NCAA Midterm Grades

Malate, Manila

Aug. 24, 2015

NCAA Midterm Grades

And now the real tournament begins.

With the formality of the first round over, it should be clearer which teams are going to contend for at least a Final Four berth and which squads fall out of it, if they hadn’t already. Of course, we all know the standings. Aldin Ayo and the Letran Knights surprised everyone by pulling the rug from under the pre-season favorites and zooming to the top. There is nothing better in introducing yourself by shoving success up your critics’ behinds. So well done, coach Aldin. San Beda and Perpetual Help lived up to the hype somehow and breathing down the Knights’ necks at joint second with Perpetual Help. Arellano U is at fourth while Jose Rizal and Mapua is not that far from gatecrashing into the magic four. Somewhere in the bottom are four teams—Lyceum, St. Benilde, Emilio Aguinaldo and San Sebastian. Unless these teams can conjure something, it will be mission impossible to turn things around. But, of course, this is basketball. Anything can happen. Aldin Ayo reminded us that.

Let’s not rate each team because their win-loss records are enough to sum up their respective campaigns most especially for the bottom-feeders. What we will do instead is answer some questions that people usually ask of the NCAA. And we’ll start with….

Can Letran keep up their torrid pace and sustain what it did in the first round?

We all know the Knights’ first round success can be attributed to their aggressive, hyper-energetic type of play not just on defense but on both ends and, as Ayo coins it, unpredictability. Meaning, Letran has exerted so much effort that it’s hard to tell if they have anything left in the tank. Also, they will have two players who were recently drafted in the PBA, Kevin Racal and Mark Cruz. Getting tabbed to the pros is actually two-bladed, you’ll either get inspired and improve your play or players start to think of themselves and become more careful since they’re already thinking of the future and in their sub-conscious, avoid potential injuries that could derail their pro-bid. But knowing Racal and Cruz, they’re fighters. They will see the Knights through until the end. It’s also worth-nothing that Letran’s “unpredictability” is now predictable. The element of surprise is now gone. The whole NCAA knows that Letran is no longer a team to trifle with so we expect them to device plans or splice together strategies to beat Letran. Heck, I’m sure they’ve already studied the Knights’ tendencies, weaknesses and strengths. So it will be safe to say that it will be a stretch if Letran can repeat what it did in the first round. But I’m sure Aldin Ayo and the Knights will prove me wrong again. So go on, embarrass me.

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What is your expectation of San Beda?

The Lions will start their second round campaign on a bad foot after Ola Adeogun was suspended for putting some “air vent” in the glass door of one of the locker rooms at The Arena. San Beda, as if it mattered, will be some few thousands poorer because of it. But I see this Adeogun suspension as a blessing in disguise because you could just imagine how he’ll play on his return. I pity San Beda’s next opponents because I’m certain as the sun will shine in the morning that Adeogun will be wrecking havoc. He will show no mercy. No more Mr. Nice Guy for Ola. Let’s not forget, Baser Amer is also returning, if not soon, at least late in the elimination round or in the Final Four where I’m pretty sure the Lions will end up in the top two, possibly first.

Which teams do you think will make the Final Four?

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I’m not saying San Beda is unbeatable because it’s not. They’re as vulnerable as any team. But I think it’s a shoe-in to make the Final Four. I’m also pretty wary of Perpetual Help because of the Earl Scottie Thompson factor. If he starts to think ahead (Clue: Ginebra) and slows down, then the Altas are in trouble. They couldn’t afford a lesser Thompson. Bright Akhuetie, the Nigerian athletic specimen, doesn’t know how to create his own shots. He needs to be fed. And only Thompson can do that effortlessly. But if he stays true to form, I’m counting the Altas in. Letran, if it could win four or five, will come through. Arellano U is the most dangerous team among the Final Four contenders because Jio Jalalon will be brutal and a force of nature in the second round. The only concern is the inconsistency of Dioncee Holts. If he can at least be consistent, then the Chiefs will have a chance. I was a little disappointed with Jose Rizal. It was one of the serious title contenders approaching the season but ended up No. 5. It’s probably the hype, which has become their burden. Perhaps it’s a simple case of a burnout. For Jose Rizal to succeed, Poutuouchi must level up his game. No ifs and buts, but he must. The Bombers will be eaten alive by the likes of Akhuetie, Adeogun, Holts, Lyceum’s Jean Nguidjol, EAC’s Laminou Hamadou, Perpetual’s Prince Eze and Mapua’s Allwell Oraeme if he couldn’t stop his free fall. The bright spot for Jose Rizal is Tey Teodoro, who has raised his game and should be in the Best Point guard conversation with his recent strong plays. As for Mapua, CJ Isit is returning in a couple of weeks after a freak elbow injury. Andretti Stevens vowed he’ll give it all. Josan Nimes must return and muster his old self—an unstoppable scoring threat who can not only create his own shots but also for his teammates. And the Cardinals have a dynamite defensive weapon in Oraeme, who has astronomical rebounding and blocking averages. He’s like Bill Russell, Ben Wallace, Dikembe Mutombo and Wes Unseld all rolled into one. And have you seen their phalanx of guards? They’re a delight to see. It’s also refreshing that Mapua gave Atoy Co assistant Randy Alcantara more responsibility. The guy, if you happen to not know the him, turned Mapua’s high school team into a contender and came one shot away from unseating the Cubs last year. So I think it’s going to be San Beda and a dog-fight for Letran, Perpetual, Arellano, Jose Rizal and Mapua for the last three spots.

Who do you think will win the MVP?

