save grace whenever their game plan is not working. Also, because they have Angelo Kouame and Thirdy Ravena.

Who’s your MVP after the first round?

CS: If we’re looking at stats and wins, Angelo Koaume is probably a shoe-in for this award. I’d throw Jerrick Ahanmisi’s name in the fire as well due to wins.

However, not considering the UAAP’s MVP Stats Calculator, I actually choose UP’s Juan Gomez De Liano as my MVP so far. The sophomore star is currently second in the league in scoring (19.3ppg) and assists (4.3apg) while also shooting crazy percentages (50.5% from the field, 44.1% from three). He’s got the swagger, demeanor and confidence, and has instilled a belief in both his teammates and the UP fans that has not been seen in decades. This kid is the real deal.

EDC: Ange Kouame, hands down. With the exception of the game against Adamson, he has shown his dominance in the league. Currently, he averages 11.3ppg, 12.5rpg, and 3.8bpg. The scary part of it is that he LEGITIMATELY gets almost four blocks a game, more if you count the numerous shots he has altered this season. It’s not like he blocked eight shots one game and none the next, garnering an inflated average of four a game. Since team wins are also in the equation for statistical points, the Ivory Tower is my MVP.

GA: ANGE KOUAME. Stats-wise. Impact-wise. Record-wise. No further explanations.

JM: Sean Manganti. The lanky forward has been spectacular for Adamson and coach Franz Pumaren has utilised his player perfectly. Despite going scoreless against the UST Growling Tigers, he scored a career high 27 points against the UE Red Warriors, hit a game winner against the UP Fighting Maroons, and a game-tying shot that sent the game to overtime against the FEU Tamaraws. Adamson’s record says it all. Five wins and one loss. Without the presence of Manganti, the Soaring Falcons may not have this dream start. He’s an integral part of coach Pumaren’s offence as he can score in various ways, whether it’s inside or outside. Manganti is too quick for slow-footed forwards, and his length is an advantage against shorter forwards. It’s a close call between him and Kouame but his impact and importance to his team weighs more. Kouame can easily gobble up double-doubles but since he’s playing in coach Baldwin’s system, anybody can step-up and lead the Blue Eagles. We can also include Aljun Melecio and J. Gomez De Liaño in the conversation but their team record pales in comparison compared to Adamson’s stunning start this season.

KL: Angelo Kouame. Trust the freaking process. His impact on the defensive end is RIDICULOUS.

MS: Angelo Kouame. It’s a bit weird to pick a guy who averages “just” 9 points a game but I think that points to how much of an impact he’s making in the league and for his team. He’s still rough around the edges offensively but he’s already a monster rebounder on both ends. But it’s really his defensive impact that makes him MVP in my book and it’s more than just the blocks (although that helps tremendously). His combination of size, length and quickness is hard to go against. He’s not the type of big that becomes a liability when switched on pick and rolls. Even when he gets out of position, he can still cover up for his mistake. I think he single-handedly makes the Ateneo defense that much deadlier. What’s even scarier is he already has this much of an impact as a rook. Just imagine a few years from now…

NT: Angelo Kouame. Kouame has delivered on both ends of the floor.  Crashing the boards, extending on defense as well as being the backbone of the Ateneo defense when someone drives to the hole.  How many times has he changed the shots of those who dared? Now he can even shoot 3s.

PG: Aldin Ayo’s guns will always be MVP. I kid. It has to be Ange Kouame. He’s taken Ateneo to a whole different level and mind you, this guy is still raw-ish. Thirdy has been consistent with the minutes he has been playing. But if you take out Kouame, the entire scheme of Ateneo changes. It’s like the transition of the team when it lost Noy Baclao and Rabeh Al-Hussaini: no rim protection and post option, you run like the Richmond Oilers.

TP: Jerrick Ahanmisi. He has yet to score less than 10 points in a game despite being a heavily marked man. It’s one thing to score 20-20 by efficiently making the most of the gravity created by teammates, but a totally different story to be THE gravity that opponents are drawn to and still score big numbers.

VA: Angelo Kouame is the logical choice here since he is the best player in the best team today. But I will go out onn a limb for this one and pick Juan Gomez De Liano as the MVP of the first round so far just because the Maroons might be at the bottom of the standings right now if not for him. JGDL has been carrying the chunk of their offensive load with his superior ball screen abilities and impeccable shooting and has been hands down the best guard in the UAAP this season (Think of the importance of James Harden for the Houston Rockets. That’s JGDL for UP).

Eyes on the youngsters: CJ Cansino and Dave Ildefonso. Who’s impressed you the most so far?

CS: I was in the stands as I  watched CJ Cansino run a fastbreak, get into the paint and fling one-handed bullet to Ken Zamora on the opposite wing. It landed right into Zamora’s shooter’s pocket. Swish.

Cansino has been my favorite player to watch in the UAAP all season, as his combination of scoring, playmaking and rebounding form a unique talent that UST is extremely lucky to field. Dave Ildefonso’s demeanor and scoring ability have definitely impressed me as well, but I really think Cansino may a step or two above the former Ateneo Blue Eaglet.

EDC: These two young men have taken the league by storm. Their skill and potential scream STAR from the get-go, and it seems like these two players are getting better per game. While Dave Ildefonso is showing everyone that he is not regreting taking his talents to F. Jhocson, I will give the slightest of nods to CJ Cansino. Because of the UST system that relies heavily on guards and their wings, CJ will get his fair share of the scoring load. While defenses are centered around Renzo Subido and Marvin Lee, Cansino will pick up the cudgels and show the seniors division why he was an MVP in high school.

