This season has been quite the wild ride, possibilities and scenarios aplenty. Discussions have been endless, with zero form of stability found. It’s been fun, it’s been painful, but we have zero regrets talking about the league we love the most.

With at least three more games remaining for each team, it’s only fitting we had our very own version of a midseason break thanks to Undas. We’ll continue to talk. We’ll continue to have fun. But for once, let’s take advantage of the silence, and discuss the league with the kind of peace we haven’t had since September.

For Part 1 of the Humblebola Midseason Roundtable, the team gathers around to take about the bloody middle pack of the league.

UST faces quite the bloody schedule moving forward (La Salle, Adamson, UP, Ateneo). Who are they most likely to beat among these four teams, and what’s the probability of that happening?

Juro Morilla: UST has shown great improvement under former DLSU head coach Aldin Ayo and it reflects not only in their record (very much in contention for a Final Four spot), but also in the way they play the game. The level of confidence must be high for the Growling Tigers and I believe that they can pull-off an “upset” to one of these teams. And no, Ayo won’t have a successful revenge game against La Salle but their next win (and probably last for the season) might come at UP’s expense. They almost have an identical record with the Fighting Maroons and with UP blowing hot and cold this season, I think the Growling Tigers have a shot. The probably of UST winning against UP is… I’d say 50%.

Michael Severino: The Blue Eagles and the Soaring Falcons will most likely finish as the top two seeds, with the former securing the first seed. La Salle will receive a twice-to-beat disadvantage as the third seed while the fourth seed will go to… I think UP (sorry FEU and UST, I can imagine Paul Desiderio exploding in their last three games of the elimination round). Ateneo will beat UP in their Final Four match-up while Adamson will need a rubber-match against the Green Archers before reaching the championship round. In the Finals, I think the Blue Eagles will successfully defend their title after playing a three-game series against the Soaring Falcons.

Eriko Dela Cruz: If I were to be optimistic, UST can split their two outings. As they are now, beating Ateneo and/or Adamson seems virtually impossible. I would give them a fighting chance against UP, because UST proved that they can dominate the Fighting Maroons when push comes to shove. However, this is not the same UP team that they faced in the First round. UP has gained a lot of momentum even if they lost to Adamson, and is itching to get into the Final Four. DLSU matches well against the Growling Tigers, as they have an advantage in every position. The main factor in the next four games of UST is how Mahinay and Huang will play, as these two seems to be revelations for UST in the past round. Best case scenario for them is a 2-2 record, worst case scenario is at 0-4.

Toby Pavon: UST beating Ateneo or Adamson is highly unlikely, but fortunately that’s the same for the other contenders. UST has the highest shot at beating UP just because UP has been the less consistent of the two. DLSU seemed to have had UST’s number in the first round, however both teams have come along way since then. I predict UST going 1 of 3 in their last 4 games.

The FEU Tamaraws have been skidding this second round. Is there still any reason to believe they can turn things around?

JM: FEU has three games left (UE, NU, and AdU) to salvage their season. The Red Warriors and the Bulldogs are at the bottom of the standings right now but the Tamaraws cannot be complacent even though they have a better record. Like UP, they too have been inconsistent this year and the injury of Prince Orizu is a major problem. NU has Issa Gaye while AdU has Papi Sarr and FEU’s best bet in slowing down these bigs is out injured. But (sometimes) one player does not define one team. FEU boasts one of the deepest squads in the league and they have point god Olsen Racela as their head coach. Expect them to fight till the end and maybe, snatch that fourth seed away from UP and UST.

MS: There is more than enough to believe they can right their ship and trudge into the Final Four. While their winless second round so far is concerning, we can’t forget that they’ve been without Prince Orizu (injury) and Arvin Tolentino (suspensions), arguably their two most important players. And again, the same thing happened last year. More importantly, they’ve shown flashes of dominance throughout the season as well. What’s scary for the league is they definitely haven’t peaked yet and it might come just in time to excel in the Final Four. Luckily for them, they probably have the easiest schedule out of the aforementioned four teams with bottom feeders NU and UE and Adamson who they beat in the first round. As long as they take care of business (ie: don’t lose to worse teams) and have Tolentino avoid inadvertently hitting another player in the face, they should be fine.

