Over the last two seasons, exactly four schools have made the Final Four. Season 79 saw the Ben Mbala-led La Salle Green Archers and the Kiefer Ravena-less Ateneo Blue Eagles finish with twice-to-beat advantages, while Raymar Jose’s FEU Tamaraws and Jerrick Ahanmisi’s Adamson Falcons finished third and fourth, respectively. A year later, the upper and lower halves simply switched positions, with Ateneo moving ahead of La Salle, and Adamson leapfrogging FEU.

Through three games of Season 81, those usual suspects stand above .500. Challengers have emerged as stronger foes (UP is desperately trying to end a Final Four drought, NU & UST each attempting to earn a premature Final Four spot with their young rosters), but none have yet to make a significant dent in the hopes of the recurring four.

We’re already through one fourth of the season, so if any of the lower seeded teams are going to make the jump, it’s going to have to come now. It’s gut check time for the rest of the league as the next couple of weeks will definitely separate the contenders from the pretenders (looking at you, UP).

For now, let me use this small, but still apt sample size as basis for Week 2 of the UAAP Power Rankings:

8. University of the East Red Warriors (Record: 0-3, Previous Rank: 8th)

“Makulit, matapang,” Nikko Ramos said on the ABS-CBN S&A broadcast to perfectly described UE. The Red Warriors were down by over 20 points to La Salle in the fourth quarter (and were dealing with Alvin Pasaol’s foul trouble for the entire game), but they never stopped fighting and scraping during the dying minutes of their third loss in a row.

It’s going to be a long and gruelling year for UE, who through three games sits alone in the bottom tier of the league, and has lost every single game by double digits. I guess it’s at least a consolation that this team still manages to bring the Warrior mentality every night, even if the result generated is completely different from the NBA version of the Warriors. However, with the right mix of Alvin Pasaol’s dominance and special puso performances from their supporting cast, this team could still snatch a win or two in Season 81. Just don’t expect it to come this week when they have the unenviable task of playing Ateneo (on Wednesday) and FEU (on Sunday).

7. National University Bulldogs (Record: 1-2, Previous Rank: 5th)

Fill in the blanks: NU’s 26-point loss to Ateneo was _____. You could go a lot of ways on this one: “an ugly, one-sided affair”, “a ‘welcome to the UAAP’ moment for the NU rookies” or, “a statement game from Ateneo.” Personally, I’ll go with: NU’s 26-point loss to Ateneo was a testament to Ateneo’s elite defense and NU’s putrid offense.

The Bulldogs’offense is literally the worst in the league right now, albeit looking at a very small sample size. They currently rank dead last in offensive rating, 3FGM, 3PT%,  and assists. This is mostly due to their roster construction, one that lacks a reliable pure point guard and capable marksmen from downtown. While they were fairly successful living in the paint and midrange in their first few contests, the Ateneo defense feasted on the overmatched Bulldogs. If NU is going to continue to make a push for the Final Four, Head Coach Jamike Jarin is going to have to figure out how to generate more offense from his young guns, starting with struggling rookie John Lloyd Clemente.

6. University of the Santo Tomas Growling Tigers (Record: 1-2, Previous Rank: 6th)

This is your weekly reminder that CJ Cansino is really, really good. After a quiet start, Cansino dropped 14 of his 18 points in the second half in a close loss to the undefeated Falcons. It seemed as though every time the rookie had the ball, positive things happened for the Tigers.

However, Cansino’s still a little passive, with the rookie perhaps still not completely sure whether he could still be the same dominant force in the Seniors division that he was in high school. He did grow up a ton in the Adamson game, starting to demand the ball more on both runouts and halfcourt sets. UST has the potential to surprise the league this year, and they have some competent pieces both in the perimeter (Subido, Lee, Zamora) and inside (Akomo, Marcos, Huang).  If Cansino can continue to expedite his development process and become a true rookie sensation, the rest of the league should be worried.

