UAAP Season 76 Preview Final Part

Rancho Palos Verdes, Davao City June 27, 2013 UAAP Season 76 Preview Final Part (Last of two parts) On this one humid morning on this golf course deep down South, I was following hole for hole this Dutchman named Guido van der Valk, who has been solid as a rock these first two days of competition on the Rancho Palos Verdes Classic. After 12 holes and with six holes remaining on Day 2 and 18 more the final day, he continues to lead the way with a 6-under score, or two shots ahead of the field. But then I took a break, perhaps to rehydrate because I’m starting to feel dizzy. Perhaps from exhaustion. So here I am, sitting in the clubhouse with ICTSI PR man Ronel Javier and this Mario who handles the livescoring of the ongoing golf tournament here in Davao while drinking Gatorade and perusing on some stories on the internet. And then Rick Olivares, who writes for Business Mirror, his own blog Bleacher’s Brew and another freelance PR man, chatted with me in Facebook asking me to email him the NCAA schedule. I then tell him to give me a minute, which I did pronto. Then we chatted more about this coming 76th UAAP cage season unfurling on Saturday at the MOA Arena in Pasay City. I also tell him that I read somewhere Ateneo is being ranked fifth, yes fifth, by some self-proclaimed experts. I mean, can you believe this? The Eagles, the five-peat UAAP champions, are ranked only fifth? Never mind that they lost key players like seven-footer Greg Slaughter, Nico Salva, Justin Chua and some other crucial pieces. But they’re the defending champions. Why show disrespect? But Rick and I ended our conversation by concluding that this is a democratic country and anyone can write anything under the sun as long as you’re within the boundaries of journalism, even if its plain and downright stupid. We wouldn’t want to be those Senators who attempted to curtail press freedom with that IDIOTIC Cyber crime law, right? So we’re here, going for the finishing kick with the final instalment of  Sportsmayosep’s two-part UAAP Season 76 primer. And with help from Madam Auring and her crystal ball, we release the cracken. And we’ll start with… La Salle (4th, 9-5) Why it would win. You know that if you have a player in Jeron Teng’s caliber, you go places. And surround him with energy guys and tenacious role players, things are going to be better. I like their rookies too, Jason Perkins, Robert Bolick, Jr. and this talented kid from Bacolod City named Kib Montalbo. Perkins, in particular, is the most impressive. He doesn’t only look like Kendrick Perkins of the Oklahoma City Thunder but also plays the same way with more offensive punch. They are complete in every position. They’re young, energetic. You name it. They’re just too darn deep. If Teng hums, the Archers are hard to stop. Image Why it would not. Just a couple of weeks before the UAAP season unfurls, Petron management recalled former coach Gee Abanilla and La Salle installed Juno Sauler. Abanilla ended up taking over the head-coaching job at Petron while Sauler will make his rookie debut as a collegiate head coach. I’m not saying I have no faith in Sauler, but let me put this on record that I like Sauler, but being a rookie is like you’re at bat, you can hit it or miss it. The Archers will also feel the absence of wiry big man Yutien Andrada, who tore an ACL (anterior cruciate ligament) a couple of months back and will be out. Teng’s excruciating inconsistency in the pre-season was also a bad sign. If Teng continues to fire hot and cold, La Salle will be in trouble. Madam Auring: As long as Teng keeps lighting it up, I wouldn’t be surprised if La Salle makes it to the Final Four. And I’m sure they will. But I have this uncomfortable feeling about La Salle entering the season with only 13 players. Ain’t No. 13 an unlucky number? National U (3rd, 9-5) Why it would win it. NU is the most intact team this year and it further shore up its already loaded roster with the addition of bruiser Alfred Aroga from Cameroon and sweet-shooter JJ Alejandro from Mapua. Bobby Ray Parks, Jr. remains one of the best, if not the best, players in the league right now and a third straight UAAP MVP trophy is not far-fetched. Cameroonian Emmanuel Mbe will remain a starter. Jeff Javellonar is a calming presence for the Bulldogs with his grit, toughness, hustle and defense. I like Denice Villamor, he and his long-range shooting. I haven’t even mentioned coach Eric