After 14 games, we’re down to four. It was a quick turnaround, but here we are. The Final Four is upon us, and what fun is it if we don’t tickle our imaginations? What’s the best case for each team? What about the worst case? Members of the Humblebola staff put on their Mamaru caps and pushed the limits of what they know.

ATENEO BLUE EAGLES

Best Case: The best case for Ateneo is not just a title, but it involves completely demolishing the competition on their way there.  Angelo Kouame continues playing at an MVP-level in his first go in the big dance, the Nieto provide their usual strong play and veteran moxy that was lost throughout most of the year, Thirdy Ravena creates an entire top-1o highlight reel in just 3 games, and the rest of the team shows out.

They make quick work of the Tamaraws, who are the closest thing to kryptonite that Ateneo has in the league. Their shooters find a way to scorch the nets against an FEU team that seems to only know how to play three-point defense against them.

Ateneo then handily defeats Adamson in the Finals in a two-game sweep, immediately silencing all the doubters that began chirping after their opening weekend loss.

In this scenario, Ateneo is clicking on all cylinders, thereby turning into an unbeatable force. In other words, this is everything we thought Ateneo would do before the season began.

Worst Case: After Isaac Go hit his game-tying three-pointer in regulation during last year’s Final Four do-or-die game between Ateneo and FEU, there was actually 8.5 seconds still left for the Tamaraws to make one final play. I remember standing behind the basket in MOA Arena during the timeout before that final possession and whispering to Karlo, “Arvin’s going to hit the game winner.”

He smirked because that’s what an Arvin Tolentino fanboy does. But normal Ateneans, which Karlo is not, would have likely winced. The idea of Ateneo’s prodigal son resurfacing on an underdog team, then crushing their souls on a buzzer-beater is one of the most horrifying things an Ateneo supporter could imagine.

As we all know, Tolentino coughed it up on the ensuing possession, the Blue Eagles made a few more historic shots, and their fans were left unscathed last season. But here we are again, and Tolentino has another chance to spite his original UAAP squad.

Ateneo’s absolute worst case scenario starts with exactly that: Arvin Tolentino drilling a straightaway three to eliminate his second team in a row. Tolentino would immediately dash to the FEU side and pound his chest, creating an iconic portrait of the former Blue Eagle shouting triumphantly as a sea of blue stares in disbelief behind him. The entire Ateneo community would have to watch Tolentino dominate in the UAAP Finals, as he would torch the nets for 25 points a game and be crowned Finals MVP.

While that alone may seem like the worst nightmare for Ateneo fans, it’s actually an in-house change that could deal the biggest blow. Following the end of the season, Coach Tab Baldwin could decide to move on from Ateneo, moving to the PBA or back to coaching outside the country.

You’re probably thinking: “Colin, this isn’t going to happen, right?

This is an absolute worst case scenario. I can say with supreme confidence that it… *gulp* won’t happen. – Colin Salao

ADAMSON SOARING FALCONS

Best Case: The best case scenario for Adamson is ending their title drought, which is currently the longest at 41 seasons. They haven’t won significantly since Season 40. If they do win Season 81, against the strongest team possible, which is the Ateneo Blue Eagles.

As it stands, this is also the last chance for the current core to at least leave something to remember by instead of failed Final Four runs. This is Adamson’s best team since that year when they paraded Alex Nuyles, Jerrick Canada, Lester Alvarez, Jan Colina, and Rodney Brondial. I say this because the window for these Falcons are almost at a close. They’ll be losing Manganti and Sarr and that would be very hard to replace, especially Mangantitokounmpo.

They have every ingredient they need to at least match-up with the Blue Eagles, which frankly, is a ten-deep squad. They don’t solely rely on Manganti, Ahanmisi, and Sarr. Lastimosa, Catapusan, and Camacho have been very impressive this year and really shows you that Franz Pumaren still has it when it comes to recruitment and player development.

If Adamson wins it all, it’ll be exorcizing a ghost of the past, in a way, for Franz Pumaren. The last time the UAAP saw him on that stage, his De La Salle Green Archers were on the receiving end of a very bad beating being delivered by a raging behemoth named Rabeh Al-Hussaini. And aside from that, I’d think he’ll be very happy about that last trick he played in the last game of the eliminations.

Worst Case: Worst case, obviously is bowing out to Ateneo in the Finals. It’s not entirely a bad thing but Adamson has a long way to go if they think they can go back outrightly next year to the Finals. Manganti and Sarr will be gone by then, their replacements would be question marks and I don’t know if Toby will have the sass to boldly predict another championship.

Lastimosa, Camacho, and Catapusan are good building blocks going forward, but it will take two more years if they want to get back to the big stage, at the least. I’m not saying it’s impossible, but looking at the field next year, is quite… disheartening.

