Twenty-eight games down. The Elimination Round is halfway done. It’s been a whirlwind season (literally and figuratively) so far. Some expectations were met, most were not, and a few came blazing out like wrestlers from the dugout holding steel chairs and ladders to wreak havoc on an ongoing match.
With that said, here’s the list of the good, the bad and the ugly after the first round of UAAP games:
Ateneo Blue Eagles
Looks like Ateneo ordered more than just an ordinary broom for the season. They brought out a freaking Nimbus 2000 as they zoomed through a seven-game sweep of the first round. The Blue Eagles did so by demolishing almost all of their opponents. They won six games with a margin of at least 12 points, as they lead the league in point differential (16).
Surprisingly, they did not run away with all those wins by shooting lights out on the court. They may be in the middle of the pack in field goal percentage after the first round (38.43%, 3rd). However, the Blue Eagles were dead last in field goal shooting prior to their back-to-back 80-point games to close out their first seven games. They are still dead last in shooting from deep (22.58%) and second to the last in free throws attempted (109).
What Ateneo has done is strangle their opponents on defense. They only allowed their opponents to convert 34.8% of their shots (2nd) in the first round, resulting in an average of 59.7 points allowed (1st). Even though they allowed the second-highest opponent’s conversion rate from deep (29.93%), they only allowed 147 shots to be taken from that range, which was the least by any team in the first round. Instead, most of the shots were funnelled inside the three-point arc, where the Blue Eagles allowed league-best 37.29% opponent’s shooting. They were also first in blocks (7.57 BPG), third in steals (6.57 SPG), and last in fouls committed (15.71).
Needless to say, it was a superb beatdown from the defensive end done by Coach Tab Baldwin’s wrecking crew.
UST Growling Tigers
Well, there’s one team that almost pulled the rug on Ateneo’s dream run early in the season. UST came close to defeating the defending champions before they settled for a one-point loss. That was the best performance against the Blue Eagles early in the season—bar none.
before they settled for a one-point loss. That was the best performance against the Blue Eagles early in the season—bar none.
It wasn’t just a one-game fluke, though. UST quickly turned itself from a dark horse in the competition to a legitimate contender after finishing round 1 as one of the three teams with an above-.500 record. Even with a relatively smaller lineup compared to the rest of the league, the Growling Tigers imposed their brand of offense early in the season. They scored the most points per game in the league (81 PPG) by dominating the perimeter game. UST had the most threes made so far this season (73 3PM), which paved the way for them to be the top perimeter-scoring team in the UAAP (39.23 PPG). Should they continue to produce at this high level, Mayhem will make its return to the Final Four soon.
Chabi Chabi Yo
Despite having one of the smallest frontcourts in the UAAP this season, it’s quite surprising how UST is currently the league’s second-best team in rebounds (49.14 RPG). Well, that’s what happens when you have an uber-athletic player who grabs double-digit rebounds a night like he’s got a built-in trampoline. Chabi Chabi Yo has been the focal point of UST frontcourt, and his dominance on the boards justifies why he’s Aldin Ayo’s newest FSA.
He’s more than just a rebounding machine, though. In fact, a huge part of UST’s success this season can be attributed to Chabi Yo. In just seven games, he turned himself from a relative unknown to a bona fide superstar in the UAAP. The 6-foot-6 Beninise anchored his team by dominating on both ends of the floor. Aside from the league-high 15.29 rebounds per game, he also currently leads the league in points (19.86) with his 56.25% shooting from the paint. No wonder he leads the league in the MVP race after the first round.
UP Fighting Maroons
In spite of everything that happened in the first round, the UP Fighting Maroons are where they should be after seven games. Statistically speaking, UP has been mediocre at best this season. They are at the bottom half of the league in points, field goal shooting, rebounds, assists, and turnovers. They are the only team that registered a negative point differential despite having a winning record. Perhaps all their wins came down to the level of talent they have, given that they have two out of the top five players in the MVP race (Kobe Paras and Bright Akhuetie).
One thing that Fighting Maroons did well though is in pushing the pace. They are currently third in forcing turnovers (17.43 TOPG) and second in steals (6.86 SPG). As a result, they scored an average of 11.86 fastbreak points and 20 turnover points per game, both good for second-best in the league.
A win is a win though. A 5-2 card is a great record to start with heading into the second round.
UP Fighting Maroons
All is well in Diliman.
Or maybe not.
Despite their first five wins coming out of close games, UP was on cloud nine given that they won five out of their first six games. They had a firm hold of the second spot coming into their last game against the undefeated Ateneo team. Wins are wins, no matter how much points were needed to clinch them.
Perhaps, they were flying too high, too soon. When reality clipped their wings, the Fighting Maroons crashed back to ground hard. Ateneo handed out more than just UP’s second loss. They handed out the truth that UP is far from realizing the fullest potential of this group. Neither luck nor talent could save the Maroons from the beatdown. After UP’s great first quarter which saw them lead, 21-15, it seemed like Tab Baldwin suddenly decided to erase any kind of fight from their opponents. The game turned from a finals rematch to a basketball clinic, maybe even a horror movie for the losing side of Katipunan.
UP is far from being the well-oiled offensive machine that they were last season. There’s still a lot of work to do, perhaps starting from finding roles for Ricci Rivero and Juan Gomez de Liaño. The two stars have yet to break out this season. Known to be potent scorers, both of them averaged less than seven points in the first round as they looked lost on offensive sets. The Fighting Maroons would need to get tthose two going to ease the load given to Kobe Paras, who is only shooting 30.34% from the field despite averaging league’s second-best 18.4 points per game.
They’ll have to do the adjustments early in the second round without Coach Bo Perasol on the sidelines with his three-game suspension. Maybe for now, they can enjoy their solo seat at the top 2 of the UAAP.
Adamson Soaring Falcons and DLSU Green Archers
It’s always a cause for concern if a Final Four contender ended the first round with a losing record. Here we have two: Adamson and DLSU.
Both teams couldn’t find their footing, as they alternated a win or two with losses. Despite players like Val Chauca, Justine Baltazar and Jaime Malonzo showing up for these squads, other key players were a no show in the first round.
For Adamson, Jerrick Ahanmisi has yet to match the level of production expected from him this season (18 PPG, 44.1% FG). The team’s best scorer from last season (18 PPG, 44.1% FG) has yet to shoot consistently in the tournament. His fluctuating outputs game after game caused his scoring to drop to 14.8 per game on 36.89 percent shooting.
For DLSU, two out of their three one-and-dones have been MIA for the Green Archers. While Malonzo turned out to be a star player, Keyshawn Meeks and James Pado were buried on the far end of the bench. They averaged a combined 4.5 points, 1.42 rebounds and 1.67 assists—disappointing numbers from recruits that were highly talked about prior to the season.
Both teams will need to turn their plays up a notch for them to have a ahot at the Final Four.
NU is in the opposite situation where UP is right now. Sans the drubbing of FEU Tamaraws, the Bulldogs can’t seem to catch a break from all the heartbreaks this UAAP season can give. It’s not like they’re playing well in the season. In fact, they’re lurking in the middle across most, if not all, of the stats race. However, Lady Luck never smiled on them in the first round—not even once. They lost three games by one point, one game in overtime, and another game by just six points. That’s a total of nine points given up in regulation for five of their six losses. That’s just sad, NU.