GA: This is really hard of a choice because both players have been impressive AND THEY DON’T LOOK LIKE ROOKIES AT ALL!!! Pwede bang both na lang??? Both rookies are thriving under their respective teams and I could say that both Coach Jamike and Ayo have utilized them well. Both are strong, quick and lanky and can do it on both ends of  the floor. Can I choose both? But if not, I would say CJ over Dave (like 51-49 haha) because he stepped up in the absence of Akomo and somehow carried a slightly heavier load.

JM: Dave Ildefonso. We all know CJ Cansino can do it all but the former has showed everyone that he can be a number one option in the offence. He played third fiddle behind Kai Sotto and SJ Belangel in the juniors with the Blue Eaglets but he had an instant impact in his seniors debut under coach Jamike Jarin. The former Blue Eaglet recorded 19 points, seven rebounds, and three assists, which resulted to a win. He also has handled the pressure of playing for his father (and alongside his older brother) well as he is showing great composure for a rookie.

KL: I’ll just say both, because man, these two have been SO GOOD. Dave’s offensive polish is beyond his years. Cansino just knows how to utilize his physical gifts. These two are absolute studs.

MS: Coming into the season, all eyes were definitely on Dave Ildefonso’s debut, mine included. Hard not to when he was part of a champion Blue Eaglet squad, turned heads in FIBA play and is the son of PBA legend Danny Ildefonso. He’s definitely having a fantastic season so far but I think CJ Cansino has shown a bit more. It says a lot that he’s already 7th in ppg, 4th in FTM AND 5th in 3PT%. He sometimes looks unguardable out there whenever he gets into the paint. There’s smoothness to his driving game and ability to adjust layups midair that’s fun to watch. But it’s his rebounding that gets me as well. Being 7th in rpg as both a rookie and a 6-1 wing is extremely impressive. He has a sneaky strength to him that allows him to fight for those boards. Overall, his efficiency and nose for rebounding have been great. He could actually stand to do more if he can supplant Renzo Subido and Marvin Lee in the pecking order. He’s been that good.

NT: Both impressed everyone so far.  Each had their bad nights where teams prepped for them and checked their game.  But that is expected even for super rookies.

PG: Both have impressed me in their own right. It’s giving them bad press if we have to compare them based on their position alone or their responsibility. Both are in different situations and both have been producing with what they have. They both have their faults as well but that doesn’t diminish the resuscitating effect they have given their respective schools.

Dave still plays with blinders for most parts of the game, but that’s just owing to his born scorer instincts. He still lacks the “gulang” despite being taller than Cansino. But his offensive polish is way above everyone in his class.

Cansino on the other hand, has shown that he can carry a team’s offense. His high basketball IQ is heaven-sent for Aldin Ayo as he has found an offensively better and smarter version of Kevin Racal as he rebuilds the UST Growling Tigers.

TP: CJ Cansino. He gets buckets at will regardless of who he’s playing. Although Dave has been playing incredibly polished for a rookie. Both of them will be exciting to watch in coming seasons.

VA: Both players have been spectacular in their debut season but CJ Cansino has impressed me more as he is more inclined in doing the little things especially in the defensive end when he’s shots are not going in.

Right now, who do you have winning the championship?

CS: Ateneo repeats as champion after surviving two competitive games over… FEU.

EDC: This season, I pick Ateneo to go back-to-back. It’s hard to bet against the defending champions, and the team who defeated Chinese Taipei in the Jones Cup. The Blue Eagles lost a squeaker in their first game, but have been on a tear ever since. Knowing Coach Tab, the team is not on its final form yet. Ateneo has continued to improve on a per game basis, and has been hitting their stride. Adamson, FEU, UP, and DLSU might be nipping at their heels, but Ateneo still has some cards up their sleeve to power them to another title.

GA: My pick will be the same since before the start of the season. ATENEO. Again, they have the best pieces and best system and flow in the league by far. The loss to Adamson was quite a surprise but it was a wakeup call. I also expect the to win against FEU even if FEU came from a statement win. Roster-wise, I think only Adamson and FEU are the teams that can match-up well with them and keep up with the energy. But Ateneo will be Ateneo, so I expect them to win all the way.

JM: Ateneo Blue Eagles. The loss against the Soaring Falcons was a wake-up call for the defending champions and expect them to fly smoothly heading into the Final Four.

KL: Ateneo Blue Eagles. This is still their title to lose.

MS: Though this season has proven that anything can happen with all the craziness, I still have Ateneo winning it all. I’ll admit that they did look really in that loss against Adamson. But since then, they’ve dusted themselves off and resumed methodically dismantling the opposition. They still have some issues offensively and with their thin big man rotation. While the Soaring Falcons have certainly proven to be a legitimate threat to the crown, the Blue Eagles will lean on their hellacious defense to push them through.

NT: Ateneo will win it.

PG: No matter how much Adamson has improved, mas malaki pa din bird ng Ateneo.

TP: Adamson. I still believe their tougher road to the Final Four and eventually the Finals will make them better prepared for whoever they meet toward the championship. Losing to FEU this early is a good thing, because if they want to lose, it had better be now, while there’s time to learn from it.

VA: Ateneo Blue Eagles. No explanations needed.