The number ‘7’ is generally not the sexiest nor most noteworthy number. It feels like a hanging digit, and it’s usually a little too high when used as an adjective to describe how much of a particular item you want. Honestly, ask yourself when was the last time you wanted 7 of anything? Don’t tell me you have ever walked into Dunkin’ Doughnuts thinking, “Hmm, I want 7 choco butternuts today.” That just doesn’t happen. No one asks for a half dozen plus one. It’s individual pieces from 1 to 5, a half dozen or a dozen doughnuts for most regular human beings.

As a rating, 7 isn’t that great either. Have you seen any slam dunk contestant in any league brag about getting a 7? Nope. Anyone who ever gives you a seven in anything is really just telling you, “Hey, thanks for trying, here’s a 7 for your trouble.” It’s the literal equivalent of a participation trophy.

And, mind you, I have yet to even mention the fact that 7 is an odd number. Whether you admit it or not, there’s a preconceived bias instilled in many of us that is in favor of even numbers. There’s a reason that the only counterpart of an even number is called ‘odd.’ Because it is odd. It just doesn’t feel as right, like how the volume on a car radio just makes you feel a little uneasy when it’s set to an odd number.

However, for this year’s batch of UAAP teams, 7 is the goal. 7 is probably the magic number of wins needed by each of the gaggle of teams in pursuit of a spot in the Final Four. Since Season 72, not a single team has managed to break into the Final Four with less than 7 wins.

But to the ‘7’ haters out there who think 8 is the real magic number, I say context matters. Yes, it’s easy to argue that a .500 record may not be the most competitive of records, especially considering only three teams have made it to the Final Four with 7 wins since Since 70. However, with the way the records of the four or five teams on the bubble stand, a .500 record may just be enough to at least secure a playoff for the Final Four.

La Salle is in prime position to snatch a Final Four spot with their 6-4 record, but can’t afford to be lax with teams breathing down their neck. UST currently holds the fourth spot with a 5-5 record, but 7 wins is definitely not a guarantee given their remaining schedule. FEU and UP can both probably afford just one more loss with three remaining games left each, while NU has to win out just to reach the 7 win plateau.

The crazy storm I forecasted from last week has definitely arrived as the teams race to the 7+ win finish line. For now, allow me to go up a number and show how the 8 UAAP teams have fared up to this point in this week’s edition of the HumbleBola Power Rankings.

8. University of the East Red Warriors (Record: 1-10, Previous Rank: 8th)

*copy-pastes last week’s write-up*

I’m kidding (slightly).

Coach Joe Silva has attempted all kinds of ways to turn the tide for the Red Warriors, but the lack of pure talent on his roster has always seemed to prevail in the end. In their lone game of the week against UST, he tried his hand at playing a two-point guard lineup with Philip Manalang and Leo Guion. The result: Career games for both CJ Cansino and Marvin Lee.

Things just haven’t gone according to plan for UE, whose main goal to be a competitive team this season has resulted in 1 win and 10 double-digit defeats. With that said, this Red Warriors team has not for one-second quit on themselves or their teammates. The passion seen in the faces of every player, particularly veterans like Manalang and Alvin Pasaol are seen from start to finish. They can at least hang their hat on that.

7. National University Bulldogs (Record: 3-7, Previous Rank: 7th)

Saturday’s loss to Ateneo put NU’s highest possible win total at 7, meaning they have to win out to reach the magic number I mentioned at the top. It won’t be easy to do so, but NU can mathematically do it so there still is a metaphorical flame on their Survivor torch.

Against Ateneo, John Lloyd Clemente had a career game of 25 points with 5 triples. The problem was the rest of his teammates were a combined 13 for 51 from the field (25.5%). Consistency has really been the major issue for the NU Bulldogs all season long in spite of the fact that the team sports several talented pieces. It feels like the Bulldogs only ever put it together when they play UST.

While the odds may not be in the favor of NU, the tools are available for them to play elite spoiler to some of the Final Four hopefuls. In the process, they should continue to build the chemistry of their promising young core.

6. Far Eastern University Tamaraws (Record: 5-6, Previous Rank: 3rd)

Two weeks removed from Round One and the FEU Tamaraws have plummeted to a tie for 5th place with UP in the regular standings. It would be easy to put the blame on a lack of effort that has often plagued the team, but the sense of urgency does look like it has been there over the last few games. The loss of Prince Orizu to injury has just left such a gaping hole to the thin frontline of FEU.

FEU has been outrebounded by nearly 10 rebounds a game since Prince Orizu went down against Ateneo. And while the FSA wasn’t really the best shot blocker, the mere presence of the big man provided twice the defensive prowess of a center rotation of Barkley Eboña and Brandey Bienes.

Anxious FEU fans better hope their man in the middle makes a return soon as their team is in danger of missing the Final Four for the first time since 2012. It is severely lighter schedule for FEU coming up as they play the league’s two bottom feeders over the next couple of Sundays. But they better tread lightly if they expect these games to be giveaways, lest they forget about their blunder vs UE in Round 1.

5. University of the Philippines Fighting Maroons (Record: 5-6, Previous Rank: 5th)

The second half of the Fighting Maroons’ loss to Adamson last Sunday was a tale of two quarters that showed both the best and the worst version of this UP team. In the third period, UP gave up 33 points to a low-scoring Adamson team, showcasing their 7th-ranked Defense (99.68 Defensive Rating). In the final frame, the Maroons were a more aggressive defensively, and this translated to positive things for their deadly inside-outside offensive attack.