UST will have CJ Cansino back in harness, Renzo Subido will be back and better, Soulemane, as good as his name sounds, has a bad man’s game. Then there’s Sherwin Concepcion who will make quite a good pair with Zach Huang in the rotation. DLSU will be back with a vengeance, UP will have better tools to work with as Kobe Paras and Ricci Rivero are on deck, then there’s NU, who will be quite a darkhorse team with the Ildefonsos leading the charge alongside John Lloyd Clemente.

That’s quite a lot of comp to get by for a team that will lose its primary ball handler and main clog in the middle. – Pio Garcia 

UP FIGHTING MAROONS

Best Case: Obviously seeing the Fighting Maroons go all the way to take their first title since 1986 in a fairytale run. Back then, the Final Four format wasn’t even in place. UP dethrones the defending champs in Ateneo here of course. This is after defeating Adamson TWICE.

Throughout this run, they’ll be clicking on all cylinders and carrying on that fine form they built up recently. That includes continuing to shoot like the Golden State Warriors from downtown. Just like how they did against the De La Salle Green Archers.

Bright Akhuetie and company lost two close games to Adamson so they shouldn’t be too worried. They proved that they could keep up with the Soaring Falcons but Sean Manganti still seems to be the most hated man in Diliman for now.

Being “happy” to make the Final Four for the first time in 21 years is a massive understatement. Fans wept tears of joy when they clinched the third seed in virtuoso fashion over the Green Archers.

The road paved out for them is difficult indeed, but their path is slightly easier given that they didn’t have to go through an extra playoff like the FEU Tamaraws.

Oh, and Juan Gomez De Liaño and Bright Akhuetie end up becoming co-Finals MVPs here too. All the agony from going 0-14 a few occasions will be forgotten for sure if they pull this off.

Worst Case: First, you can’t say that UP’s run to clinching a Final Four spot is a fairytale. They were poised to advance and they did indeed.

But here, inexperience kicks in and they get thrashed by Adamson in their first game. Nobody in the UP team has Final Four experience at this level. Juan Gomez De Liano and Will Gozum weren’t even born yet during the Fighting Maroons’ last trip to the semifinals.

It’s a whole different ball game when it’s a win or go home situation. Playing in the postseason is different from playing a late second-round game with crucial playoff implications.  Although their opponents in the Soaring Falcons have only gone through the ranks recently, experience is still experience. Three consecutive trips to the Final Four is something.

The Fighting Maroons are no strangers to being underdogs, but the ball is in their hands to continue their historic run. – Claro Manzano 

FEU TAMARAWS

Best Case: They finally answer our question of who the FEU Tamaraws are. At the forefront of their attack is their defense, but natural to this group is scoring the basketball considering their firepower. They finally show the Blue Eagles a worthy adversary and beat them in two tight games. The ending of the do or die Game 2? Only fitting, an Arvin Tolentino isolation against Isaac Go, but instead of crossing over, he pulls up from three with zero hesitation.

In the Finals, they find themselves matched up against the Adamson Soaring Falcons who had a do or die themselves versus UP. It’s a battle of attrition, as both teams engage in three classic games that leads us to another moment. Tie game, 67 all, 12 seconds remaining. FEU has possession. Jasper Parker receives the ball off the inbounds. He dribbles out the time, before setting up a pick and pop with Arvin, then suddenly, from the weak side emerges Barkley Ebona, who rolls to the rim with authority. Parker dishes, Ebona catches, finds the opening.

The MOA Arena goes crazy. FEU’s done it. After three seasons, they’ve captured the UAAP championship once again. Arvin Tolentino takes Finals MVP honors after averaging 19 points per game, but he grabs Barkley Ebona to raise the trophy up with him. It was a roller coaster season, but they peaked when it mattered the most. It paid off.

Worst Case: Making it to the Final Four felt like an opportunity for the Tamaraws to showcase who they truly were. That’s all it was, however, an opportunity.

The Ateneo Blue Eagles proved to be too good and too disciplined for the Tamaraws to handle. While Jasper Parker continued to chop up the Ateneo defense, he needed to work for it. He nearly had a double-double, but not the good kind, scoring 12 points and committing 9 turnovers.

As iconic as Arvin’s game-winner was versus La Salle, he struggled versus Thirdy Ravena’s stifling defense, and nearly fouled out. While he put up a bunch of threes in a last-ditch attempt to make a run, it wasn’t enough for Born to Score.

The Tamaraws suddenly find themselves in limbo. Plenty of questions arise. They have a long offseason ahead, with FEU Baby Tamaraw RJ Abarrientos on the way. – Karlo Lovenia