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 2 of the Humblebola Midseason Roundtable, the team talks about the top and bottom teams, with all of them looking forward to what’s ahead for their respective programs.

Can Adama Diakhite be a big enough of a difference for Coach Joe Silva and the UE Red Warriors?

Claro Manzano: Bringing in a big man like Diakhite will clearly make a difference from the get-go for the Red Warriors. For starters, Diakhite clogging the paint on defense will already be a big difference since the Red Warriors are last in the league in rebounding and points allowed by a sizable margin. His presence down low on offense will attract attention down low and make things easier for their floor spacers.

I see UE becoming a Final Four dark horse right out of the box. Joe Silva is still in that early stage of planting his seeds and I’d definitely expect more from the Red Warriors in the long run. For now, they’re early into that “trust the process” stage.

Neal Tieng: I will say this upfront, the Adama Diakhite hype is over the top and he would be a factor in relieving the miseries of Coach Joe Silva but not good enough to contend.  In the handful of games I have seen Diakhite including some crucial tiffs in UCBL, Diakhite is an import who will not be dominant in the UAAP. Imagine an import almost similar to Steve Akomo or an Yssa Gaye, tall enough to disrupt but not skilled enough to make an overall difference.  During the battle for 3rd against Olivarez College in the 2017 UCBL, Diakhite got outrebounded by guys six inches smaller than him.  He made bad decisions with the ball and struggles on the freethrow line. He will be the Shaq of the UAAP. Certainly, an improvement in rim protection as well as rebounding, but if UE is looking for scoring options outside of Pasaol, Diakhite is not the guy.   

Karlo Lovenia: From a purely basketball point of view, he’ll be huge. That last time UE had a big man of Diakhite’s caliber was when Charles Mammie was flexing his muscles against the likes of Karim Abdul and Alfred Aroga. It’s been quite some time. His size, athleticism and heft alone should be big for the Red Warriors. But UE’s woes go beyond that of basketball. Establishing a culture, especially one filled with positivity and hope continues to be a challenge for the young Red Warriors.

Nicole Miranda: A 6’9″ imposing presence on the low block would be a welcome addition for any team in the UAAP. Diakhite numbers speak for themselves – He’s a walking double double that can match-up well with other FSA’s in the UAAP. No wonder teams were scrambling for this prized big man.

For UE, Diakhite’s entry in S82 would definitely elevate them to a better standing compared to this season – Given the fact that right now they are dead last in terms of rebounding and 7th in terms of points in the paint. However, it is important to note that for Diakhite to be a real difference maker, he needs a solid supporting cast – UE wouldn’t want him to look like an Alvin Pasaol 2.0.

How concerning is NU’s lack of a true point guard moving forward, elite wing depth and all?

CM: It all starts with a point guard, who is like the conductor of an orchestra. Being a point guard goes beyond just bringing the ball up the court. These guys have that special vision. They know exactly what’s going to happen on a play and how to go about things with that extra diskarte they possess.

Who’s going to setup the bigs and wings? Who’s going to setup the go-to guy so that he won’t have to force his looks at the basket? How are shooters going to get that crisp pass which gives them that confidence to put up a good shot? It’s on the playmaker to give them these.

The lives of John Clemente and Dave Ildefonso could perhaps get easier if they find that facilitator who can suit them.

Dave could find himself slashing or driving into more open lanes and Clemente in turn will have more clean looks from the perimeter.  

NT: NU is a team stacked with talent but built without design.  After hoarding “blue chips” like John Lloyd Clemente, Jonas Tibayan, Dave and Shaun Idelfonso, and Joshua Sinclair, it seems that the Bulldogs stacked talents that don’t compliment each other.  Rev Diputado was a lock to be the premiere guard this season spent a ton of time on the bench and Dave Yu had more rotation minutes than Diputado in the early going. But both these guards have been busy taking their own attempts than passing this to an open Dave Ildefonso at the wing.  Issa Gaye became a huge disappointment being compared to the new standard of FSAs, Ange Kouame. National U’s inability to create offensive opportunities for Dave Ildefonso has made him look ineffective during a set play. NU ranks 8th in points scored and 7th in starter points.  

