UAAP 85: Fearless forecasts

The UAAP 85 Men’s Basketball has commenced and to the delirious delight of countless collegiate hoops fanatics, including yours truly, the fireworks and heart -thumping excitement have been non-stop.

Thousands of students, the diehard young and not-so-young alumni, and just plain avid aficionados thirsting for hoop thrills, have bravely trooped to the Arena or Araneta disregarding all semblance of health protocols, or for those less hardy souls, have been glued to their TV sets or smart devices to keep abreast with ongoing live plays over the past two weeks.

The fans know full well that all the players are ready to rumble, proud of their colors, and eager to do battle for their school. They hustle, scramble, dive for seemingly impossible loose balls, stick like leeches from baseline to baseline, penetrate inside without fear, and are always ready to swish a long three.

All, without exception, playing with a chip on their shoulders. From the top of the heap, the defending champs, seemingly with a penchant for a masochistic come-from-behind mentality, the UP Fighting Maroons supremely confident they will be on top as the game’s last second winds down. To the erstwhile bottom dweller, the UE Red Warriors which finally broke into the winning column after a winless Season 84. And of course, Season 84’s runner-up, the heartbreak kids, the Ateneo Blue Eagles on a vengeful mission to regain their title and prove that their last season’s endgame meltdown was a fluke.

This season’s dark horse is the comebacking De La Salle Green Archers, aching to prove they are now in it to win it. While the FEU Tamaraws are hustling like speed demons on the court angling for a spitball chance to make once more the Final Four where anything can happen. Finally, the Adamson Falcons, NU Bulldogs, and the UST Growling Tigers, playing with the wind beneath their wings with nothing to lose, relishing opportunities for upsets and dreaming of breaking down the barriers of the early favorites Season 85 quadrilaterals of UP, Ateneo, La Salle and FEU.

So who will come out on top of Season 85?

From where I sit, after watching the highlight reels, of the favored quadrilaterals, except for the surprising spiral descent of the Tamaraws with no wins yet to speak of after three games, in my view, the Final Four will definitely be made up of the Maroons, the Archers, and the Eagles, in that order. The fourth slot is still a question mark but will probably still go to the Tamaraws. A long chance but a definite threat to the Tamaraws are the Falcons primarily because of the steady playmaking and heroics of Jerom Lastimosa. But I am fairly confident FEU Coach Olsen Racela will be able to steady his players in the homestretch and outplay his sibling Nash Racela’s Falcons.

So how did I conjure Season 85’s pecking order?

With advance apologies to my Ateneo friends and classmates, the blood in my veins is as blue as can be and I sincerely hope I am proven wrong but am afraid the Eagles this year are far from our 3-peat and 5-peat teams of years past. It isn’t so much the skill sets of the players but, except for Ange Kouame, the reality is that they are still very much green and not used to the glare and intensity of cheering partisan hordes, particularly during the endgame. We saw this in last year’s championship game and it was apparent tonight (as of this writing) as well with the Archers proving to be much steadier down the stretch. Even Tad Baldwin’s magical coaching prowess did not work. On the other hand, the Maroons have been playing with down-to -earth grit, in-your-face intensity, prideful swagger, brimming self-confidence as exemplified by Carl Tamayo, and never say die fighting spirit of the Iskos ng Bayan community. I think the Maroons will repeat. But, as the pundits say, the ball is round and in the Final Four anything can happen. An upset by the Archers, which had come close to upending UP in their initial encounter, fueled by the scintillating scoring of Schony Winston is a very real scenario. I believe UP and DLSU will meet in the championship round and it will be a chess game match-up between two great coaches, Gold Monteverde and Derek Pumaren. And of course, I will be rooting for my other alma mater, UP!

Until next week… OBF!

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