On September 9th at around 6:30PM, the Adamson Soaring Falcons did something that no UAAP team was supposed to do this year: Beat the defending champion Ateneo Blue Eagles.
At this very moment, I began to picture the six other UAAP teams and their unified reaction: Three low fist pumps (somewhere by the waist area) coupled with a faint, closed-mouth grin. It wasn’t some jump for joy type of celebration, but instead a sigh of relief, and sudden rush of hope. Because seeing the Blue Eagles unexpectedly flying below the clouds this early in the season is extremely important for the psychique of the entire league, especially in a year where it feels like nearly every team is playing to win. An early L on Ateneo’s record signifies to every single team that Ateneo is beatable, and that they can be the team to bring them down.
However, there are only four spots in the playoffs, and what we’ve learned so far this year is that those four spots may not be enough for the worthy challengers to Ateneo’s throne. In just four playing days, it’s already been made clear that the armies both young and veteran-laden are ready for battle. This is going to be a hell of a year, one that’s going to be filled with ups and downs for all of the teams in the entire league (just like this week’s rankings compared to last).
Now, let’s get on with this week’s Power Rankings for UAAP Season 8
8. University of the East Red Warriors (Record: 0-2, Previous Ranking: 8th)
Let me now address the elephant in the room. Yes, my introduction did mention that nearly every team is playing to win, but there is an exception to the rule. That’s where the UE Red Warriors come in.
It’s easy to say that UE will always have a chance because of Alvin Pasaol’s presence, and to a certain extent, that may be true. But against Adamson, Pasaol had 36 points and 11 rebounds, and the team still lost by 14. New Head Coach Joe Silva preached an emphasis towards defense before the season, yet they’re currently dead last with a defensive rating of 113.13. That’s 18 more points allowed per 100 possessions than seventh place NU.
They did start just as poorly last year, and were able to pic up a few wins over a couple of higher ranked teams towards the middle of the season. While there’s no denying the heart of this UE team, with the way the field looks this year, the Red Warriors are going to need to catch some team on a bad night if they’re to climb out of the cellar.
7. Far Eastern University Tamaraws (Record: 1-1, Previous Ranking: 2nd)
One of the seven decent-to-great teams is going to have to be ranked this low every week, and this week it’s FEU’s turn. Do I think FEU is the second worst team in the league? Not even close. Do I think they’ll be ranked here for a long time? Probably not. In fact, they still have the third highest net rating (behind Adamson & UP) and were an Arvin Tolentino missed three-pointer away from being 2-0.
However, the Tamaraws are ranked here because they lost their second game to UST. As good as the young Growling Tigers have looked, a team with championship aspirations such as FEU has no business dropping games to the Growling Tigers. If FEU is going for the crown, they’ll have to bring their discipline every game against every team. FEU Head Coach Nash Racela said the loss to UST was an early wake-up call for his Tamaraws, and Sunday’s intriguing match with UP will show just how woke his boys really are.
6. University of Santo Tomas Growling Tigers (Record: 1-1, Previous Ranking: 7th)
CJ Cansino might be my new favorite player to watch. Through two games, he’s averaging a double-double of 13.5 points and 10 rebounds, has shown the ability to score from all three levels, and has even displayed his guard-like ball handling and passing skills. The rest of the UST young core has followed Cansino’s lead, with guys like Joshua Marcos and Ken Zamora providing a major lift in UST’s upset over FEU.
It’s no question Aldin Ayo has his team ready to be worthy challengers for the rest of the league, especially with guys like Renzo Subido and Marvin Lee very much hungry to compete. However, the team still has a lot to work on offensively, as they’ve been extremely inefficient (32.9% FG, last), with a major chunk of their offense coming from the perimeter. But with a confidence-infusing win already in their back pocket, expect the youthful Growling Tigers to be in the mix with the rest of the field well into Season 81.
5. National University Bulldogs (Record: 1-1, Previous Ranking: 6th)
Dave Ildefonso looks like 1B to CJ Cansino’s 1A for top rookie of this class, while his brother continues to make a solid impact on both ends of the floor as a small-ball power forward. But can we fast forward to when this NU core has a reliable point guard?
While NU has a whole has looked impressive through two contests, their offense sometimes looks lost without a trusted point guard at the helm. In their loss to La Salle, their lack of a true point guard was felt in the fourth quarter where they turned the ball over 6 times, including a five second violation in the dying seconds. This might also be the reason why prized recruit John Lloyd Clemente has struggled mightily (26.1% FG) in his first pair of UAAP games.
