UAAP Juniors Basketball: Final Four Madness

All you need to know about the recent madness in the UAAP Juniors’ Division

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Final Four Madness

Thanks to the upset win by UPIS, the Final Four race just got a lot more interesting. Let’s take a look at the field:

  1. ADMU 10-0
  2. NU 8-2
  3. UST 5-5
  4. FEU 5-5
  5. ADU 5-5
  6. DLSZ 3-7
  7. UPIS 3-7
  8. UE 1-9

It’s safe to assume Ateneo and NU are locks to finish 1 and 2 in the rankings respectively. So for the sake of this discussion, let’s not even talk about those two teams.

Where the madness really happens is with the 3, 4 and 5 seeds, with UST, FEU and Adamson all tied up with identical 5-5 records. All three teams have yet to play each other, which makes this whole conundrum even more interesting. All three teams have similar levels of talent, with UST being led by Cansino, FEU with Gonzales and Adamson with Sabandal.

Making things even crazier, maybe UPIS continues its crazy run and tries to make a case for the fourth seed. Or what about Zobel finally playing to their potential and making a run for the Final Four.

We have madness in the UAAP Juniors Division. Things were starting to get a bit stale and dry with the dominance of Ateneo, so some madness is good for everybody. Buckle up, we’re in for a bumpy ride.

USTon, we have a problem

I’ll acknowledge it first, that is a terrible pun. You know what’s even worse? This slide the UST Tiger Cubs are having.

The Tiger Cubs started off the second round with a loss against the league-leading Ateneo Blue Eaglets, which was a safe assumption. Where things truly went downhill was when they lost versus UPIS, a team not even expected to contend for a Final Four slot. Even CJ Cansino’s usual numbers (29 points, 18 rebounds) weren’t enough versus UPIS. Everything finally culminated in a loss versus NU, where the Bullpups blasted the Tiger Cub to the tune of 34 points. In that very same game, Cansino was shown to be human by the NU defense. The Bullpups limited him to just 13 points and six rebounds. No doubt about it, there is a problem with UST.

The very first thing that comes into mind regarding UST’s woes is their lack of consistent support for CJ Cansino. Kobe Palencia and Bismarck Lina have had their moments while Vince Dolendo has been on the rise ever since the start of the second round, but moments aren’t enough. UST needs to make defenses second guess themselves, and think twice when trying to trap or choke down Cansino.

Second is their defense. Their 28 turnovers versus UPIS is alarming as well, but giving up 91 points is even worse. They may not be the biggest team out there, but that can’t be an excuse for giving up an average of 100 points over the course of two games.

All is not lost for UST. There are still four games left on their schedule, all up against Final Four teams. Even though there is hope, we still have to acknowledge that there is a problem that needs solving. They have to remedy this, fast.

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The UPIS Junior Maroons are out to spoil your Final Four hopes

Let’s be blunt: Right now, there’s no one in particular in the UPIS roster that strikes as someone college teams should keep an eye on.

They’re probably the only one who can say this in the league, as Ateneo  and NU has its roster full of stars, UST has CJ Cansino, FEU has LJay Gonzales and RJ Abarrientos. Adamson has Joem Sabandal and the Doria Brothers, while UE can make a case for Agem Miranda. You can make an argument that UPIS can show off Jordi Gomez de Liano (yes, brother to Juan and Javi GDL), but Jordi is two years away from being two years away.

Does that automatically mean they’re talentless? Not at all. They have some solid players, just not guys that will strike you as franchise-changing talents this season. But they’re gritty, and if you’re not careful, they might embarrass you.

The Junior Maroons did just that this past week.

Their very first target were the UST Tiger Cubs and that team has an MVP-caliber player in CJ Cansino. That beast put up big numbers (29 points and 18 rebounds) while leading his team early on. The Tiger Cubs probably thought they had this in the bag after leading by as much as 15 points, even holding an 11 point lead coming into the final frame. The Junior Maroons weren’t having any of it, as they continued to fight to come out with the surprise 91-87 victory. UPIS was ecstatic with the upset, while UST was left in shock as their road to the Final Four became even tougher. That victory by UPIS would give them the boost for their second target: the DLSZ Junior Archers.

The Junior Archers aren’t as close to a Final Four slot as UST, but they’re still in contention. They also had the talent to get there, with Batang Gilas studs Raven Cortez and RC Calimag leading the way. Cortez is that lanky, tall but mobile kid who would block all your shots and get all the rebounds. Calimag, on the other hand, is that varsity player who was just born to score. UPIS could care less. They fought, made a comeback during the final frame and came out with the 71-69 versus Zobel. Once again, UPIS celebrates another upset win while Zobel is left with more questions than answers.

Let’s be realistic: The UPIS Junior Maroons are likely not going to make it to the Final Four. They’re not as talented, nor as experienced as some of the other teams. But this is a huge step forward for them. They added some level of excitement to Juniors Season that has lacked just that for the most part. The Junior Maroons have become the spoilers to teams’ Final Four hopes this season, and it’s something they’re perfect for. They grind, no matter what the case may be, and it’s a treat watching them do so.

You can celebrate all the upset wins, UPIS. We won’t stop you. But, we hope you continue to try and stop these rampaging beasts on top. The league is just more fun that way.

The Ateneo Blue Eaglets were pushed to the limit and they survived

For the most part, Ateneo’s cruised through this season with relative ease. Why not? They have three of the best five players in the league in Kai Sotto, SJ Belangel, Dave Ildefonso, and helping them out are Top 10 caliber players in Jason Credo and Joaqui Manuel. They honestly feel like the Golden State Warriors of the Juniors Division, not just because of their talent, but also because of how they eviscerate teams. They’ve been unfair, and no one in the league has been able to push them.

However, that changed come last Saturday, as the FEU Baby Tamaraws had other plans.

The Blue Eaglets and the Baby Tamaraws go way back, having faced each other in the playoffs for the past two years. The big names have remained the same, with Sotto, Belangel, Ildefonso, Credo and Manuel leading Ateneo, while Gonzales and Abarrientos lead the Baby Tamaraws. Both teams know each other incredibly well, so it should come as no surprise that it was FEU who has given the Blue Eaglets the most trouble so far this season.

This was one of the few instances where playing another’s team game went well. The Baby Tamaraws embraced a slow, taxing slugfest that pushed the Blue Eaglets to their limits. It was an inspired effort by FEU, with RJ Abarrientos (16 points, 6 rebounds, 5 assists, 3 steals) and four other teammates in double digits leading the way for their team. However, it simply wasn’t enough to slay the giant that was Ateneo.

SJ Belangel (20 points, 4 rebounds, 5 assists) and Kai Sotto (16 points, 10 rebounds, 3 blocks) were their usual brilliant selves with Joaqui Manuel (12 points, 14 rebounds, 4 assists) helping out Ateneo’s cause. However, Jason Credo and Dave Ildefonso (both 4/11 from the field) noticeably struggled, while the rest of the team put up ZERO points. Imagine that, Ateneo’s Death Five accounted for all their points, and they still managed to win. It’s a testament to the luxury they have with that kind of talent, but it’s something worth taking note of for future games.

The Blue Eaglets have been pushed for the very first time, and they came out with passing marks. Not flying colors, however, and if you’re talented as the Eaglets, no less than excellence should be expected of oneself. The next few games are going to be very interesting, not just because we’re excited to see how Ateneo will push back, but also because we want to see how their opposition will hold their ground.

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