EDC: Here’s the thing about FEU: It’s hard to win games when you have your two best players out for varying reasons. Their loss against UST was the only time that their team was complete and they lost, but that was due to their shots not falling more than anything. They were neck and neck againt Ateneo until Orizu went down. In their game against UP, the Fighting Maroons caught fire and the Tamaraws did not have an answer for Bright Akhuetie. Against the DLSU Green Archers, Bates had a masterful performance that was enough to propel them to a win. Orizu is listed as day-to-day and may come back soon. Arvin Tolentino is a marvel, provided he does not get suspended again. Woe to the team that faces a healthy FEU Tamaraws firing in all cylinders.

TP: Yes. The reasons are named Arvin Tolentino, Hubert Cani, Axel Inigo and Wendel Comboy. FEU has so many talented players who could all individually take games over. Coach Olsen has a both unenviable but easy job, managing all the tools at his disposal but finding out how to get them to work. It’s just a matter of time that they’ll get the right combination, even if by accident, and when they do, they’re a powder keg ready to explode.

Will playing Juan Gomez de Liano off the bench work for the UP Fighting Maroons in the long run?

JM: In UP’s first three games of the second round (two wins and one loss), Juan Gomez De Liaño came off the bench and still averaged over 31 minutes of game time. That’s starter minutes! In their fourth game of the second round, he finally started (logged in 28.33 minutes and scored five points) but the Fighting Maroons lost to the ADMU Blue Eagles. I think UP head coach Bo Perasol experimented with JDL off the bench because he wanted someone to take over once the starters rest in the early stages of the game. The playmaking and scoring exploits of JDL adds more stability to the UP bench and it has worked so far (averaged triple-double numbers in his last two games before the Ateneo loss). For now, I think Perasol should continue bringing the spitfire guard off the bench. And if he gets comfortable with the role, he can be the team’s Sixth Man when Kobe Paras and Ricci Rivero comes in next year. Imagine that.

MS: If nothing else, it definitely helped him individually as it led to some stellar games from him, including a triple-double. It allowed him to feast on second-stringers, build up rhythm for end game situations and circumvented UP’s issue with bench production. Unfortunately, it still doesn’t help solve a lot of their other issues including consistency, defense, etc. This one single move might not be enough to get them far this season. But with the expected talent infusion in Season 82, it will probably pay off. Good teams need to have that talented scorer/playmaker off the pine.

EDC: I think Juan GDL coming off the bench is a GOOD move, fite me. It gives you back Paul Desiderio to his scoring ways, giving you an additional weapon when backed into a corner (which according to their courtside reporter, they apparently love). Since Paul and Juan do not have to share the ball, it gives them their shots that they otherwise would not have if they are both starters. It also gives their second unit that much-needed punch, as UP’s bench is not actually that deep. When you rest Akhuetie, Prado, Desiderio, and Manzo, it is good to have Juan running the show for the bench mob. The plays can go through him or be made for him. He can be the primary attack option, or be the decoy that defenses key on. It gives the Fighting Maroons an extra layer in offense that can boost their chances of making it to the postseason.

TP: No. Playing a talent like Juan Gomez de Liano off the bench only works if the player he comes off the bench for is a more consistent fit to what the starting 5 wants to do. In the case of UP, that’s just not the case because almost all their guards play the same way and want to do the same thing. What it does instead weakens the starting 5, preventing UP from getting their rhythm early on. For that to work, UP needs to have a solid gameplan without Juan and have Juan come in as a second wind, not just another bullet in the barrel.

The DLSU Green Archers have been one of the more consistent teams in this season. Do they have what it takes to make a leap towards the Finals?