5. University of the Philippines (Record: 1-2, Previous Rank: 3rd)

UP was the most difficult team to rank on this list. On one hand, their first two performances were impressive, and their two losses are to the best teams in the league. On the other hand, their only win was against the lowly Red Warriors, and they were completely run out of the gym by FEU.  I’m giving them the nod over UST simply because there’s a little bit more trust in their slightly more experienced roster. Most of the team’s stats still rank at the top (first in Offensive Rating, FG%, 3P%, assists), though this is largely skewed due to their execution of UE on opening weekend.

The biggest area of concern right now should be on Bright Akhuetie. While the skilled big man has managed to still average a double-double, he’s looked unusually small in his last two contests against Ateneo’s Angelo Kouame and FEU’s Prince Orizu. The 6’7” Nigerian could easily be the most skilled import in the league right now, but his lack of height has made it easier on opposing offenses to attack the rim or feed their big. Look for Akhuetie to be tested once again when he faces another elite import in Papi Sarr on Wednesday.

4. Far Eastern University Tamaraws (Record: 2-1, Previous Rank: 7th)

FEU shoots back up the rankings after bouncing back from last week’s disappointing loss to UST. The Tamaraws dominated the highly-touted UP Maroons on both ends of the floor, shooting 52% from the field while limiting Week 1’s MVP frontrunner Juan Gomez De Liano to a season-low 13 points. FEU’s win was so convincing that they managed to once again look like a title candidate and cast doubt on the Maroons’ in the process.

Prince Orizu’s play has been the biggest revelation of the last couple of games, as the once-polarizing big man looks like he may have finally put the pieces together to complement his 6’11” frame. Over his last two games, the Nigerian has amassed 40 points and 22 rebounds while also shooting an incredible 90% from the field. If Orizu can continue to dominate the smaller imports and bigs of the league, Olsen Racela may have just unlocked another weapon in an already loaded FEU line-up.

3. De La Salle Green Archers (Record: 2-1, Previous Rank: 4th)

A match-up with UE was exactly what the doctor ordered for Aljun Melecio, who drilled a season-high 5 three-pointers on 7 attempts after coming into the game a measly 2 of 16 from beyond the arc. Justine Baltazar followed up his breakout performance over NU with another double-double, finishing with 16 points and 14 rebounds, firmly establishing La Salle’s new one-two punch.

La Salle may not have the same top-heavy roster of years past, but they still have the dynamic depth to keep them highly competitive. Louie Gonzales has weapons at all positions, and any one of them could break out on any given night. Against UE, Encho Serrano made his mark with 11 points, and Jollo Go chipped in 10. Considering they have guys like Caracut, Montalbo, and Santillan on the roster as well, La Salle is definitely still capable of repeating the success of the last couple of seasons.

2. Ateneo Blue Eagles (Record: 2-1, Previous Rank: 2nd)

Ateneo sure knows how to drive home a point. Tab Baldwin said after their shellacking of NU that they wanted Dave Ildefonso to “rethink his decision,” with the blue-chip recruit choosing to transfer to NU instead of growing from Eaglet to Eagle. The younger Ildefonso had his worst outing to date, scoring just 4 points on 2 of 8 shooting and finishing a -20.

In the same game, the Blue Eagles showcased the tools that made them a favorite to repeat as champions: defense, depth, and three-point shooting. The Blue Eagles held NU to 46 points, including a pair of single-digit quarters, had 9 players score at least 5 points for Ateneo, and drilled 10 triples. They simply outmatched the Bulldogs side, and in the process reminded the rest of the league of how dominant they could be.

1. Adamson Soaring Falcons (Record: 3-0, Previous Rank: 1st)

Adamson struggled to fend off a feisty UST side, but did pull through in the clutch despite forgettable performances from Papi Sarr (4 points on 1 of 4) and Sean Manganti (scoreless on 7 attempts). Jerrick Ahanmisideserves a lot of credit for leading the Falcons with another 20-point performance, but he did receive help from his lesser-known combatants. Vince Magbuhos managed to drop 15 points by simply rolling hard and cutting at the right time, while Jonathan Espeleta contributed 12 markers, including a dagger from midrange with under a minute remaining.

The Falcons have a tough stretch of games remaining in the first round, and similar to Ateneo, all teams will be gunning to hand them their first loss. The play of their supporting cast has been a major factor for their 3-0 start, but they’ll need more consistency from their mains if they want to stay undefeated through the first round.