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Arthur dela Cruz has slowed down a bit in the last two games, allowing Akhuetie to close the gap. Thompson and Jalalon are dark horses. Letran’s three-headed dragon of Racal, Cruz and Rey Nambatac will not win it. Unless, of course, all of a sudden, one or all of them decide to go for it and start to be selfish. Which, I hate to break it to you, will never happen. Oraeme is lurking somewhere behind with his monster games. It will help him a lot if Mapua starts to win game because won games count. And also, a player is disqualified to win the MVP plum if his team failed to make it to the Final Four. The Cardinals will do Oraeme a favor if they make a big run and make the post-season. Otherwise, it’s going to be a two-man race between dela Cruz and Akhuetie. But I’m going out on a limb by saying that Akhuetie will win the MVP. Unless, of course, Perpetual Help crashes out of the Final Four, and hand that trophy to dela Cruz on a silver platter.
Follow me on Twitter: @JoeySVillar

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(Photos courtesy Tiebreaker Times)

Wild, Wild West

The Arena, San Juan City
Aug. 21, 2015
Wild, Wild West

What a day.
It began with the Ricky Rubio press conference at adidas’ BGC branch in Taguig City where us mediamen, and we’re a lot, and some lucky fans were treated to this talented 25-year-old Spanish guard who plays for the Minnesota Timberwolves speaking about life in the basketball fast lane.
But this is not about Rubio.
It’s about the NCAA All-Star Game, which, as the title of this blog says, should sum everything up.
You see, the West team, which is composed of Letran, St. Benilde, Emilio Aguinaldo, Lyceum and Mapua, shocked a powerhouse East squad comprising of five-peat champion San Beda, Perpetual Help, Arellano U, Jose Rizal and San Sebastian via a pulsating 89-88 victory.
And I have several thoughts.
1. I used the adjective shocking because the West team has a combined win-loss record of 18-27, way below the East’s impressive 27-18 slate. Never mind that reigning MVP Earl Scottie Thompson begged off in the last minute due to back issues. Let me break it down West’s rosters. Jio Jalalon. Bright Akhuetie. Arthur dela Cruz. Tey Teodoro. All potential MVP winners this season. So yes, it was shocking.

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2. What about Jonathan Grey? 20 points including three booming triples. Two of those long treys came in a seven-second span in the final 28.5 seconds of play and West trailing by seven points. It did not only cut their deficit to one, it also paved the way for Mark Cruz’s game-winning two free throws with a fraction of a second to go. At the end of the day, Grey ended up winning the All-Star Game MVP trophy. If I will be given the power to award the runner-up MVP plum, I will bestow it without batting an eyelash to Cruz, who is fondly called by Letran athletic moderator Fr. Vic Calvo, OP, as “The Antman.” Well, Fr. Vic, on this particular day, I named him Gigantor.

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3. For the record, the head-to-head record between the East and West is one game apiece with the former seizing a 104-97 triumph in its inaugural season exactly a year ago. Former Arellano hotshot John “The Doorman” Pinto emerged the MVP.
4. I feel sad for Teodoro. If Grey and Cruz hadn’t intervened, Teodoro would have been the MVP instead. I mean, the guy exploded for 17 points, all in the second half. It included a cold-blooded jumper that gave East a seven-point cushion with less than half a minute to go. Until the shade of Grey loomed over the horizon and stole the MVP trophy from Teodoro like a kid taking his candy. Ouch.

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5. If there’s one other good thing that happened in the All-Star Game, it’s seeing West coach Aldin Ayo smile for the first time this year. And would you believe he felt more nervous coaching here than in Letran’s actual games? Aldin, A-yo the man.
6. Have I told you Cruz also won the three-point shootout? Yes, he did. And he accomplished it with aplomb by practically shooting the lights out of The Arena. Cruz was just in video-game mode, scoring a whopping 26 points in the elimination to advance to the finals along with Lyceum’s Wilson Baltazar, who had a solid 22. After Baltazar lost steam in the finale where he fired nothing but blanks and ended up with just a disappointing nine points, we knew it’s game over. Cruz answered by clinching the title right on the first ball of the third rack and cruised from there. Still Antman? We should call him Buzzsaw instead.

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7. This year’s slam dunk competition was a combination of ugly and beautiful. Ugly because more than half of the 30 attempts (yes, 30!) were botched ones. Good thing it ended up Lyceum’s Jebb Bulawan and incoming St. Benilde rookie Mustapha Yankie Haruna made up or the “Wow Mali” moments with dunks to remember. The two made the finals more exciting that they ended up in a tie and had to settle everything via a dunk-off. Dunk of the night, of course, goes to Bulawan, who dunked with two hands after he jumped over teammate Shaq Alanes and Joseph Gabayni for a perfect 30 points to clinch the new Sultan of Swat. Honorable mentions: Bulawan dunking over a sitting Gabayni while the latter took a selfie of it and Haruna leapfrogging over teammate JR Ongteco. If Haruna executed his final attempt–a between the leg dunk off a pass from Travis Jonson–judges told me they would have also given it a perfect score and would have awarded the trophy to both him and Bulawan.

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8. Funniest dunk of the night: San Beda’s Michole Sorela trying to dunk and ended up doing a lay up that miserably missed. Honorable mention: San Sebastian’s Ally Bulanadi doing a Karl Malone dunk.
9. I think the league was right when they chose league commissioner Bai Cristobal to be one of the judges of the dunk contest. A commissioner is the most objective judge you can find. Cristobal, however, is hard to please. If Bulawan hadn’t dunked over two persons, he would have scored his first 10 of this event. He probably had a toothache or something.

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10. The Ms. NCAA this year has got to be funniest ever beauty pageant I watched. And it’s all because of stand up comedian Rems Sarita. Rock and Roll to the World!
Follow me on Twitter: @JoeySVillar

P.S.

Thank you Mr. Paul Supan of Jose Rizal for the title idea. It’s wild indeed.

(Photos are courtesy of Tiebreaker Times and Dennis Abrina)