UP’s defense was still a point of concern during their crucial win over FEU last Wednesday. The Tamaraws were able to drop 82 points against the UP defense despite the fact that their leading scorer Arvin Tolentino was suspended, and their lead big Prince Orizu was also sidelined with injury. If it’s not clear enough yet, allow me to put it this way: Your defense has problems when Bienes and Eboña score 14 and 13, respectively (both season-highs) against your team.

That said, UP is still oozing with talent and has arguably the best big three in the league. If Orizu misses any more time for FEU, the Maroons talent should make them one of the favorites to snag one of the remaining bottom two Final Four slots. Then again, all that talent falling short would make for an extremely disappointing ending for an already frustrated fanbase.

4. University of Santo Tomas Growling Tigers (Record: 5-5, Previous Rank: 6th)

CJ Cansino is really, really, really, very, extremely, very, really good. In UST’s win over the hapless Red Warriors, Cansino put up the first triple-double (20 points, 14 rebounds, 10 assists) by a rookie since the UAAP started recording statistics in 2003. This kid can do it all on both ends of the court, and he has carried the Season 80 8th placers to a legitimate Final Four contender in his rookie season.

However, there is a bad news for UST. With Steve Akomo already on the shelf for the next year, leading scorer Renzo Subido is feared to be out for the season with what has been initially diagnosed as a stress fracture on his leg. Marvin Lee answered the call with a career-high 30 points and 8 threes during Subido’s first missed game, but the UST backcourt is still going to be a whole lot thinner with their top gunner gone.

UST was also blessed with a light schedule to begin the second round, and are about to enter the deep waters over their Final Four games. The Growling Tigers currently sit at fourth place, and their final games will be against the current top three teams, as well as fifth place UP.

Nevertheless, it feels like the Growling Tigers are playing with house money at this point. Not a lot of people expected UST to be in this position, especially sans their best scorer and best big man. With little pressure, and arguably the best local player of the second tier of teams in their roster, UST may just pull out one of the best single-season turnarounds in recent memory.

3. De La Salle Green Archers (Record: 6-4, Previous Rank: 4th)

La Salle leads the league in rebounds per game (49.9 rebounds per game), so it’s only right that they took advantage of the absence of Prince Orizu in their win over FEU. The DLSU bigs led the team in scoring as well with Balti Baltazar, Santi Santillan and Brandon Bates combining for 34 of the La Salle’s 65 points.

The Green Archers now sit just one win away from securing at least a .500 record with still 4 games left to play. With UP’s loss to Adamson, they may have just solidified their place in the Final Four, and the third seed is now theirs to lose.

Other than securing a definite slot, La Salle should look to continue finding more consistency offensively from both their bigs and perimeter players over these final four games. If they are to make any noise in the Final Four against one of the two teams ahead of them, they will have to be clicking on all cylinders offensively.

2. Adamson Soaring Falcons (Record: 8-2, Previous Rank: 2nd)

Sean Manganti must be the most hated man in Diliman. After sinking two buzzer beaters in back-to-back seasons, Manganti once again sucked the life out of the Fighting Maroons by drilling a corner triple to thwart a UP comeback.

The win was Adamson’s third in a row to begin Round Two, as Adamson has seems to have completely rebounded from a pair of losses to end the First Round. Coach Franz Pumaren has continued to instill a very disciplined and controlled defensive approach that has given and up just 60.0 points per game in Round Two.

The offense is still going to be a problem for Adamson, and this was on full display in the fourth quarter against UP. The Falcons nearly blew a 26-point advantage after starting the final period with just 2 points in the first seven and a half minutes. When Jerrick Ahanmisi’s shot isn’t falling, and Sean Manganti’s driving lanes are cut off, the Falcons offense could get quite dark.

A top-tier defense and a mediocre offense seem to put Adamson as a superior version of La Salle. Statistics show Adamson (5th in Offensive Rating, 3rd in Defensive Rating) may actually be closer to the level of the Green Archers than the top-seeded Blue Eagles. But stats will be thrown out the window come game time, and not a single person has forgotten about Adamson’s convincing opening weekend victory over Ateneo. Make no mistake about it: Adamson is a very good basketball team capable of stealing the crown this season

1. Ateneo de Manila Blue Eagles (Record: 9-2, Previous Rank: 1st)

 

 

Another week, another pair of blowout wins for the Ateneo Blue Eagles, as the defending champions preyed on the cellar dwellers of the league to become the first school to clinch a spot in the Final Four.

But after Saturday’s 15-point win over NU, Coach Tab Baldwin was not particularly pleased with the performance of his team, saying postgame that they lacked a ‘killer instinct. He was referencing Ateneo’s lackluster second halves over the last couple of contests, wherein they were outscored in the 3rd and 4th quarter of both games after establishing massive first-half leads.

Baldwin may have a point considering the way the Blue Eagles have played all year. Despite holding the first seed and spearheading majority of the key statistical categories, the lack of a truly marquee win coupled with half-hearted performances has kept Ateneo from cementing themselves as the unbeatable force most thought they would be in the preseason.

It’s still difficult to critique a team that is far and away the league leader in both offensive and defensive rating. That includes the fact that key guys like Matt Nieto, Mike Nieto, Thirdy Ravena, and Gian Mamuyac have been in and out of the lineup all season due to various reasons. Hopefully, the Nieto brothers are healed and healthy enough to play by Sunday so Ateneo could be in full strength when the blue birds collide in a possible Finals preview.