JM: A leap to the Finals is possible… with a healthy team. Kib Montalbo surprisingly came back early from his thumb injury but Taane Samuel is still out after succumbing to a Jones fracture on his right foot in his UAAP debut. The big man was astounding in the Filoil Flying V Preseason Cup last summer as he showcased his wide variety of offensive moves. Samuel was a dominant force inside the paint but the most impressive aspect of his game is his ability to knock-down three-point jumpers. Hitting outside shots will force the opposing big man to stretch out to Samuel thus giving his teammates the golden opportunity to attack the basket. The 6’8 center is the key for the Green Archers to get over the hump and make a third consecutive UAAP Finals appearance.

MS: They will most certainly secure their spot in the Final Four with a lot of winnable games left in their schedule. The issue is if they have enough to shift into that next gear so to speak. Do they have that X-factor that can propel them forward? The aforementioned FEU for example has had to deal with key players out for several stretches hence they haven’t shown their best just yet. Justine Baltazar has shown that he can lead the tema while Encho Serrano has provided great energy off the bench. Is there anyone else on their roster that can somehow explode? It seems hard to come up with one outside of maybe Taane Samuel coming back to bolster an already strong frontline or Andrei Caracut finally playing up to his potential. They have been one of the more consistent teams in the league but that can also be a potential weakness in the playoffs.

EDC: DLSU is still stacked. Their starters are solid, with Aljun Melecio and Justine Baltazar leading the way. The supporting cast is deep, with scorers like Dodong Santillan and Andrei Caracut waiting to explode. Rookie Encho Serrano has also upped his game this round, getting the feel of how the UAAP seniors division is like. They have a solid chance to make the third seed going into the Final Four, and have a fighting chance against Adamson should the Falcons end up with the second seed. If they face Ateneo, they really have to work for it. They will have to face a much more confident Ange Kouame, who will give them big (pun intended) problems as La Salle does not have a big man to match up against the Ivory Tower.

TP: No. The Final Four is a different animal. Sure they have moments of brilliance during the regular season but the inconsistencies and flaws that they have will be magnified in the Final Four. Come Final Four, teams cannot rely on opponents not playing their A game, and DLSU sorely needs opponents to be off-step in order to win.

Who’s your Final Four, Finals matchup, and champion?

JM: The Blue Eagles and the Soaring Falcons will most likely finish as the top two seeds, with the former securing the first seed. La Salle will receive a twice-to-beat disadvantage as the third seed while the fourth seed will go to… I think UP (sorry FEU and UST, I can imagine Paul Desiderio exploding in their last three games of the elimination round). Ateneo will beat UP in their Final Four match-up while Adamson will need a rubber-match against the Green Archers before reaching the championship round. In the Finals, I think the Blue Eagles will successfully defend their title after playing a three-game series against the Soaring Falcons.

MS: I think I can confidently say Ateneo, Adamson, La Salle and FEU will make up the Final Four, in that order. It wouldn’t surprise me to see both series go the full two games as well. But Ateneo versus Adamson will probably be the finals matchup. Ateneo has proven their dominance despite some glaring weaknesses while Adamson has proven to be a top-tier team. The Blue Eagles will prevail in three tough games to win their second-straight championship.

EDC: Ateneo and Adamson are clearly a cut above the rest, but they are not guaranteed protagonists for the finals. If the REAL FEU decided to show up in the Final Four, things can get really interesting quickly. The Tamaraws have shown that they can beat the top two teams in the league. Whoever they match up with will have some problems with FEU, and have the chance to make it a 2-game affair. Whichever way it goes, it will be a very interesting series.

TP: Adamson-Ateneo-FEU-UP, Ateneo and Adamson in the Finals. Ateneo has been statistically the best team in the league, however they still suffer the same problem as the first round which is a lack of pressure testing. Sure MVP Kouame has come alive in the second round but Adamson has made their share of adjustments as well. Adamson’s biggest advantage at the moment is that they are a grit and grind team but have a huge consistency flaw that may be exposed in the Final Four. Adamson wins it all. They have just enough consistency and explosiveness to outlast Ateneo.