KL: This is a new challenge for Coach Jamike Jarin. Over his years of coaching, he’s always been accustomed to having an elite TWO-WAY (this is important!) guard at his disposal. Kiefer Ravena and Baser Amer are the most recent cases. JV Dumrique and Juami Tiongson were quite underrated studs. In his current batch of Bulldogs, there isn’t one guard who fits the bill as elite.

Is it concerning? Right now it is, with NU’s chances at a Final Four slot rather slim. But in the long run, it’s an opportunity for Coach Jamike to experiment. To possibly try new things he’s never done before is quite the exciting prospect for any coach. He’s alluded to a 6’4” Dave Ildefonso playing point guard in spurts. Maybe go full time to it? Who knows. But the opportunity at new things is quite exciting for NU.

NM: Yes, NU does not have a true point guard right now but they do have a lot of players who can play multiple positions at their disposal. In this day and age of modern basketball wherein positionless systems reign supreme, this won’t be a major concern for the Bulldogs moving forward.

Their players like Dave Ildefenso, JLC, and even Joshua Sinclair will get used to this with time. It will be an added bonus if they can get an elite PG to run their offense or if Enzo Joson improves on his playmaking abilities in the next few seasons. As Leona Lewis said “It will all get better in time”.

A first world problem question: Who’s the MVP of the Soaring Falcons, Sean Manganti or Jerrick Ahanmisi?

CM: I’d put my money on Manganti here. Sean can take certainly take the ball to the hole as we’ve seen and connects from the perimeter at times. He loses on offensive consistency to Ahanmisi, but makes up for things on the defensive end.

Look at his wingspan. That has clearly allowed him to lockdown opponents and get blocks which we’ve seen on highlights. He gives a more complete package to me.

But still, having to pick between Sean and Jerrick will always be a pick your poison situation.

NT: It is close, but I have to go with Sean Manganti.  Jerrick Ahanmisi is a threat from long distance and does not require much space to get his Steph Curry-like J off.  But Sean Maganti’s length and athleticism is one that fits into the Franz Pumaren system. Remember how La Salle’s Mon Jose seemed to be last working part that makes the Pumaren full-court press work?  That is Maganti now. His length and quickness enables Adamson to flip the full court press switch and sit back to see it work. Maganti is also clutch having saved the Falcons a number of times from catastrophe.  

KL: Manganti’s versatility has been awesome to watch, but I’m sticking with Jerrick. His ability to shoot at ridiculous rates has been quite the game-changer for Adamson, and pairing that with creation makes things even tougher for a defense to shut down. Ahanmisi’s the Curry in this regard, while Manganti is the Durant. Can’t believe I’m making that comparison to side with Curry, but it’s the truth.

NM: As someone from UP, the quick trigger answer would be Sean Manganti as he has broken our hearts countless times already. Dagger baskets. King Maroon. Haha!

Kidding aside, the most valuable player for Adamson would be Jerrick Ahanmisi. Much like how Renren Ritualo was the MVP of Coach Franz’s DLSU team back in the day, Ahanmisi fills in the role and at certain times, even doing it better. Now on his third year, his agressiveness coupled with his improved overall play is vital to Adamson’s success. If he can improve on the shot-creating facet of his game, then there’s no point in asking this question already.

How concerning is Ateneo’s lack of a “killer instinct”?

CM: I honestly think that Ateneo never lost its killer instinct. They have the tools to go all the way in terms of personnel. These guys can easily flip the switch to “party mode” during games. Head Coach Tab Baldwin cannot have a better bunch of Filipino college players than this squad to run his system which is tried and tested at the international level.

NT: Ateneo’s lack of killer instinct is a statement from Coach Tab Baldwin being just Coach Tab Baldwin.  He simply wanted to check the egos of the team and make sure that every single misstep is spotted and called on.  The Blue Eagles may have lost some leads, but it was not because they did not have the will to go for the kill, and some people may portray this as taking your foot off the pedal.  National U’s 3rd quarter chase was a case of a team hitting their average shooting clip after shooting horrendously in the first half.  When it will matter, Ateneo can easily flip the switch and go into Jones Cup mode.