Altamirano, who just knows how to win. They’ve won all kinds of tournaments, the University Games in Bacolod City last October, the Fr. Martin Cup last month. NU also nearly swept its way to the title in the Filoil Flying V Hanes Premier Cup crown if UE hadn’t intervened to snatch it away. Regardless, this is the year NU could go all the way. Image Why it would not. Lack of championship experience will play a factor as displayed in its finals game in the Filoil Cup where it was unmasked by UE. Madam Auring: NU is a Final Four shoe in. I see the Bulldogs making the finals. The championship? It will really be up to NU if it wants to play “Who let the dogs out” by the Baha men or “Loser” by Beck. University of Santo Tomas (2nd, 10-4) Why it would win it. Like NU, UST has bench depth. Let’s do a Shakespeare and count the ways: Karim Abdul. Kevin Ferrer. Jeric Teng. Aljon Mariano. I call them the “Fantastic Four” because, I know you will agree with me, they’re the best, most seasoned starting core in the UAAP this season. Pido Jarencio, one of Sportsmaryosep’s favorite coaches, is a tricky coach who likes to play underdog, Fernando Poe, Jr. type, and then surprising everyone with a burst of punches, ala The King. NU coach Eric Altamirano best surmised it during the season presser last Tuesday: “For me UST is the team to beat because coach Pido has this ability to hide his players’ true strength in the pre-season and then unleash it come UAAP time.” Jarencio has these for an answer: “Nagpapasalamat ako sa NU kasi sa unang pagkakataon, napagbintangan kaming kami ang paborito sa UAAP.” Need I say more? Image Why it would not. Jeric Fortuna’s absence left a gaping hole in UST’s back court. In the pre-season, I didn’t see anyone who even came close to at least being half the player that Fortuna is, who, by the way, is the smartest, wiliest point guards I’ve seen in recent times. Madam Auring: Another legitimate title contender. The only way UST could miss the Final Four is if the Tigers replace their Ps (Puso, Palaban, Pride) with these Ps (Pasaway, Patalo). Otherwise, it could be 2006 all over again. Ateneo (Champion, 12-2) Why it would win. Kiefer Ravena is Kiefer Ravena. Talented. Strong-willed. Clutch. Ravena though is slowed down by injury. But according to an Ateneo insider, he will play in the Eagles’ season opener against NU on Sunday. Its the clash of the Titans. This will be Kiefer’s team with Slaughter already out. I love Fil-Am Chris Newsome and his athleticism. Frank Golla has shown he deserves the starting center span with his solid pre-season play. I also see this season as Von Pessumal’s coming out party. Juami Tiongson should be the starting point guard. Bo Perasol is also a nice fit to an Ateneo team that is undergoing a rebuilding phase. They’re not as deep as last year but the Eagles packed the same punch with Ravena and Newsome in it. Image Why it would not. Injuries have been the key issue on why Ateneo pulled out after the elimination of the Filoil Cup. And it still is. Their plastic-thin, Slaughter-Salva-less interior defense is exploitable. Perasol, as experienced as a PBA coach that he is, will dip his hands to an entirely different plane, which is collegiate basketball. I like Perasol’s disposition but I’m scared for him because if Ateneo ended up failing this year, it will be on his account. Madam Auring: Whoever said Ateneo is ranked fifth is full of baloney. If I were them, I will be scared because Kiefer Ravena will take this to heart. Barring major injuries (knock on wood.), I expect Kiefer to come out with monster games day after day. Newsome is also electrifying. Pessumal too. And oh, have you heard of these warning before: DON’T. UNDERESTIMATE. THE. HEART. OF. A. CHAMPION. Fearless forecast: I see seven of eight teams having a strong chance of winning the title this year. UST, NU, UE being the strongest and not necessarily in order. I’m expecting the season to be one of the most closely-fought. No disrespect to UP. I mean love the Maroons, been my sentimental favorite ever since, but I’m hoping and praying it will NOT finish last. I also have this hunch that if Ateneo ends up making the Final Four and eventually the finals, I would say all bets are off. What were you saying Rick Olivares? “Anim-o Ateneo?” Follow Sportsmaryosep on Twitter: @JoeySVillar Image (Photos courtesy of Filoil Flying V and August dela Cruz)


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