The NU Bulldogs should continue to be a difficult team to play this season with the immense amount of young talent on the roster, but like UST, will definitely have to deal with the growing pains of an incomplete young core. Their young talents will face their toughest test to date on Saturday when they play Ateneo.
4. De La Salle Green Archers (Record: 1-1, Previous Ranking: 4th)
Justine Baltazar may have actually saved La Salle’s season, or at least panic from a bunch of diehard La Sallians. His monster 17-point, 12-rebound breakout game was capped off by a go-ahead jumper with 28 seconds left to lift La Salle over NU. A loss would have put the Green Archers at 0-2, a record rarely heard of during the history of the successful basketball program.
However, La Salle remains as this season’s most enigmatic team. On paper, their roster looks like a force that contains the right mix of fiery guards and reliable big men. On the floor, the weaknesses of their players come out, creating a final product that doesn’t feel like it justifies its innate talent. For instance, star point guard Aljun Melecio has been given the green light to roam free and showcase his topnotch scoring ability, but it occasionally comes at the expense of more efficient players like Santi Santillan.
If La Salle is going to keep in step with the rest of the league, or even make the leap to title contender that I feel they are capable of, they’re going to have to quickly establish a proper team identity. Lucky for them that they’ve got a match-up with UE on Saturday to try to figure that out.
3. University of the Philippines (Record: 1-1, Previous Ranking: 5th)
It’s difficult to believe that Paul Desiderio — the man that filled UP basketball fans with optimism for the first time in decades — might not even be the best player on his team during his Swan Song. But here we are. The King Maroon Juan Gomez De Liano era has officially begun.
However, unlike what’s often associated with Bo Perasol-led teams, what makes this UP team unique is the fact that its offense has been very team-oriented. They lead the league in assists at 18.5 a contest (20 assists in a loss to Ateneo), after having finished last in that department last season. Their field goals percentage (46.6%) will probably come back to earth soon, but it’s very encouraging to see the team running plenty of motion sets on the offensive end.
It’s no wonder that despite the loss to Ateneo, the Maroons and their loyalists are still very much confident that this may be a special season for a school aching to make the Final Four.
2. Ateneo de Manila Blue Eagles (Record: 1-1, Previous Ranking: 1st)
Ateneo remains at this position only because they beat the only other team that could’ve been put above them in the rankings. However, they have definitely underperformed to start the season. Contrary to UP, Ateneo’s system was known to be a very pass-heavy one, yet they are ranked last right now, including having dished just 8 assists in their loss to Adamson.
Defense is also a puzzling area of concern right now for Ateneo, who led the league in Defensive Rating last season. They gave up 23 and 29 points to opposing stars Jerrick Ahanmisi and Juan Gomez De Liano, respectively. This problem might be resolved upon the return of Gian Mamuyac from injury, but should still be a cause for worry, especially from their starting group.
However, the second half of Ateneo’s win over UP did show positive signs from the defending champion. The Blue Eagles ramped up their intensity, and stayed disciplined defensively despite a few lucky heaves from the Maroon side. However, Ateneo Head Coach Tab Baldwin admitted that there’s still a little bit lacking on the execution side for the Blue Eagles. This may largely be due to the fact that they’ve been scouted extremely well by their oppositions.
While the loss to Adamson may provide a glimmer of hope for the rest of the league, it may also be the wake-up call for the sleeping giant. Let’s wait and see.
1. Adamson Soaring Falcons (Record: 2-0, Previous Ranking: 3rd)
Franz Pumaren grinned, Jerrick Ahanmisi pumped his fist, and the rookies jumped for joy. Adamson’s months of intense training already paid dividends in their opener against Ateneo. But despite the win, Pumaren understands the difference of a regular season game from those on the big stage. “We still have to prove ourselves… We’re still a team struggling to improve our position,” Pumaren said after picking up their first win.
And to win in the big stage against Ateneo and the rest of the field, Adamson’s going to have to be clicking on all cylinders. Star guard Jerrick Ahanmisi is doing exactly that right now, as he’s making his early-season case for MVP (20 points per game on 43% 3PT shooting). After struggling against Ateneo, Sean Manganti showed up in their game against UE (27 points), while import Papi Sarr continues to be a force inside (11 ppg, 15 rpg). The rest of the team has also provided solid reinforcement sparked by inspired play from their stars. The one missing piece may have to be Jerie Pingoy, who was suspended from their win over UE for arriving late to the gym and was limited to just 12 minutes in the opener.
Still, this Adamson team looks poised to really challenge this season given their firepower mixed with Pumaren’s patented defensive system. There’s still a long season ahead, but it may not be too difficult to take a swing at guessing the two teams that will finish with twice-to-beat advantages in the Final Four.