KL: I wouldn’t call it concerning, but it’s something to look out for. They haven’t exactly done well during the time teams have pushed them to the brink of losing in the clutch. There are teams certainly built to give them that sort of trouble. How they respond against a gritty Adamson team this Sunday should be something.

NM: Ateneo has been so good this season that the players have a tendency to relax and give up mini-runs to the other squads. This is why Coach Tab mentioned that Ateneo still lacks that “killer instinct”.

It this a cause for concern? For me, this is just something a Coach would say to align his players and focus on the goal which is the championship. It’s been relatively a breeze for Ateneo and Coach Tab just wants to light that fire in them.

It’s but normal for any good team to experience this – Up big, slack off a little, recover, win. This is really not a concern for Ateneo as they have the talent and the coaching needed to carve out a W at any scenario. Add to that, I think Ateneo is one of the teams in the UAAP that can flip the switch easily. They’ll be alright.

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

CM: 1 vs. 4: The Battle of Katipunan
I see the Ateneo Blue Eagles locking in the first seed and will go up against the UP Fighting Maroons. I also think that UP and the FEU Tamaraws will get into a playoff for that last spot in the Final Four.

Prediction: Ateneo wins over UP in one game. They certainly have the experience and are crisp on offense and definitely stingy on the other end of the floor.

2 vs 3: La Salle and Adamson figure in third straight Final Four matchup
I see both teams facing off in the Final Four for a third consecutive season. This time around, it will be the Soaring Falcons with a twice-to-beat advantage.

Prediction: La Salle’s young team is going to give Adamson a run for its money and will take the first game of this series. Although, the Soaring Falcons will bank on their experience and cohesion to take Game 2 and setup a finals matchup with Ateneo.

 

Finals: Ateneo vs. Adamson

I see Ateneo taking the title over Adamson in three close-fought games. Cohesion will once again be key for these guys. The way the Ateneans have embraced Baldwin’s system have made them such a well-oiled machine.

NT: Final Four would most likely be Ateneo, Adamson, La Salle and UP.  The Battle of Katipunan will go to the Final Four while La Salle and Adamson would most likely have a replay of last year.  Ateneo will most likely take it in one game while the Falcons – Archers series will most likely go the distance with Adamson finally taking it.  If Taane Samuel gets to suit up before the Final Four, it would play a huge factor in the La Salle – Adamson series because of the added frontline depth.  And with the game-by-game improvement of Brandon Bates, the Green Archers may yet become 4-man deep in the forward-center positions. Ateneo and Adamson will square off in the finals with Ateneo taking the title in two games.   

KL: Ateneo and FEU will clash, with the Blue Eagles beating FEU in one thrilling game. Adamson and La Salle have a rematch, with the Soaring Falcons squeaking past the Green Archers in two tightly contested matches. Ateneo will sweep Adamson, but without getting bloodied up in the process. That’s going to be quite the series to watch out for.

NM: Basically the Top 2 are locked-in already – That’s Ateneo and Adamson at #1 and #2. For the 3rd and 4th spot, it will all depend on the final games of the season.

Considering the contending teams’ (i.e. DLSU, UST, UP, and FEU), final games, I see UP and DLSU clinching that 3rd and 4th spot with identical 8-6 W-L card with UP on top because of superior quotient. As much as UST has shocked the UAAP this year, they have the toughest schedule out of the four and I see them finishing with a 5-9 W-L record. As for FEU, their 4-game losing skid in the 2nd round would cost them a seat in the Final 4 – finishing 7-7 at best.

With that said, F4 matchups would be Ateneo-DLSU and Adamson-UP. Moving on to the finals would be Ateneo and Adamson. My heart says UP beats Adamson but Coach Franz and Adamson is just too good right now to allow UP to get 2 in a row against them. As for La Salle, it would be really tough to go up against Ateneo at this point. They’ll be able to put up a gallant fight that’s for sure, but the W and the series still goes to Ateneo.

For the Finals match-up, it’s a tough call but I see Ateneo edging Adamson simply because of the vast improvement of Angelo Kouame. Yes, Adamson did beat them during the 1st day of the regular season but Kouame was still figuring out things back then. Now that he has realized what he can do on the court, he’s been putting up impressive double-doubles and I think Adamson would have a difficult time containing the big fella.